Dr Sarah Pearson’s new role as University of Newcastle’s Pro Vice Chancellor Industry Engagement and Innovation
Global leader: Dr Sarah Pearson relocated from Canberra in March to take up her new role. She will help to translate world-class research into real-world solutions.
You graduated with a doctorate in particle physics, what led you to innovation?
It wasn’t until after my PhD working for management consulting firm McKinsey with high tech companies that I got the bug for innovation and commercialisation. From there I kept finding new opportunities, ranging from developing and patenting cancer diagnostic tools, to heading up open innovation in a manufacturing multinational, and then building an innovation ecosystem.
What did your role as inaugural open innovation champion at Cadbury involve?
My role at Cadbury was to accelerate the company’s ability to innovate and bring new products to market fast. We collaborated with anyone with great ideas, inside and outside of Cadbury, anywhere in the world. It allowed me to connect with marketing teams, manufacturing, new product development and research and development. It led to many patents, including applying defence technology into confectionery (ballistic confectionery).
What lessons have you brought from your previous role as CEO of the CBR Innovation Network to your current role?
Collaboration across the entire innovation ecosystem is at the heart of CBRIN’s success. For ideas inside the university to be applied, we need to collaborate with industry, the start-up scene, government and the not for profit sector. Building a common vision that people can engage with is key, setting up an open inclusive culture, celebrating everyone’s success, leveraging everything you can, focusing on the ‘customer’, and creating win-win outcomes.
Part of your brief is to accelerate innovation and entrepreneurship through innovation hubs. What outcomes do you hope to see?
The hubs are an amazing opportunity for the university to connect with industry, government and the start-up scene. It’s here we ‘collide’ with industry to discover what they need to accelerate their growth, leading to collaborative projects with UONs research base, students, and technology. They provide a pathway for students to build start-ups based on their ideas, and support university spin-outs. A great example is a start-up called Elite Robotics, building a robotic lawn mower.
What ingredients make a city – and an individual – a good breeding ground for, or champion of, innovation?
At the core of a city’s success is research excellence – a university. But really it’s the people: experienced entrepreneurs willing to give back by mentoring, connecting and funding start-ups; entrepreneurs willing to take risks, based on customer needs; an engaged and connected innovation community; innovative and collaborative companies; engaged universities; support programs and funding; and a supportive government.
Why is it important a university and students are part of this conversation?
The research base is a core component of any successful innovation ecosystem – the ideas factory. Universities provide the intellectual horsepower to drive innovation, and the talent pipeline to grow business and new industries. 65 per centof future high growth jobs don’t exist yet – we need our students to drive these new jobs.
How can industry and the university each benefit from joining forces?
Industry gains a willing partner to grow the talent pipeline for growth; and a broad and deep knowledge resource to help develop new products, services and markets. University sees its students gaining industry experience and successful employment after graduation; and has a measurable impact through innovation with industry, an alternate revenue stream, and fruitful relationships with alumni.
What is the risk if Newcastle doesn’t innovate?
If Newcastle does not innovate our economy will go backwards, current businesses will be overcome by competition, and jobs will be lost. Other cities will attract all of our talent and all of our creatives, and we will have missed the opportunity to be a thriving, creative, well-resourced city.
What is the potential of innovation to transform the city’s identity?
Newcastle has a great identity and history of manufacturing – innovation will enhance this reputation. The transformation will occur as Newcastle becomes proud of, and well known as a growing global reaching innovative city/region. The spill over will be that the creative sector will re-engage making us a thriving, creative city.
Where can Newcastle researchers shine?
UON has many areas of expertise that can be translated to commercial and social impact. The major areas of focus are health/medical, resources and energy, water and agtech, engineering, digital creative industries, security anddefence.
What is your goal for the next five years?
For UON to be globally known as an engine of innovation; attracting industry to collaborate and co-locate in the Hunter, and students to study and innovate. A large portion of researchers will be running collaborative research and development with industry partners, new industry sectors growing in the Hunter, and staff and students setting up more than 50 start-ups a year, with support from theinnovation ecosystem.