4 08, 2019

What should you look for in a mentor?

By |2019-10-04T02:12:52+00:00August 4th, 2019|Career journey, Commercialisation|

“What should I look for in a mentor?”

I’ve been asked a number of times lately by entrepreneurs, and I think the best way to answer this is to describe what I myself look for in a mentor. I have had three mentors in my life and even now I find myself referring to one of my mentors from time to time. So it is an important question and I would like to share some of my thoughts with you all.

In my case, two of my mentors were previous chairs that I reported to, that I have continued a relationship with well beyond the period that I reported to them. However, one of them I have never worked for or reported to. These mentors include one lady in Switzerland, one gentleman in Sydney and one gentleman in Perth.

In a mentor, I look for someone who can share his or her experience, but also who can be open to learning from my experience, making it a two-way, win-win relationship. I want them to help me find a way forward when I have challenges. I want them to challenge my thinking. I want them to share their stories and experiences. I don’t necessarily need them to have all the answers; however, they can help me come up with the right questions to ask so that I can find the right answers.

Sometimes you need to have a conversation with someone to bounce problems around and it can’t always be done with your board of directors or your management team. Having an experienced, external colleague that you can discuss things with can be really important.

In some respects it’s all about communication and being available to have deep and far-reaching discussions. It can be a balancing act; some conversations will reveal brutal truths and possibly even squash hope! But they will be grounded in a path forward that balances risk and opportunity.

It can be a balancing act; some conversations will reveal brutal truths and possibly even squash hope!

From time to time I need someone to tell me, ‘Ian that’s one step too far – perhaps take a step back and plan to progress slowly.’ Sometimes I need someone to pull me up and say we need more evidence, we need more facts, before we can make a decision. In a mentor, I need someone to help me navigate, but I don’t need them to be the driver. It’s not about getting it right every time; it is about slowing down, checking everything is ready and then accelerating.

13 12, 2018

CSIRO ON Accelerate 5 – Reflections on lean/design thinking

By |2019-07-12T12:02:08+00:00December 13th, 2018|Commercialisation, CSIRO ON Program, Lean/Design Thinking|

I recently put in another week at CSIRO ON Accelerate program in Sydney. David Ireland and I run the ON Accelerate program (sits under the National Innovation and Science Agenda) for CSIRO and the broader research sector including all publicly funded universities and research centres and partner organisations like the Defence Science and Technology Group. ON Accelerate is the premiere national science and technology accelerator open to the top 10 teams from institutes across Australia (20 teams get into the bootcamp and up to 10 are selected to go on to the Accelerator). Over the course of the bootcamp we facilitated a series of great interactive sessions on the importance of Structured Customer Discovery, Value Proposition Design, Business Model Design and also facilitated mentoring sessions for the teams. The program is called ON Accelerate 5, celebrating the fifth time we have run the program.


I have recently written a lot about developing a deeper understanding of the customer and using lean / design thinking and value proposition design within organisations.


It is great to see 20 teams who have all experienced the value of quality customer discovery and lean / design thinking and value proposition design. They have all de-risked their projects and enhance the potential uptake of their product or service (solution) before launch.


I have also seen corporate product management teams experience workshops like this in action. The workshops enable teams to understand the need to develop a deeper understanding of the customer and to focus on early adopters and innovators in their customer groups.


Having now run many of these workshops for research teams and product managers, I’ve made some observations about the typical things that surprise participants when they undertake these programs:

  • How valuable it is to have a deeper understanding of the customer,
  • how valuable it is to identify potential early adopters and innovators, and
  • how valuable it is to enhance your solution language to resonate with customers.


This clearly highlights the importance of structured customer discovery and value proposition design processes, both for new innovators and for existing businesses.

I have been amazed at the exciting new projects CSIRO ON Accelerate 5 teams are

working on. I can’t wait to see these products and services in the market!

5 12, 2018

INSEAD Paris trip: Reflections on entrepreneurship

By |2019-07-12T12:03:43+00:00December 5th, 2018|Commercialisation, Lean/Design Thinking|

I recently put in another week at INSEAD in Fontainebleau. I presented a couple of great interactive sessions on the importance of Structured Customer Discovery and Value Proposition Design and also ran mentoring sessions for MBA Candidates.


I have recently written a lot about understanding the customer and using value proposition design within organisations.


While participants in these kinds of sessions quickly see the value of ‘doing the work’ and getting into quality customer discovery and value proposition design, in the busyness of every day life, product management teams don’t always stop to consider how much money they may be wasting on things customers don’t really want, or how much money is being left on the table due to missed opportunities. So I thought I’d quickly highlight why a thorough approach makes such a difference.


Why structured customer discovery matters:

·       It enables a deeper understanding of the customer and their perspective, in order to give them what they really want.

·       It can enable a focus on early adopters and innovators in the customer group, creating scale quickly.

·       It enables a structured method of de-risking product development and launch.


Why a strong value proposition using design thinking makes a difference:

·       It’s a great way to quickly get all of the teams’ assumptions documented, in order to be tested.

·       It’s a great way to map out how to build value from a customer perspective.

·       It’s a great way to focus, and to de-risk, a product development program.


Where businesses quickly start to see results after the ‘hard work’ of planning and product development in this way is:

·       The ability to shift a product from just another product to a highlydesirable product.

·       Enhanced, customer-centricproduct language, used to promote the product, at launch time.

·       Building strong support of early adopters and innovators in the customer group.


These approaches are now being widely used with much success in ‘thinking centres’ like universities/research centres and businesses that want the edge, across Australia and around the world. Businesses will soon discover their competitors will be taking on this thinking too.


I have been amazed at the exciting new projects INSEAD MBA’s are working on. Many of the ideas I saw are also entrants in the INSEAD Venture Competition. I can’t wait to see these start-ups in the market!

11 07, 2018

ON Prime teams present promising innovations to the business community

By |2019-07-12T12:10:48+00:00July 11th, 2018|Commercialisation, CSIRO ON Program|

Last month members of Perth research, science and business communities met at Curtin Business School to hear about the work of the latest cohort of research teams to graduate from CSIROs ON Prime programme. The teams presented their projects, and their learning from the ON Prime 4, and how their innovations will benefit business in Australia and impact the world.


I thought I’d share a quick overview on what the teams have been working on and what’s next for them on the commercialisation journey. If you’re interested in getting involved to assist any of the teams, in any way, please get in contact with me.


Eco-Ore is providing a safe and cost-effective process to extract rare earth metals, which are used in all our technology. The team has gained valuable insights into their potential customers priorities and a lot of information that has informed the final formulation of the solution. The Eco-Ore team’s next steps will include building a pilot plant and validating their solution at scale.


MicroBright has developed a strengthening toothpaste which is less damaging to enamel than products currently on the market. The Team has gained valuable insights into the barriers in the market, the importance of user-friendly language, and clearly defining market segments. The MicroBright team will incorporate all of the inputs into the next stage of development.


On-Farm Grain Storage, developed by researchers at Curtin University and existing business GGHS, is providing advantages in agriculture like decreased yield/quality losses and lower operational costs for farmers. The team has gained valuable insights into the real main concerns for farmers, with some previous assumptions challenged! This has enabled the team to develop a plan for infield trials and to reformulate a marketing strategy for the new storage solution.


Insight from Imagery has created sophisticated video mapping and object recognition technology to quantify the changing planet and help solve problems and make decisions in business. They offer increased data quality and accuracy. This team is exploring different markets such as building inspection companies, oil and gas and environmental, with plans to take a look at other industries such as forestry and agriculture.


The Ceramic Membrane Filter development team have developed a product for faster filtration, lower energy consumption and easy, lower-cost maintenance. Solutions base on the technology opens up opportunities in a range of industries such as water filtration and wineries – growing industries in key market around the world. The teams learnings included the necessity to develop the whole filtration solution rather than just the filter membrane and that different customer segments have different needs.


So what’s next for these teams? That largely depends on industry support, grant funding and investment opportunities to develop their products further to commercialisation. But as ON Programme coordinator David Bird said at the event, ‘ON Prime never finishes’, and teams have the opportunity to continue their research and development with the support of the ON Tribe alumni programme, and for some, to attend the ON Accelerate intensive programme. The advice was, ‘Identify your support people and keep the communication flow going.’


It’s great fun being part of CSIRO’s ON Prime and ON Accelerate programmes and I am looking forward to ON Prime 5, which is just around the corner. Applications for ON Prime 5 close on July 13.