In 2018 I completed the CSIRO ON Accelerate program with Diffuse Energy. In the 12 months that have passed I have had many people within academia ask me about the accelerator. The questions are usually along the lines of:
How did you find it?
Was it hard?
Is there a catch?
I used to respond to the later by rolling my eyes, taking a deep sigh and explaining at length there was no catch.
I’ve since changed my response. There is a catch.
The catch is that it is impossible to unlearn the ON experience. From day one it is 100% real world – not a simulation. At times you’ll fall down, get some scratches and bruises, dust yourself off and jump back in for more.
As we’re all busy researchers with papers to author, grants to apply for, and pesky student emails to respond to, I’ll give you three key things I cannot unlearn.
As a scientist, engineer, or researcher we are taught that uncertainty is bad. We are trained from an undergraduate level to only make decisions if we have 99.99% of the available data, and even then, proceed with extreme caution. The modern academic landscape does not afford the luxury of 99.99% confidence. As an early career researcher it was at times paralysing to make decisions about my research direction, career progression or course management. Using the lean start-up and validated learning methodology I am now more than happy to make decisions with only 60% available data (i.e. a little better than a coin toss). If it turns out to be wrong, I can pick myself up, move on, and correct towards the goal. Invariably this converges faster to the desired target than searching in vain for that final data point.
The value proposition canvas is a way of framing a product offer around a customer’s needs. This is a visual way of mapping out the customer, what job they are trying to achieve, their needs, pains, and gains. You then position your offering in terms of a product that achieves the customer’s job, relieves their pains, and creates gains. The Australian academic landscape is becoming increasingly competitive and is full of buzzwords like “collaboration” and “industry partnerships” without consideration of who the customer is. Being forced to consider your skillset as a “product” helps deliver value to your customers, whether they be students, industry, or funding bodies.
As a researcher who is more at home behind a computer screen than a lectern, the idea of summarising years of research, product development, and a company business model in a three minute pitch was terrifying. I can thank the ON program for tearing up any last shred of public speaking phobia I once had! The pitch coaching is first class, and gives you clarity in how to frame and present any idea to your team, external stakeholders, peers, students or your manager.
This culminated in having the privilege of pitching at the Nanjing Nexus 2019 summit last month. It was a fantastic opportunity to share how our small wind turbine technology has been supplying energy to remote telco sites. I had to pitch using Mandarin slides (I language I cannot read nor speak), through a translator, to an international audience of expert innovators and entrepreneurs; nerve-wracking to say the least.
Thankfully I’ve been well equipped to handle anything the innovation journey throws at me. I am so grateful to CSIRO, Runway HQ, and Australian Chinese Association of Scientist and Entrepreneurs (ACASE) for this incredible experience. And while you are in China, why not spend some time visiting one of the greatest engineering projects undertaken?
I could talk for hours about the way ON has got me excited about my research, given me new perspectives on innovation, helped me manage stakeholders, and understand customer needs. But maybe you should just experience it for yourself.”