Yes, exciting news, we are having our first ever Demo Day on Thursday 22 October 2020!
But during a coaching session recently, one of our (high-achieving) spin-outs asked me this question… and it gave me pause to think.
I had a superficial answer ready (about celebrating the progress of Air teams and getting support from the ecosystem), but it also prompted some deeper introspection. Why haven’t we hosted one before? What’s different now? Is this really the right thing to be doing to help teams? What even is a Demo Day and, perhaps most importantly, why does it matter?
For most entrepreneurial accelerator programs, a Demo Day is a logical way to support the start-ups they work with, because those teams want to “demo” what they are doing to investors. But TRAM is different: we work specifically with the Melbourne research community and we focus on accelerating research impact in all its guises. Yes, we celebrate the formation of a deep-tech start-up (or spin-out), but we also applaud when our teams secure an industry research collaboration, or a licence agreement, or even when our teams stop working on a project because they realise it won’t achieve impact!
Paradoxically, this is also the reason key stakeholders have given me for what makes TRAM Demo Day so important and unique. Research spin-outs can create significant impact (think Cochlear or ResMed, but also Carbon Revolution, Seer Medical, Quantum Brilliance, Ena Therapeutics or Synchron), but they are relatively rare. According to national data collected by Knowledge Commercialisation Australasia (KCA), only 42 spin-outs were formed from 34 surveyed public research organisations in 2019 including universities, the CSIRO and medical research institutes.
As the university sector globally deals with the challenges wrought by the current pandemic, the business models of universities, including internationally and at our own institution, are evolving to reflect a greater emphasis on research translation and partnerships for knowledge commercialisation. But one of the key reasons spin-outs are so rare is that in addition to “normal” entrepreneurial challenges around building teams and customer traction, spin-outs are typically based on institutional intellectual property and deep technological insight (with accompanying timelines and capital intensity to bring to market).
These challenges mean that often potentially highly impactful projects fail to bridge the “valley of death” to commercial success. The investment landscape is improving for deep-tech, but investors are still looking for experienced teams with customer traction. This is where the TRAM Demo Day comes in!
TRAM Demo Day will feature seven spin-outs that are already changing how we build our cities, how we visualise our world and how we deliver health solutions for the 21st century, so naturally, the investor community are on board. The other key group we are inviting, are those who are passionate about supporting and building knowledge-intensive companies, based here in Australia. By encouraging sector experts, prospective customers and also university students, staff and alumni to engage we can continue to build the “success community” around these deep tech start-ups and inspire the next generation of researchers to achieve impact that creates the knowledge-intensive employers of the future.
As for the team that asked “why have a demo day?” – why not register to attend and see if you can help them answer that question!!
The inaugural TRAM Demo Day will take place on Thursday 22 October, live streamed from Melbourne. If you would like to register to attend, please follow this link: http://go.unimelb.edu.au/df9j.
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