Cicada’s call for business partners to join Sydney’s super incubator


Cicada Innovations CEO Petra Andrén says the “validation” industry partners bring is arguably more valuable than their funding.

Article by John Ross. Originally posted on March 29, 2017 in The Australian.

A Sydney incubator owned by four universities has added a third plank to its offering, recruiting high street companies as permanent collaborators.

Cicada Innovations says last year’s pilot of its Industry Engagement Program has succeeded, with big- spending Macquarie Capital now joining existing industry partners Cook Medical and Meat and Livestock Australia.

The program adds a new dimension to the university-owned hub, which bills itself as Australia’s only “super incubator”, and cultivates “deep” or advanced technologies.

Cicada’s Swedish-born chief executive Petra Andren says the focus of the 17-year-old company, which changed its name from ATP Innovations last year, is “things you can’t just whip up in your kitchen”.

“We work with heavy-duty tech — a lot of it intellectual-property based or trade secrets, and things that can’t easily be replicated. Our companies take longer to get to market, they’re more capital intensive and they really need to engage with universities and researchers to fuel their growth.”

Ms Andren says Cicada, which is jointly owned by Australian National University, University of Sydney, University of Technology Sydney and University of NSW, houses 72 start-ups, 10 per cent of them university spin-offs and most engaging with public research institutions in one way or another. While most won’t even publicise their names, their technologies range from a biodegradable packaging material that can slow the ripening of fruit and vegetables, to a super food based on “mushrooms which taste like lobster”.

Since 2000, the incubator has fostered a two-way dialogue between universities and companies such as these. The new program completes the picture by bringing in large firms as a source of research partnerships, cash and corporate credibility.

The arrangement gives the industry partners an early peek at emerging technologies that could disrupt their business models down the track — and the chance to turn their creators into collaborators rather than competitors. It also supplies them with a brains trust of nerds to solve their technical problems, a resource known as “sandpits” in commercialisation parlance.

While the arrangement can mean cash injections for the start-ups, Ms Andren says “validation” from industry partners is arguably more valuable. “It shortens time to the market, by showing that the idea has an application.”

She says while universities are notorious for not engaging with industry, there has been a sea change in the past year. “Their appetite and willingness to work with us is much greater than it’s ever been.”



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