Co-founder of a successful textile technology business, Murray Height, shares some insights from his collaboration with researchers to bring his idea to market. According to Murray, the relationship is even more important than an agreement around the intellectual property (IP) – although this is still fundamental.
The idea for his company, HeiQ, cameafter a 2004 weekend hiking in the Swiss Alps with his friend, and later business partner, Carlo Centonze. The pair were lamenting the problem of their smelly hiking shirts and wondered if maybe there was a business opportunity to create a new (and less pungent) material for clothing.
Fast forward 10 years and the friends, in collaboration with the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich), launched their start-up, HeiQ. a leading provider of textile innovation. They have created some of the most high-performance textiles in the market (and odor-free technology!)
After their success in Switzerland, Murray and Carlo decided to open a subsidiary of the business in Geelong, with Murray heading up operations. Murray knew he would need to find ways to keep innovating in order to succeed in Australia, something which is at the core of HeiQ’s success.
With this in mind, Murray attended Deakin University’s ‘Innovation Showcase’, where he discovered that Deakin researchers had developed a technology to produce short polymer fibres (novel cylindrical microstructures that offer a unique platform for functionalizing surfaces such as textiles) in a way that could be scaled-up industrially – just the kind of thing he’d been looking for.
Murray approached the inventors and discovered they were open to a potential collaboration, then he undertook his due diligence:
'Once I had established that the researchers were open to collaborating I invested a lot of time in due diligence to really understand the technology. In the very early phases I had to consider the economic potential and novelty of the technology and how it could be used by HeiQ.'
To gain this level of understanding, Murray said it was essential that he interact directly with the research team.
‘Working directly with the researchers, the actual experts, allowed me to get the detail of the technology which I needed to understand it’s application. The researchers were very open to sharing, because they had already sought patent protection, so disclosure was not a concern. Had I not had that direct contact and ability to talk openly, and understand how the researchers operated, it would have been very difficult.’
Expectations and intellectual property
With confidence that the technology had potential for the company, HeiQ and Deakin established a collaborative research agreement which included:
- clear and shared goals
- a clear understanding of who would own any jointly developed intellectual property
- funding sources
- initial timeframes
Murray explains that although the research agreement was important, there was something even more fundamental to the success of their collaboration.
‘The relationship we developed with the research team has been pivotal to our mutual success. Having an open dialogue, clear understanding and shared expectations really underpinned everything else.
If your interests aren’t aligned, then it’s probably not the right collaboration. We’ve found that being able to test new ideas with a university partner is a great starting point but working collaboratively to develop something is really where the value lies.’
It’s a deceptively simple concept that collaboration relies on relationships, but Murray insists this was fundamental to their success.
‘Many businesses might feel bewildered by the thought of navigating a potential collaboration with a university, and it can be challenging, but many fears dissipate once you find the right partner. The nature of the collaboration and the dynamic behind it is so fundamental to success and continued collaboration.’
The initial collaboration was a short-term pre-project to test a couple of ideas directly and further vet the technology, which then lead to a multi-year program to advance the development and commercialisation of the short fibre technology platform and products.
The first product which HeiQ was able to take to market was HeiQ Real Silk, which reproduces the luxurious tactile properties of silk using the jointly developed technology. Murray believes that the collaboration between Deakin and HeiQ made the commercialisation of this technology possible.
‘Intellectual property really has no value until it’s used to create something. Collaboration allowed us to test the technology and jointly solve problems. While the initial idea or invention is important, the real value is in collaboration and creating something usable and marketable – then it becomes innovation.’
The team has nowdeveloped a number of products as a result of the collaboration . Each of these products draws upon intellectual property of more than five patent families developed jointly with Deakin researchers with a clear framework and pathway to commercialisation.
Advice for others looking to collaborate
HeiQ had extraordinary success in fostering their relationship with Deakin University and the speed at which it has achieved tangible outcomes, so we asked Murray for his advice to other businesses considering embarking on a collaborative journey.
‘If you have curiosity and a desire to change or to do things differently, then consider who can help you get there and don’t be afraid to have those conversations. Explore possibilities, find points of alignment. There are times when a potential collaboration won’t be right, but if you keep exploring you could find a really great partner to help you advance to where you need to go and stay a step ahead of the pack.’
Connect with potential partners
- If you’re looking to collaborate with a research organisation, check out our IP Toolkit for Collaboration which simplifies the management of intellectual property in collaborations.
- Source IP can help you connect with potential partners.
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