University of Melbourne
What does your vision of a sustainable future look like? Some people imagine a scenario whereby technology solves the world’s most pressing environmental problems. In this world we all drive electric cars and have solar panels on our roofs that power our air conditioners and flat-screen televisions. We purchase “eco” products that provide all the convenience and comfort but without degrading the planet. We continue consuming and growing our economies, yet Mother Nature wins too. But I and my colleague Josh (who co-wrote this article) would argue that this vision of sustainability is flawed, and will in fact drive greater damage to the world, its ecosystems, and us. So how has this vision come to dominate? Why is ‘green-tech’ so popular? There seem to be three main reasons why the “green-tech” conception of sustainability is dominant. First, it is good for business. Sustainability is presented as something we can either purchase as consumers or sell as green entrepreneurs. There is no conflict here between consumer capitalism and sustainability, so the powers that be need not feel threatened. As the sustainable design website Inhabitat declares: “Design will save the world”. Second, the green-tech future is politically palatable. Politicians can defend their “green” credentials without questioning the affluence that consumerist cultures seem to expect and demand. From this perspective, sustainability is a great opportunity for green growth of the economy, which means that politicians do not have argue that we need to consume less. Third, the green-tech future is less challenging for those of us who enjoy the affluent lifestyles that make such tremendous demands on natural resources. God forbid anyone suggest that sustainability requires that we rethink our lifestyles! As George Bush Snr declared (in a comment also attributed to Dick Cheney): “the American way of life is not negotiable”. Fortunately, for all those cultures that emulate the American way of life, the dominant faith in a green-tech future means that we can enjoy consumer affluence in good conscience, knowing that it is consistent with the transition to a just and sustainable world. We just need to do consumerism better, and given that human beings are so clever, that shouldn’t be a problem. Right? Why the ‘green-tech’ future is flawed The fact that the green-tech vision doesn’t fundamentally challenge business, politics, or our lifestyles should perhaps give us cause to question its validity. When things sound a bit too good to be true, they are often false. The best way to expose the myth of the green-tech future is to stare unflinchingly at the state of the world today, an undertaking designed not to invoke despair but to help us better understand what an appropriate response would look like. The ecological footprint analysis indicates that the global economy is already in gross ecological overshoot. According to the latest research, we would need 1.6 planets if the existing civilisation were to be sustained over the long term. Will science save the day? Despite decades of extraordinary technological and scientific advance, humanity’s economic activity continues to devastate the ecosystems on Earth. Over the past 40 years alone, 50% of wildlife on the planet has been destroyed. Furthermore, the climate problem is far worse than most people think. Kevin Anderson, a climate scientist at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, has shown that stopping global temperatures from rising 2C above pre-industrial levels means that the richest nations need to decarbonise their economies by 8-10% per year over the coming decades. Given the close connection between energy and economics, such swift decarbonisation is incompatible with conventional growth economics. What makes this “limits to growth” analysis all the more challenging is that the global population, currently at 7.3 billion, continues to increase. The latest evidence suggests that we’re trending towards 11 billion by the end of the century. Even the world’s most successful ecovillages have yet to attain a “fair share” ecological footprint. Do we need to go on? The point is that globalising Western-style affluence to the world’s expanding population would be catastrophic. Technology and design improvements, on their own, simply cannot make that development agenda sustainable. It follows that if we are to achieve a world where the entire community of life can flourish within planetary limits, we need to begin with a new vision of sustainability. A different version of the good life Our argument is that genuine sustainability implies a different vision of the good life – one arising out of the unfashionable virtues of moderation, frugality, and sufficiency. We can consider this in terms of aesthetics: what we find appealing or attractive. We must come to see the wind turbines that grace our landscapes as one of the best aspects of civilisation, something to admire, and not as “utterly offensive” blights, as our political leaders suggest. But even more fundamental than greening the supply of our energy is reducing demand, which also changes the vision of what sustainability looks like. Rather than instinctively turning on the heater, let us first ensure we are wearing a warm woollen sweater. If the heater is turned on, heat only one room, just to take the chill off the air. Let us dress creatively in second-hand or mended clothing, or even make our own, rather than be seduced onto the consumerist treadmill by the marketing and fashion industries. While electric cars may have a limited role to play on the path to a sustainable world, the more important transition will be the increase of cycling, walking, and public transport. A local camping trip, where we reconnect with nature under the stars, represents a lost luxury that can easily replace a trip to Bali. Let us dig up our Victorian lawns and grow organic food and keep a few chickens for eggs. Even our dinner plates will look different: advocating a low-meat or no-meat diet is the cultural taboo the environmental movement will have to face at some stage. None of this implies going back to the stone age. It’s about focusing on what is sufficient to live well. Will wearing a woollen sweater stop capitalism? No, but that’s not really the point. We’re not attempting to present a new political or macro-economic model here (although some ideas have been sketched elsewhere). But we are arguing that we need to think of sustainability in a different way. Our question is not: how can we make the existing way of life sustainable? Our question is: what would a sustainable way of life look like? And part of the answer involves embracing a simpler way. By reusing, reducing, reclaiming, and recycling so much of our current waste streams, our gardens, homes and suburbs may come to look like a creative DIY zone – not fancy, but functional. This is not the eco-future that we are shown in glossy design magazines featuring million-dollar “green homes” that are prohibitively expensive. Ours is a more humble – and we would insist a more realistic – conception of sustainability. We hold up the water tank over the desalination plant. Do not mistake us, however. While we do reject the Jetsons as a vision of a sustainable future, our purpose is not to celebrate the Flintstones. Obviously we need to advance science and embrace appropriate technologies, especially those that produce renewable energy. But we do call for a more humble aesthetics of sustainability, one that sees ugliness in the clothes dryer and elegance in the clothesline. This article was co-authored by Josh Floyd, advisor on energy, systems, and societal futures at the Understandascope, and founding partner of the Centre for Australian Foresight. Samuel Alexander is Research fellow, Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute at University of Melbourne This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
Massive open online courses (MOOCs) are moving beyond the hype they generated in 2012. MOOCs are now reaching a point where they may soon find their niche in the educational ecosystem. One possibility being discussed is that MOOCs could be used as formal credit for high school. It appears as though secondary students are already engaging in MOOCs. Free online courses from some of the world’s top universities are being taken by high school students to supplement their study at school. However, while MOOCs can provide some great content, the teaching and assessment methods probably aren’t appropriate for high school students. MOOC benefits for secondary students At first glance, MOOCS appear to create a number of benefits for school students. Students are able to access material designed and delivered by some of the best university professors in the world. In addition to providing students with insight into the content of a range of university programs, free online courses also possess the ability to offer students a cross-cultural perspective on learning, connecting to other course participants from around the world. MOOCs also offer an alternative to school-based and external learning interventions for both struggling and advanced students, offering a supportive mechanism to reinforce and promote access to content. In Australia, where tracking or streaming students based on ability is not a formal policy, MOOCs offer advanced students an opportunity to undertake more rigorous work in a flexible learning environment. Students affected by disabilities or disadvantage, as well as those attending rural, distance or home schools, may also benefit from free online courses as a way to participate in collaborative learning and access a wider range of content. Caution is required Although we see some potential for the development of MOOCs in the high school sector, the purpose of MOOCs needs to be taken into account. MOOCs were initially developed to enable learning via large-scale collaboration between students studying material developed for post-secondary education. In order for this to work effectively at scale, students often need to be able to assess the quality of their peers; a process that has questionable validity in the context of a MOOC. MOOCs have also diversified significantly since the first of them were developed. Topics that are of broad interest have been developed into courses that showcase talented teachers, researchers and the institutions they represent. Others are targeted at a particular cohort, demographic or for professional development purposes. In short, MOOCs now come in many different varieties. Some MOOCs might be relevant to secondary students, others not so much. The diversity of MOOCs means that each would need to be considered for credit on a case-by-case basis. Estimates in 2014 put the number of MOOCs available at over 2400 and growing rapidly, making this a complicated task. Another underlying problem with giving secondary students credit for MOOCs is that it still isn’t clear how these courses integrate within the existing curriculum. It is therefore unclear if MOOCs can realistically replace the opportunities offered in traditional classrooms. Classroom teachers are well versed in the use of strategies that support student engagement and attainment. Professors from elite universities are generally not. Despite possessing expertise in their field, not all professors are trained teachers. Academics rarely have expert knowledge in the use of appropriate teaching methods for secondary students. Without this knowledge, even the best MOOCs might provide mismatched learning experiences for secondary students. MOOC completion rates are a well-known concern. Ryan Tracy/Flickr, CC BY Many MOOCs are based on time-based tasks, rather than competency-based learning, which assumes that all learners are motivated, independent and able to complete activities within a designated time frame. But not all high school kids are autonomous; many require support from their school, teacher and peers. Motivation is an important factor to consider if credit is to be offered for MOOCs. This is particularly relevant given completion rates for MOOCs currently stand at less than 10%. Giving students credit for MOOCs offered by institutes overseas will also require recognition of equivalency against prescribed content and common achievement standards. In secondary settings these are outlined by individual curricula and assessment authorities. There are no such controls in MOOCs. Content but perhaps not credit There is much potential for using content developed by the best universities in the world in a secondary school context. With more quality content available online every day, it would be a missed opportunity not to take advantage of this content. The benefits of providing access to advanced content for high-achieving students, as well as those affected by disadvantage, are also clear. Whether or not MOOCs assist students to meet the learning outcomes of their secondary education is a separate issue. With much of the assessment regime in MOOCs relying on peer judgements and multiple choice quizzes, questions remain about whether these approaches are valid and reliable enough to ensure equivalency with established standards. Until such time as the courses available through MOOCs provide more certainty that students have effectively learned what was intended for them to learn, MOOCs provide great content but have questionable value beyond that. Teachers remain best placed to design and develop an effective curriculum for students and make qualitative judgements about whether students are meeting the required standards. Jason M Lodge is Research Fellow, ARC Science of Learning Research Centre & Melbourne Centre for the Study of Higher Education at University of Melbourne. Anna Dabrowski is Research Fellow, Melbourne Graduate School of Education; Lecturer, School of Languages and Linguistics at University of Melbourne. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
Historically, universities were privileged institutions for the “intelligent elite”, almost exclusively male communities, where great thinkers lived and worked and passed on their wisdom to fellow scholars and their students. Imagine Oxford, Harvard and the University of Melbourne before 1960. Today, universities remain institutions in which groups of scholars contribute to the world’s knowledge and pass it on through teaching and exchanging ideas with the wider community. The difference is they try much harder to serve as many people as they can. Institutions of distinction The power of the university community is that it has never been bound to an institution or a country. Many academics and their students are more closely tied to their colleagues across the world in their own discipline than to an academic across the corridor in another field. Traditionally, groups of scholars have banded together to compete in the race for new knowledge. They have not based their work on their institutional affiliation. Universities, on the other hand, bundle their best groups together and claim a reputation. This has been the major driver of distinction and competition for universities and is reflected in the different world rankings. Reinforcing this approach to competition is that student demand continues to follow elite status in the different rankings. This means that countries building their university systems are increasingly entering the “brain race”. Elite scholars are attracting lucrative incentives and contracts, similar to elite sport. New competition In Australia, competition will continue to transform universities. Australia has followed the world in democratising university education. The last 50 years has also seen a significant increase in the scope of degrees offered, particularly as universities have incorporated training for the growing number of professions. Uncapping of places following the Bradley Review of higher education led to a significant growth in demand and university revenue. As the rate of growth has slowed, universities have sought to maintain revenue by trying to attract different types of students using a range of delivery methods. While different university groupings exist, it is difficult to see much difference other than in positions on the research rankings. Many universities have regional presence. All universities are trying to “innovate” and this includes different levels of online delivery. All universities are working internationally. Many universities were, until relatively recently, polytechnics or technical colleges and the pecking order among universities and therefore the demand from students largely reflects the research rankings, which favour the established elite. Newer universities are therefore trying to re-invent the student experience and to develop links with industry and specialised degrees to generate the revenue they need to maintain their relative positions. Revenue pressure has increased as international student demand remains inconsistent and government funding for domestic places does not maintain pace with university ambitions. New competition is also entering the field. TAFEs and private providers don’t need to research and they get more money for degrees than they can get from vocational qualifications. Degrees are also normally longer, which provides a more secure revenue stream from each student recruited. New entrants make more money too, as they generally have a lower cost structure than universities. Add to this the fact that some 87% of the workforce in Australia is employed in the services sector, where a bachelor degree is increasingly becoming a base requirement for a job. It is an attractive market in which to operate. Universities have responded by partnering with TAFEs and private providers to access markets or improve their productivity in ways they cannot achieve on their own. It makes sense to provide curriculum, quality assurance and a degree for a fee, and let the TAFE or private provider focus on teaching students who might not otherwise have gone to university. The results are often as good or better for the student. It provides a new revenue stream for both parties. Specialise to succeed As growth in demand for universities slows, particularly outside Queensland and Western Australia, competition for students will heat up. The lowest tier of universities will have to focus on only highly specialist areas of research, simply for lack of funding. All universities are likely to look to improve their productivity so that they have sufficient funds to maintain their world-leading research. Those who succeed will be those that get rid of unnecessary costs and drive new opportunities to increase their revenue. How will competition develop? Increasingly, universities and higher education providers will follow theexample of the scholars in a global market. They will specialise in what they do well and partner with anyone who is like-minded and can help them compete effectively in their race for achievement. For most universities their goal will remain excellence in teaching and learning and research for the betterment of humanity. Competition will continue to transform universities. Some may lose the battle and fail, while others may partner to achieve higher rankings. The real winners are likely to be the students – and the elite scholars and teachers. *This article was originally published at The Conversation.
The Tin Alley beta program has finished the selection process for its winter internship program, with benefits anticipated both for students and the startups they’ll work for. Under the program, 10 tech interns from the University of Melbourne will spend one or two days a week over 10 weeks working with five companies. Applications for the winter program opened in March and closed on July 16, with shortlisted companies interviewed on July 22 and internships beginning on July 28. One participant in the winter internship program is digital pathology startup Pathobin, which has taken three interns through the program. Pathobin co-founder and chief executive Shane Battye told StartupSmart his startup is giving interns the opportunity to do innovative, cutting-edge work in terms of hardware and software development. “We’re providing a web service that allows pathologists to upload images based on their glass slides, and are also working on hardware that will help pathologists to digitise their slides,” Battye says. “What you had in the past is that a surgical specimen – any lesions – had to get processed in a laboratory on to a glass slide. Glass slides are difficult to share, transport and research. By digitising, you can overcome some of the issues.” Battye says that while his startup has a backlog it wants its interns to help out on, there’s also a lot of scope for them to pursue their interests in a range of areas, including web software, smartphone app development and robotic hardware development. “Interns we’ve interviewed and selected have diverse talents. So it will definitely be a two-way process where they learn from us as we learn from them. We’re very excited about the Tin Alley program,” Battye says. One of the interns set to work for Pathobin is software engineering student Oscar Morrison, who told StartupSmart he is excited about the opportunity the program presents. “From an intern’s point of view, it’s an exciting opportunity to work with an up and coming startup, backed by the University of Melbourne, as well as a great chance to get industry experience,” Morrison says. A past participant of the program, Dan Williams, who now works for 99Designs, told StartupSmart a Tin Alley beta internship helped to give him a start in his career. “It has been a pretty amazing experience,” Williams says. “I did an internship [with 99Designs] over summer and got along with everyone very well. I worked with the CTO, Lachlan Donald, on a project to improve how designers are matched to people who need them, using some pretty interesting computer science.” “They offered me the opportunity to continue working for them three days a week while I continue my studies.” For his part, Battye encourages startups to participate in the Tin Alley beta program, noting the diverse pool of young talent coming out of the University of Melbourne. “The most important thing is to just get out there. All startups have something to offer interns,” Battye says. Applications for Tin Alley beta’s summer program are set to open in mid-August.
Two Australian university accelerators have been named in a global list of top 25 university incubators produced by University Business Incubator Index, a global best practice benchmarking group. The UBI Index ranks more than 300 university-affiliated business incubators in 67 countries in three performance categories, including value to the ecosystem, value to startup clients and attractiveness of the incubator program. Sydney-based ATP Innovations (working with University of Sydney; University of Technology, Sydney; Australian National University; University of New South Wales) was ranked fourth and Melbourne Accelerator Program (University of Melbourne) was ranked thirteenth. This is the second year in a row ATP Innovations has appeared on the list, also appearing fourth on last year's list. ATP Innovations was recently named incubator of the year at the National Business Incubation Association awards in New Orleans, winning the 2014 Randall M Whaley Incubator of the Year award. More than 300 software, hardware and life science startups have been helped by ATP Innovations since 2000. Together, they have raised over $113 million in capital since 2006. Last year, ATP Innovations’ companies had combined revenue of over $45 million, half of which was export related. They raised $8 million in equity capital, hired 69 new employees, launched 80 products, and had seven patents granted. For MAP, the global recognition means that all their hard work has been validated, says MAP manager Rohan Workman. The director of research at the UBI Index, Dhruv Bhatli, described the MAP as an exceptional program. “It performs really well on our global benchmark especially on access to network and competence development indicators,” Bhatli says. “Furthermore, MAP’s clients have a higher survival and growth rate and perform much better than the global average.” Workman says there is a vibrant culture of entrepreneurship in Melbourne that is starting to be recognised globally. “We’re exceptionally pleased that our hard work over the past two years has been validated by the UBI Index,” Workman says. In total, more than 60 program components were used to compare incubation programs, with the MAP performing highly in both access to a high-quality network and coaching services. Of the world’s top universities (as ranked by the Times Higher Education Ranking) only the University of Melbourne’s Melbourne Accelerator Program and Georgia Tech’s Venture Lab were in the list. Bhatli says successful entrepreneurial programs require broad support. “This proves our hypothesis that creating a competitive business incubation program requires a clear focus from the university,” says Bhatli.
The University of Melbourne’s Tin Alley beta program is set to expand, with three universities – Monash, Swinburne and Tasmania – joining the initiative. As program co-founder Miguel Wood told StartupSmart, the program helps to bring together startups with enthusiastic tech students. “The program is a form of community infrastructure that fulfils a core need, and that’s access to talent, bringing together stakeholders,” Wood says. “Startups spend a lot of time and effort on looking for tech talent, while students often don’t know to look to find opportunities to work for startups.” An official announcement of the expanded program will take place at an event at the offices of 99Designs in the Melbourne suburb of Richmond. While applications for the 2014 program don’t open until mid-August, Wood says the event will be a good opportunity for startups to get familiar with the program. “It’s really to announce the program expansion, explain how the process will work for the expanded program, and it’s an opportunity for startups to talk with partners, fellow startups and ex-students,” he says. For startups wishing to go further, Miguel warns that the selection process is competitive in finding the best startups for the talent. “It’s a fairly basic online application that involves the need for tech talent and the potential role for people being selected, then there’s an independent panel of peers to make a selection on the best environment for the student,” he says. The original program ran last year and paired five Melbourne University undergraduates with local startups to get a feel for what running their own tech company looks like.
The Abbott Government’s first federal budget has allocated funds for capital investment into the National Broadband Network (NBN) to continue up to 2017-18 but with a cap of A$29.5 billion. This falls well short of NBN Co’s original forecast of A$44.1 billion not withstanding various estimates of cost blowouts and new NBN Co leadership’s revised forecast of A$72.6 billion. The Coalition under Tony Abbott’s leadership in opposition and in government has long maintained that NBN could cost less and be rolled out quicker. That commitment was confirmed this week by Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull following the budget announcement on spending. In a statement, he said the budget provides A$20.9 billion in equity funding to NBN Co to cover up to 2017–18. This is on top of A$8.6 billion already committed bringing the total to the capped A$29.5 billion. New sources of funding needed NBN Co CEO Bill Morrow now faces some difficult decisions in deciding how best to allocate resources to meet the objective of providing high-speed broadband across Australia. Since the Coalition’s election in September last year the NBN has been subject to a number of reviews and a wholesale clean out of management. With many reviews, such as the cost-benefit analysis, yet to report, the strategic direction for NBN Co is uncertain making it difficult to comment on future developments with accuracy. What can be said with certainty is the capping of the government’s investment gives a clear indication that Coalition’s NBN will be vastly different from that proposed under Labor. But some issues will need to be addressed so they do not provide a thorn in the side to NBN Co or hinder the rollout of broadband across the community. The funding cap amplifies the need for private investment. Only A$57 million has so far been earned in revenue related cashflow against the A$7.3 billion invested to date. NBN Co will therefore be required to increase revenue and raise funds through private equity or debt financing to ensure it can fund both operational expenses and future capital investments. But it will need to show an attractive rate of return potential to lure Australian institutional investors, superfunds and other international investors. Alternatively NBN Co will be forced to secure loans to bridge the gap. But whether the Abbott government would offer debt guarantees to the company remains an open question. NBN Co may seek to reprioritise the rollout of the planned network by cherry picking more profitable connections in metropolitan regions. But this may detract from the rollout of services in areas with a higher capital cost, such as regional towns and outer suburban areas, which are often those areas that have the most to gain from the provision of broadband. Deals with telcos The A$11 billion deal with Telstra to lease part of its existing network is currently under renegotiation. This might extend to accessing existing fibre-to-the-cabinet, hybrid fibre-coax and dark fibre in addition to copper infrastructure to speed up “new” NBN rollout. A changing technology mix means that some existing copper will not be decommissioned, entering operation as part of the NBN. The outcomes of the renegotiation and the terms of any new agreement will impact the rollout and the future technology mix. Fibre-to-the-node in some form and maximising the use of existing copper infrastructure appears to be a dominant base for such mix and existing carrier infrastructure may offer opportunities in a funding constrained environment. By further reviewing its construction and installation methods NBN Co may be able to achieve some cost savings and curtail cost blowouts. Network competition The NBN Co is operating in an uncertain regulatory environment. The current rules were set up with the NBN Co being a monopoly wholesale infrastructure provider. But internet service provider TPG’s plan to rollout its own fibre-to-the-basement network is changing the telecommunications landscape requiring a regulatory response. Failure to clarify this would force NBN to lose opportunities in rolling out to rapidly expanding apartments sector with a customer base often opting for higher tier services. Australia would then see its history repeated once more with parallel network rollout similar to the hybrid fibre-coax rollout by Telstra and Optus. Maintaining the wholesale monopoly for NBN Co could have possible competitive consequences. Currently there appears to be a confusion in the way wholesale services are defined with potential restrictions on emerging market opportunities. NBN review panel’s terms of reference is seeking input on clarification of this. Relieving NBN Co of its wholesale-only constraints, or at least redefining its limitations, would allow it to provide network connectivity directly to business end-users such as mobile base-stations, large businesses, governments and national infrastructure such as power grids which offer high growth potential. This approach would be good for NBN Co as it would open new revenue streams that would support the government’s desire for the company to increase private investment. Thas Ampalavanapillai Nirmalathas is a Professor of Electrical and Electronic Engineering. He is currently an Associate Director with the Institute for Broadband-Enabled Society which has received funding from a range of sources including the University of Melbourne and Victorian Government. He is also the Director of Melbourne Accelerator Program which helps to promote entrepreneurship culture through acceleration of start-ups. Views expressed in this article is entirely that of the author and do not reflect the views of his employer - University of Melbourne. He receives funding from the Australian Research Council. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
Sydney biotech startup Clarity Pharmaceuticals, which hopes to dramatically improve treatment outcomes for a range of serious diseases such as cancer, would not exist if not for the support of Commercialisation Australia, according to its executive chairman, Dr Alan Taylor. The startup is at the cutting edge of medicine and hopes one day its technology can be used to deliver far more personalised medicine to patients. Taylor says the technology has the potential to take a drug which has been at 20% efficacy in clinical trials, and raise it to closer to “70, 80 or 90%” by determining whether or not a drug is reaching its intended target. “They have helped us significantly,’’ he says of Commercialisation Australia – the body the Commission of Audit recently recommended should be abolished. “Our latest commercialisation grant funded is an experienced executive grant, funding our head of contract services, which is the revenue part of our business.’’ This week the company raised more than $1.1 million from investors to expand its international operations in the US, Europe and Asia and to develop new applications for its technology. The company has now raised $3.5 million from investors and grants from Commercialisation Australia. Taylor says the company could not have just relied on the private sector to get off the ground. “The private sector would do their own investment in research and development and the like, but when it comes to a company raising funds as a startup, it’s very rare to a have a strategic private sector company, investing in a startup,’’ he said. “Typically in the early stages of funding, it’s the three F’s, friends, families and fools, and angel groups and the like. “When it comes to medical academia, Australia has a strong record, but we have not yet built the ecosystem to commercialise a lot of this research.’’ The company was founded by Dr Matt Harris in 2010 with $650,000 of seed capital and has since taken the technology, developed by the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation and the University of Melbourne, to market where it’s being used by international pharmaceutical companies to improve the development and testing of new medicines.
A new co-working space has opened its doors in Melbourne for social enterprises and not-for-profit firms. Makeshift Studio was founded by humanitarian engineers Julian O’Shea and Huy Nguyen, who wanted to create a space to support social enterprises. “It’s bringing social entrepreneurship into a social space which invigorates us,” Nguyen told StartupSmart. Nguyen is the founder and chief executive of Enable Development, which seeks to address the challenges of disability, while O’Shea is the director of Engineers Without Borders Australia, a group that works to address lack of access to clean water, sanitation and other basic infrastructure. Nguyen says he wants to demonstrate that there is value in doing good. He says he has done a lot of volunteering but is now more interested in establishing sustainable businesses with a social impact. The studio is already making a mark in the social innovation community after winning the Foundation for Young Australians PitchUp competition and receiving a $20,000 prize pack including a trip to the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship and electronics equipment sponsored by Sony. As well as hosting other enterprises, the studio plans to seed and lead its own social impact projects. Its first project is Open Bike, an accessible community bike share system being developed with the University of Melbourne. O’Shea says in a statement that their research found that emerging social businesses and not-for-profit start-ups want to work collaboratively and have little funding for office space. “This is our way of helping them kick start their projects,” he says. The studio is located in a renovated old bicycle warehouse in Capel St, West Melbourne.
Microsoft, the University of Melbourne and the Victorian government have joined forces to open an $8 million research centre for social new interactive technologies that use voice, touch, gesture, gaze and physical movement. The Microsoft Centre for Social Natural User Interface (NUI) Research will have funded positions for researchers exploring the social uses of technology that enables digital products to use physical human engagement more intuitively and naturally. NUIs, such as Wii game consoles and Xbox Kinect, moved away from the desktop and mouse to use direct physical engagement such as capturing voice, gesture, touch and even brain recognition with sensors that interact with technologies. Centre director Professor Frank Vetere, who also heads up the Interaction Design Lab at Melbourne University, told StartupSmart the centre would push the emerging field of NUI design towards reaching its social potential. “The recent explosion of social media shows the extraordinary human desire to use technology for our own personal needs and interaction, so there is definitely a growing role for social NUIs,” Vetere says. “The centre is not just about the fun stuff like Facebook. It’s also the way we’re social in the workplace, in schools, in hospitals, and how we relate in public spaces.” This is Microsoft’s first NUI centre focused on the social uses of the emerging technology. Vetere says there is ample opportunity for Australia to become a leader in this emerging tech industry. “Clearly this is an opportunity to extend the thinking and knowledge happening elsewhere. We’ve got enormous strong support with Microsoft, so we can clearly leverage and contribute to their wider NUI work,” Vetere says. The research centre is intended to explore the emerging field of how technology can encourage positive social and collaborative behaviours. Resources have been allocated for three years. In a statement, Microsoft Research vice president Tony Hey said the three-way partnership was great news for achieving their goals. “This is a world class research centre, located at a world class university in a forward thinking state,” Hey said. “I am confident the centre will open the floodgates to innovative social uses of NUI. The potential for social NUI will only be limited by our imagination.” The 28 supported academics and PhD students will have the opportunity to spend time at other Microsoft research centres such as Cambridge, Beijing, and Redmond in the US.
Business Name: 2Mar Robotics Age: 24 State: Victoria Marita Cheng has been passionate about robotics for a long time. Even as a child, the founder and chief executive of 2Mar Robotics would think about how cool it would be if she had a robot to help her with chores around the house. Now Cheng, last year’s Young Australian of the Year for her work establishing Robogals Global and encouraging girls to study engineering, is rapidly making her childhood dream a reality. 2Mar Robotics is building a voice-controlled robotic arm to help quadriplegics with tasks such as picking up a drink or pressing a pedestrian crossing button to cross the street. So far they’ve secured $100,000 worth of orders and plan to ship next year. “Eventually I want to make robots that are accessible to consumers, that are useable for consumers in their everyday lives,” she says. Cheng, who’s studying a double degree in mechatronics and computer science at the University of Melbourne, says she was inspired to create a robotics company after seeing others being formed in garages by people who’d dropped out of university. “I thought if they can, I can too,” she says. 2Mar Robotics is part of the Melbourne Accelerator Program through Melbourne University. Cheng says the advice she has for other young entrepreneurs is to believe in themselves. “Even if other people don’t believe in you, it doesn’t matter as long as you believe in yourself.” Related articles about Marita Robotic arms and cleaners take out top honours at Tech23 Finalists announced for pitching conference at leading technology conference Tech23 Australia’s top 10 female start-up entrepreneurs
A robotic arm maker, colour-matching database and a neurological medical devise start-up are among six start-ups to join the Melbourne Accelerator Program (MAP), hosted by the University of Melbourne’s School of Engineering and the Faculty of Business and Economics. Rohan Workman, manager of MAP, told StartupSmart they had a tough job picking only six companies from 53 applications. “The reason we chose these teams were these people had the best chance of making their ideas work. The fact these guys were already out there and taking strides forward with their business and getting a bit of traction really worked in their favour,” he says. These are the companies chosen for the accelerator: The Price Geek, a bargain-seeking search engine; Ebla, an online publishing platform for legal professionals; Client Catalyst, a mobile marketing and inbound client call service; SwatchMate, a colour-matching database service; 2Mar Robotics, a maker of robotic arms for people with quadriplegia; and Cortera Neurotechnologies, an implantable medical device for diagnosing incurable neurological conditions company. At least one member of the team needs to be studying at the University of Melbourne, recent alumni or staff from the engineering and IT, and business schools to be eligible for the program. The entrepreneurial fellowships provide office space, funding and mentoring for the start-ups. Workman says universities are perfectly placed to do more to boost the entrepreneurial ecosystem. He says he expects to see them doing more with their resources. “We’re only now starting to see how universities can help start-ups, but universities can and will do more and more. It’s not a zero sum game, we’re keen to see more universities running similar programs,” he says. “We (universities) have a unique set of assets including an alumni network, connections to industry and government, expertise across the campus and a brand. All of this is really helpful for a start-up.” Workman says the buzz around entrepreneurial activity at Melbourne University is really rewarding. “Guys who were thinking about entrepreneurship as a career path are now seriously considering it, it’s no longer a pipe dream,” he says, adding Australia still has some cultural challenges to tackle. “Lots of people are quite risk averse. A lot of people are afraid of the stigma of failure, and that’s Australia wide. “We need to change that around and turn it around. Everyone who has started a business will know you fail a thousand times before you get it right. This program is about giving these guys the network to learn and accept that.”
University of Melbourne graduate Zezan Tam will join 79 entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley next month for a 10-week program at Singularity University, after winning a $30,000 scholarship for his carpooling concept. Tam is the creator of cloud-based app Carpooler, designed to make carpooling easy by saving drivers time and money, while helping to reduce congestion and transport-related pollution. Tam is the winner of Singularity University’s Global Impact Competition, which launched in Australia in February. The aim of the competition was to come up with an idea that could positively impact more than one million Australians. As the winner of the competition, Tam will travel to Silicon Valley with a $30,000 scholarship, which will see him attend the 10-week Graduate Studies Program at Singularity University. This university, located in the NASA Ames Research Centre, was founded by a number of well-known personalities including Google co-founder Larry Page, space entrepreneur Robert D. Richards, physician and entrepreneur Peter Diamandis, and inventor Ray Kurzweil. The Graduate Studies Program is designed to inspire and equip leaders who want to build innovative solutions to address global challenges. Tam will be joined by 79 other participants from the around the world. In addition to the program itself, he will be exposed to investors, funding bodies and mentors. He will also receive a scholarship from Singularity University partner Creative Universe, which offers leadership and innovation programs to enhance leadership performance and productivity. Creative Universe will support Tam’s attendance at the Creative Innovation Global conference in November, which gives participants an opportunity to present their vision for the future. Tam told StartupSmart cars are often heavily underutilised, so his plan is to change that. “Cars are wasteful in two ways. You use them for two out of 24 hours a day and you use one out of five seats,” he says. “You think of all the resources that go into building this wonderful piece of engineering, and then it barely gets used to its full potential. “A lot of value can be related to carpooling. The only reason people don’t do it now is because of a lack of coordination.” Tam, who is yet to build the Carpooler technology, has high hopes for the Graduate Studies Program. “Number one is to get my mind blown apart from all this cool stuff out there,” he says. “[I’m also hoping to] use the time out there to get the concept developed and get it funded so I could hire some full-time staff to get it built, then return to Melbourne and keep working on it. “Melbourne is one of the perfect cities because of the urban sprawl here. I would prove the concept here in Melbourne, which would essentially allow me to expand to Sydney and some more American cities.” Tam wasn’t the only entrepreneur recognised by the judges in the Global Impact Competition. Queenslander Mark McConville won second prize with a unique comedy-based entertainment and educational program. He will receive mentorship and support services from the Australian Institute for Commercialisation and the Gold Coast Innovation Centre, worth more than $16,000.
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