Leveraging government support for R&D to accelerate your business

Have you heard that Australia has a problem with academia-industry collaboration? Australia’s OECD ranking has become something of an albatross around our collective neck. And yet, to improve collaboration and commercialisation, all levels of Australian government have put in place incentives and support initiatives, which, unfortunately, often go underappreciated.

The truth is, it is easier than ever for industry to find researchers and funds to support collaborative R&D.

Universities are eager to improve their real-world impact. Doing so gives researchers a chance to better understand and solve industry’s problems. Better yet, when a company works with a university, the company gains access to thought leaders and their immense know-how and intellectual capital. They gain access to cutting edge techniques and equipment that are often too expensive for a single entity to purchase themselves. Tapping into these resources can be a huge benefit to organisations that are able to navigate the academic ecosystem (see for example the business characteristics of successful manufacturers prepared by the NSW Department of Industry).

Source : Australian Bureau of Statistics, Business Characteristics Survey. Department of Industry internal analysis and Compustat analysis. Conducted by AlphaBeta Advisors and McKinsey & Co. 2017, published in “NSW advanced manufacturing industry development strategy 2018”

Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics, Business Characteristics Survey. Department of Industry internal analysis and Compustat analysis. Conducted by AlphaBeta Advisors and McKinsey & Co. 2017, published in “NSW advanced manufacturing industry development strategy 2018”

To reduce the perceived risks and difficulty of working with a university, there are a number of government schemes to reduce the cost and complexity of initiating a project. For example, trawling though nearly 50 universities’ websites to identify the best Australian researcher for a project is daunting. Fortunately, the NSW government has funded several networks, like the NSW Smart Sensing Network (NSSN) to identify researchers for a given problem. The NSSN has extensive capability maps across its member universities and can find the perfect team to solve an industrial sensing challenge.

Once you know which academic or team of academics you’d like to work with, both state and federal governments have introduced financial incentives to further encourage collaboration. There are programs that simplify the process of having a research student placement in your organisation, such as APR.Intern (for PhD students) or the recently formed ARC Training Centre for Chemical Industries (for MSc students). Likewise, there are programs that provide matched funding to reduce the overall cost of a project. Some of these programs are very quick: the NSW TechVoucher and the federal Innovation Connections programs have quick turn around times and cover up to 50% of your project cost (up to a limit). For larger projects, the Australian Research Council has streamlined its Linkage scheme, so applications can now be submitted anytime. Best of all, the Linkage scheme can leverage a $50k cash contribution for upwards of $200k cash from the government with sufficient in-kind contributions from the company and university partner.

Best of all, like R&D already taking place in industry, research that is funded at a university is likely eligible for the R&D tax incentive. This includes research that takes place with matching grant funding (where a Clawback may apply). When all of the cash and in-kind contributions are considered, the net expenditure for an R&D project can be quite small. For more information on how to get the most out of your R&D activities, seek a qualified accountant.

If you’re interested in learning more about how you can solve a challenge for your organisation by working with an academic partner, get in contact with me! I’d be happy to answer questions and make introductions.

Anthony Morfa

Inka-Maria Bane