Briefing paper

How not to innovate: the case of Australia's bionic eye

Innovation Research institutes Export marketing Australia

Questions of commercial viability

While Australia’s bionic eye initiative had a clear goal — to build and commercialise a bionic eye — the initiative was launched without solid evidence that it could be successfully commercialised.

Weak collaboration

In keeping with former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s goal of building an Australian bionic eye, lead applicants for Australian Research Council support were Australian research and industry entities. Given the head-start international organisations held, this focus on Australian entities was a lost opportunity to build on results. There was, as well, poor collaboration between the research and industry partners.

Structural barriers

One of the significant structural barriers to successful innovation is Australia’s three-year political cycle. Incoming governments tend to ‘knock over’ projects, policies and budgets established by the previous administration. Governments also begin campaigning for the next election, generally within 18 months in office. Funding and policies are often chopped-and-changed.

Additional structural barriers include geographical distance between partners, making productive interaction difficult; a comparatively small population and, thus, a smaller talent pool; and the ‘valley of death’ where many early-stage results wither for lack of investment.

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