151222 CSIRO

CSIRO’s Gentleman’s Startups

The other week I was delighted to attend the CSIRO Christmas pitch event where eight teams presented their ground-breaking ideas based on CSIRO research. Over the last six months everyone at CSIRO was asked to suggest ideas that could become commercially viable. Hundreds of suggestions were made and after considerable effort this was reduced to just eight through the CSIRO incubator programme AcceleratiON. The eight teams went through an intensive three month programme to round out the idea; carry out market research and work out how to launch the idea.

What was the most interesting one?

The idea that I found most interesting was one whose product has a potentially growing cliental: Gluten free barley. From the pitch I recall that the barley had been bred so that the plant does not produce gluten although this disappointingly minimalist website says: “We have a solution with our new barley that has removed the gluten so that tastier and healthier gluten free options are now possible for coeliacs, gluten intolerants and gluten avoiders.”  Hoven Barley has been licensed to a major European brewer in order to produce the first beer that coeliacs can safely drink. Excellent progress.

Two other ideas that were interesting were the new senor technology for harsh environments and a sprayable bio-film to reduce soil evaporation.

So what were the pitches like?

  • Quality.  Each two minute presentation was very polished and impressive.
  • Purpose. My understanding is that the purpose of the pitches is to highlight the technology coming out of CSIRO. In this regard they were excellent. I felt that this was a showcase of ideas that will find real traction.
  • No financials. In common with many pitches, the financials were weak. However this may well be down to the fact each pitch was only two minutes long.

So what were my overall impressions?

Although CSIRO wants to promote these companies as start-ups, I think they are really spinouts. A very different proposition.

This got me thinking… what are the differences between start-ups and spinouts?

  Start-ups Spinouts
Advice Very limited since don’t have money to pay for experts to provide top quality advice. Plenty of top quality, paid advice in all subject areas including financial, marketing, negotiation and legal advice.
Training Depend upon learning on the job, some training courses available but of limited availability. Custom designed training by highly paid and qualified leaders of their field.
Resources(including funding) What the individual entrepreneur has access to: so very limited. Host company provides resources as required (e.g. people to make calls, back-office infrastructure, salaries for the team, marketing, money, etc.)
Market access Depend upon entrepreneur’s abilities to network and speak to customers. Has a well-known brand name behind them to ensure appropriate doors are opened to high profile customers.
Skin in game All their own savings sunk into the idea and dependant on future income for food & shelter. If it fails, may be serious consequences for entrepreneur and their family. Full salary and if the idea fails, still a job at the end of it. No significant negative personal financial impact if the idea fails.
Reward If the entrepreneur beats the odds, chance of a good payout at the end of all the hard work. I don’t know. Do you?


Is this a fair assessment of the differences between the CSIRO AcceleratiON programme candidates and other start-up activity? To me both groups are entrepreneurial but with very different sets of resources and backgrounds. Do you think the likelihood of success is likely to be similar?

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