Research commercialisation: Tips for starting your journey


Research commercialisation can be daunting, but in a landscape of dwindling government funding and ever-shifting technological and commercial realities, it can be a powerful way to bring new ideas and change into the world.

For researchers and academics, however, the businesses, people and language can be so different that it’s almost alien.

The way a researcher or academic thinks, the goals they have to achieve in their career, are very different to those of a corporate department’s director or CEO.

So, how do you begin to feel comfortable exploring the world of research commercialisation?

For this post, we’ve put together some detailed tips, based on our experience working with both researchers and corporate partners. The biggest barriers are often emotional, so these tips are designed to get you both thinking and feeling, along with actions, to start your path forward.

You have value.

We can tell you right now that someone in the corporate sector values what you are doing and what you have. You have intellectual property, processes, team members, experience, expertise, authority, tools, brand recognition through your university or institute, and cutting-edge ideas.

Write a list of all the components of your research. Now, break them down into subsets, the things that go into each component. If you feel like something might not be suitable, ignore that voice in your head and write it down anyway. The list you create holds all the aspects of your research that someone in the commercial world might find valuable. We might think of them as features and benefits of a product or service.

People want your value.

Corporates want cutting-edge ideas because that’s their market advantage. If they have exclusive access to what’s next, they can prepare for it before their competitors. Can anything on your list give a company a cutting-edge advantage?

Right now, companies are in a “war for talent”. They’re are doing all they can to employ and keep the best minds and skills. They are looking at everything from health and wellbeing, infrastructure, technology, to processes and locations. Is anything on your list a way to improve the areas companies are looking at? Would your team be valuable talent in their own right?

When a company goes to market, they are looking for anything that will make them stand out. The backing of a university or research institute can do exactly that. Customers are savvy to marketing tricks, so partnering with esteemed organisations  brings immediate credibility. Does your research align with a product or service already in the market? What would you need to feel comfortable endorsing that company?

Don’t give it away.

It can be a mistake to give all that value away for free, even if it feels like doing so will help more people. In a survey of academics at three Australian universities “only 25% indicated that the opportunity to increase their personal income motivated them to engage.” Researchers and academics aren’t motivated by money; they are motivated by what impact and change they can bring into the world. The thing is, to grow your impact to interstate or international reach, you’ll need to scale. Scaling is expensive, both in terms of money and resources. To be viable and sustainable, it requires partnerships that fill gaps.

The core purpose of commercialisation is to identify what’s valuable in your research, find a corporate partner who wants that value, and work together to further both parties’ agendas. If you don’t own that – and we’re referring to self-confidence here – then you start from a position that may defeat you before you even begin. Commercialisation is itself a form of research translation; the processes we follow don’t have to focus on a monetary outcome. When exchanging value with another organisation, you could be seeking space, equipment, or access to people you can’t gain otherwise.

Corporates, international partners, and government bodies can be intimidating to a researcher because they are unfamiliar. But, remember, they are all just groups of people trying to achieve something, too. Being a person, with all one’s insecurities and worries, is familiar to all of us.

Write down your worries, concerns, and questions about commercialisation. Get them out of your head. Share them with your team. You may discover shared fears or even answers. Either way, you now have a great brief of questions to take to your commercialisation unit or an external service provider.

Not every piece of research, and not every researcher, is designed for the commercialisation process. These tips are for the researcher or academic who has decided they are at the very beginning of their commercialisation journey.

The next step is to begin teasing out what new form your research can take, and begin speaking to potential commercial partners.

For now, if you’ve realised your research could work in the marketplace, or know you need to align yourself with an organisation outside of your own, working with the actions in this post is a powerful starting point. Remember, you have value, and people want it, so don’t just give it away!

Author Bio: Matt Frith is the managing director of kin8, a strategy consultancy that is building communities around the future of work.