Omar Khalifa took the reins as CEO of iAccelerate in July, 2016. He is keen to open a deeper dialogue with academics, creating a “frictionless interface” between entrepreneurs and researchers.

Why is iAccelerate important for UOW?

Australia is a powerhouse by innovation measures when it comes to research but according to international innovation studies, it sits with many underdeveloped economies when it comes to implementing or absorbing innovation - where the real value is often extracted. We are in many ways subsidising countries that are taking our research and productising them. 

While we will always need strong research, we must also develop an ability to transform it into products at home if we are to create jobs and opportunities here.

UOW’s focus on global challenges and our own regional position provides us with unique capabilities that we should be looking to leverage much more fully.

What is a key challenge facing innovation?

Our inability to engage women in STEM means that our nation now lags many, including India and China, in women’s participation in these fields.  

Whatever the cause or even the solution, if we are to innovate as a nation we need the combined talent of our best minds showing up and making their unique contribution.

Why has it been so difficult to covert research into innovation?

For decades universities have tried to transform researchers into entrepreneurs with very limited success. The mindsets are often just too far apart, as are the motivations and even the sought rewards.  

Better that we spend more time creating a frictionless interface between entrepreneurs and researchers and to allow the free flow of movement across that divide where researchers can contribute to a start-up without leaving their area of research.

In fact we may even now consider entrepreneurs shopping for researchers as a more attractive alternative that can benefit everyone.

What opportunity does an innovation mindset offer researchers?

Social entrepreneurship - often associated with impact investing - is a new avenue for researchers and those not driven purely by profit to create viable businesses that can attract substantial investment.  

The main focus is on output - on how many lives can be improved for instance - through the implementation of an idea using entrepreneurial approaches. 

iAccelerate is currently in discussions both internally and with potential international partners to bring social entrepreneurship to UOW and to demonstrate that Australia has a lot to gain by putting more effort into this way of solving some of our most intractable and challenging problems.

An example of a project borne from UOW research that is now in the early phase of our innovation acceleration program is Recovery Camp: a program that offers people with mental illness an opportunity to improve their quality of life and improve their health, combined with a fantastic training ground for the next generation of professionals in the mental health field.

To start a new business around an innovative product or service is so accessible these days. Do Gen Z have the right mindset for it?

Over the last three months, iAccelerate has hosted 25 engineering students from UOW who were given full work credit for taking on our Entrepreneurship training while working on a number of their own projects.  

The skills they attained in such a short time frame was evident when they pitched their projects at the end of the term and three teams were even selected in our entrepreneurship intake.

 iAccelerate is now working with a number of UOW schools to look at providing similar capabilities that demonstrate entrepreneurial approaches across all subject areas.  

In fact we hope to assemble teams that come together to work on new businesses using a multi-disciplinary approach.


Recovery Camp: from research to social enterprise

Recovery Camp’s Christopher Patterson is overseeing the program’s evolution from research to enterprise.

“Recovery Camp has been operating as a Global Challenges research initiative since 2013, delivering a recovery-oriented learning and experience for health students and people with a lived experience of mental illness. 

“Through their experience at Recovery Camp, students and people with lived experience realise their personal strengths and their contribution to the mental health recovery of others.

“Since its inception, the Recovery Camp team has maintained a focus on research and evaluation, establishing a substantial evidence-base. 

“The dissemination of Recovery Camp research led to national and international awareness of the Recovery Camp program. Increasingly, universities expressed their interest in having their students experience the program, and people with lived experience of mental illness were interested in attending.

“In 2016, Recovery Camp joined the entrepreneurial start-up program at iAccelerate, UOW. It was the first research program to move from UOW to the iAccelerate Advanced program. 

“This was done to explore the potential of Recovery Camp as an enterprise of social impact. Recovery Camp aims to be the leading provider of evidence-based, experiential learning of mental health recovery for future health staff and people with a lived experience of mental illness.” 

Learn more about Recovery Camp: globalchallenges.uow.edu.au/living