Strategizing for Tomorrow – CSIRO/MBA Project evolution

By Therese Juda, current student of the University of Sydney Business School MBA program.

The opportunity to engage with CSIRO researchers through the MBA program has given me glimpses into a better tomorrow.

My initial project was as part of a team within the Strategies for Growth Unit in October 2016, working with researchers who had discovered a process that turns compounds derived from trees into plastic, replacing the petro-chemical components in traditional plastic. Our group’s task was to assist the Research Team in defining and mapping out how this technology can be commercialised. Commercialisation requires a funder and attempting to find a partner to invest in a product that didn’t yet exist required some truly creative thinking and exemplified the non-linear process many start-ups encounter.

I enjoyed the rigour that the scientists and researchers applied in considering our team reports and questioning our findings. With other units in the MBA I’ve found an emphasis on messaging and marketing the project’s findings, and felt the ‘scientific’ influence created more robust projections and clearer assumptions in the Strategies for Growth Group Report.

Seeing how a concept in a dusty lab could, with the right strategy and leadership, truly change the world, piqued my interest and I continued to engage with CSIRO Innovation Manager David Burt post this unit to discuss addressing the gap between what’s in a lab, and what makes it to the ‘shelf’.

Post these discussions David created an opportunity for interested MBA students to work with researchers at MVP stage, giving these students the chance to quantify the commercial viability of the product and potentially take it to market as ‘co-founders’.

Alex Dean and I joined as ‘co-founders’ successfully winning the opportunity to work with a University of Tasmania based team with a decision support system for viticulture. Our market and product analysis found ultimately that due to the low market size and consumer reluctance to pay for what was marketed as ‘knowledge’ that this product was not commercially viable in its current form. We both enjoyed the process of engaging with AI and Crop Disease researchers and have contributed recommendations for future product development to the UTAS team.

During this period I also sought another CSIRO project to work with for Corporate Innovation and Venturing, finding another team at MVP stage in Agriculture. The scope with this team was to find a transaction required to further the project and advise on the structure the start-up would require.

This team has a product being tested with in situ but struggled with a negative profit margin, and assumed price inflexibility of customers. As part of a team of three (myself, Elise Karadjian and Lee Murray) we reviewed the product attributes in detail and found applications and profitability could be found by targeting consumer and government markets in addition to agriculture.

Further original research and analysis was completed on how to structure the company, and suitability of potential corporate partners. Development of a competitive advantage against multinational players in this market was also addressed, finding a flat management structure, embedding research with customer-focused staff could build agility and speed to market. The psychology of buyer behaviour in the Agricultural market was also explored, finding key identity constructs of ‘land custodianship’ to be a potential means to overcome price objections and widen profit margins.

Through my interactions with CSIRO with the MBA program, I have found my passion!

I’m now seeking ways to work with early stage Agriculture start-ups, to bridge the gulf I have seen between lab and commercial success.

Enabling success of these concepts, currently languishing in dusty labs can, literally, change our world.