Time for universities, industry to truly partner for innovation

| July 17, 2017

Innovation needs to be cultivated through a clear and open link between universities and industry. Michael Heimlich of Macquarie University shares his vision for successful innovation.

I am really disappointed with the “Innovation” agenda as it has played out on the Australian landscape. Having spent 10 years in Silicon Valley and travelled the world for industry before coming to Macquarie University, I can say that Australians are innovative and can do it with the best of them—heck, entrepreneurs starting and growing businesses is what fuels our domestic jobs market!

There are plenty of success stories Down Under but often times this comes from the individual efforts of heroines and supermen, rather than a culture that engenders it. So, there is a part to be played by different people in different sectors.

It is time for our Universities to take their vast, world-class capabilities and become piazzas for innovation and partners with industry. Unlocking the gems in our lecture theatres and research labs to create a culture of collaboration-to-compete will kick our game up a couple of notches on any OECD measure of innovation.

Both industry and academia have our roles to play if this is to become reality. Universities have taken steps to make the ivory towers less formidable, to open up gaps in the sandstone walls, and have embarked on genuine effort to create “porous boundaries”, as Macquarie’s Vice Chancellor puts it.

Too often in the past, academics have been dedicated to an almost monastic existence comprised of a lifelong goal of knowledge creation with limited support and avenues for translation. Among ourselves, we have recognised that this model has not served the community at large.

We have made great strides to go beyond simple relevance and actively embrace disseminating and sharing our traditional outputs in teaching and research. But this is a bi-directional exercise that requires industry to engage as well. We need Industry to accept the invitation as a critical partner, and come to the party; ready, willing, and able to take advantage of it. To be sure, my colleagues don’t always speak your language, but we are all on Team Australia and want to see university research and learning and teaching making a difference. Industry needs to listen, to coach, and to be prepared to roll up their sleeves to work with academics to get our University’s fuel into their economic fire.

So, look-up your local uni—go to their web page and look for their industry engagement page on the ‘feelers’ they’ve put in place to start the dialog; help bridge the gap. This could be as simple as suggesting a topic or module that makes a particular teaching unit better aligned to the “real world” or it could be as profound as working side-by-side with university researchers to scale-up a laboratory wonder into a Grand Challenge game-changer. Your local university is ready to dive in…..are you?

Michael Heimlich

Michael Heimlich is the Associate Dean for Corporate and Industry Engagement and serves on the Faculty Board for the Faculty of Science and Engineering at Macquarie University. In 2009, after 25 years in industry, working at large and small companies in wireless electronics and software engineering, including founding two of his own start-ups he received a CoRE appointment to Macquarie University in wireless communications. Mike helped establish FIRST Australia at Macquarie University in 2012 as the Asia-Pacific focal point for the US-based, STEM-outreach FIRST program (www.usfirst.org), reaching nearly 10% of Australian schools. He was also co-founder of the MQ WiMED (Wireless Medical) Research Centre in 2012, a cross-faculty collaboration with the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, and currently serves as Co-Director. In 2014, Mike served has Head of Department for Engineering. Professor Heimlich’s current research interests include RF/microwave/millimetre-wave MMIC and RFIC, bio-implantable electronic systems, design flow theory, novel microwave materials and antenna systems, GHz packaging and signal integrity, and wireless testing.