Alex Grant is co-founder and CEO of Myriota, a start-up spun out of research from the University of South Australia which uses satellite technology to provide two-way data connectivity for remote sensors and devices – benefiting farmers, resource companies, environmental agencies, governments, defence agencies and industries with remote operations.
Myriota isn’t Alex’s first foray in the start-up world; he also co-founded Cohda Wireless, an intelligent transport system that produces collision avoidance technology for motor vehicles. Prior to following his entrepreneurial pursuits, Alex was a Professor and Director of the Institute for Telecommunications Research at the University of South Australia (UniSA).
We spoke to Alex about the transition from research to industry, his journey as an entrepreneur, his experience with protecting intellectual property (IP), and his advice to both start-ups and researchers working towards commercialisation.
How did you make the transition from research to industry? When did you know that your research had commercial potential?
For Cohda Wireless it was a response to strong industrial interest in our research while at UniSA. All of the founders had been involved in many industrial projects that led to intellectual property (IP) generation. In response, we asked ourselves “why can’t we do something commercial of our own?”.
For Myriota it was much more pre-meditated. The Global Sensor Network research project (a $5M project funded by the Australia Space Research Program) was designed from the ground up to deliver a commercial outcome.
In some sense there was no “transition from research to industry”, rather a change of venue for where the research is being conducted. One of the key ingredients to both Cohda and Myriota has been a continuation of research and innovation within an industrial context.
Growing a new company is no easy task, what would you say was key to successfully co-founding two start-ups?
People, capability and belief that you can do it.
Myriota has 10 patents – how important would you say is IP protection? At what point did you secure patent protection?
IP protection is a critical component for raising capital. Myriota was founded on the back of a portfolio of 10 patents exclusively licensed from the University of South Australia. The Global Sensor Network program adopted a deliberate strategy from the outset to develop a coherent IP portfolio with the express purpose of commercialisation. These have priority dates going back to 2012. The strategy was to develop a portfolio that covered all aspects of the system ranging from core signal processing algorithms, through to system components and top-level architectures. Since foundation, Myriota has continued to file patents.
Do you have any advice for those starting out on the commercialisation journey? Any words of wisdom for researchers thinking about taking their findings to market?
Think about the market – what problem are you trying to solve? What are the innovations that are required to create new markets? Let that focus your research. Don’t be afraid of the “high barrier to entry” problems. That’s where value (and often a gnarly research problem) resides. You don’t want to be lost in a pack of “me too”. Engage your organisation’s commercialisation office early. Find a commercialisation mentor – don’t be afraid to look outside of your organisation. Finally, commercialisation is sometimes viewed being incompatible with “fundamental research”. In my experience, finding the connection between deep research and commercial outcome is the key.
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