Think HBR

An update on innovation in the Hunter

James Steverson
Ryan Gray
McCabes Lawyers Newcastle
With the Hunter Innovation Festival starting, it is timely to reflect on how Hunter-based start-ups, innovators and entrepreneurs are tracking during a time where measures to boost innovation are high on the agenda for policy makers.
At a national level, the OECD’s ‘economic Survey of Australia 2017[1] released in March 2017 presents an underwhelming picture of innovation in Australian. Of the key findings, it was interesting to note that Australia ranks last of all OECD countries when it comes to collaborative research between higher education or research institutions and businesses. Collaborative research is an important channel for the commercialisation of publicly funded research as well as to ensure the ideas generated by our academics are commercialised into useful products and services. The report suggests this reflects a low priority on collaboration, weak mobility between research and business sectors (including industry placement programmes) and issues in university management of intellectual property.
The ‘stagnation’ presented in the OECD report is not necessarily reflected in the performance of start-up businesses that we have recently been working with in the Hunter and other parts of Australia. The Hunter Region is Australia’s largest regional economy with an economic output of over $40 billion per annum, a regional population greater than 720,000 and a global top 250 University.[2] With both the Federal Government[3] and NSW Government[4] announcing initiatives designed to promote innovation, we think the Hunter should be well positioned to capitalise on its aspirations to be a leading innovation and “smart” region.
In the last 12 months, we have worked with a number of clients who have successfully collaborated with universities and research institutions to develop and commercialise good ideas into successful business ventures. Other clients have partnered with IP owners and manufacturers to jointly deliver new products to market. Examples include:
• assisting local entrepreneurs investigating commercialisation of new products including using intellectual property developed by UoN;
• advising a client taking advantage of an Australian Research Council Linkage Grant to commercialise new products in the transfusion medicine and blood group serology market; and
• assisting a local mining services business to manufacture, develop and sell innovative mining products in collaboration with companies based in the US and China.
The OECD report suggests that if Australia is to create an ‘Ideas Boom’, it needs to create a culture of innovation that encourages and supports entrepreneurs. While more needs to be done to assist our start-ups and innovators (including at a political level), we are seeing a much improved culture of innovation in the Hunter. It seems the Federal Government is alert to this, recently launching RDA Hunter’s “smart specialisation strategy”.
It remains to be seen whether the political talk can be converted into meaningful policies to provide support for our regions innovators.
[1] For a full copy of the OECD report, see:
[3] For more on the Australian Government initiatives, see:
For further information contact McCabes Lawyers Newcastle on (02) 4040 9640, email or visit