AMCHAM trade and investment – CSIRO puts down roots in Silicon Valley

October 19th, 2018

The US team will be focused on the delivery of world-leading science and breakthrough innovation across various industries: from energy to space, environment to manufacturing, food and agriculture to health and biosecurity, and anywhere CSIRO's innovation can solve global challenges.

In October 2017, Australia’s renowned research organization, the CSIRO, opened an office in San Mateo in Silicon Valley, its first office in the United States. The US team will be focused on the delivery of world-leading science and breakthrough innovation across various industries: from energy to space, environment to manufacturing, food and agriculture to health and biosecurity, and anywhere CSIRO’s innovation can solve global challenges.

Working with businesses at all stages of the innovation life cycle, under the leadership of Susan Lucas-Conwell, CSIRO US will build the organisation’s customer base, which presently includes Boeing, NASA, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Johnson & Johnson.

‘With a presence in the United States, our hope is to broaden and deepen those relationships while creating new ones,’ says Lucas-Conwell.

A Silicon Valley veteran, Lucas-Conwell previously worked as the Chief Executive Officer of SV Forum, a large not-for-profit that connects, supports and strengthens the entrepreneurial community. She has advised hundreds of early-stage start-ups in addition to serving on a number of boards. Much of her career was spent in France at Cartier International and Ray Ban before founding ClearDay, a cross-border business accelerator.

‘Every organization we work with is different and has a unique set of problems that they are looking to solve. Anything from creating a new coating to help planes fly faster, to breeding new types of crops that are more nutritious and can resist pests. This is the same for innovation. It happens in many different ways; that’s why we are open-minded and shape each partnership to maximise customer benefits and complement our strengths as a research organisation,’ she says.

Prior to her role at SV Forum, Lucas-Conwell was the Chief Innovation Catalyst, board member at Growth Resources Inc. where she collaborated with executive teams of Global 1000 companies to build strategic relationships with the innovation ecosystem. As Innovation Advisor to Siemens Technology to Business, she helped bring external innovation back to the business units.

Lucas-Conwell believes that ‘Great workplaces share the same culture the world over and naturally inspire innovation. The key is trust. As part of building a foundation of trust, great workplaces focus on credibility, respect, fairness, price and camaraderie. Without these foundations, people can be innovative but it will happen in their own silos and not as a team’.

At SV Forum, she established long-term relationships with corporations, such as Microsoft and IBM, as well as governments and service providers. This impressive track record of driving innovation and revenue growth and her passion for start-ups make her a valuable asset to the CSIRO team.

‘I love start-ups and turnarounds, opportunities to have an impact on the world we live in – whether it’s business, technology or people,’ she says.

Lucas-Conwell has no shortage of expertise or enthusiasm when it comes to the start-up arena, and collaboration has become second nature to her.

‘Collaboration means sharing, transparency, communications and teamwork – these fundamentals don’t change,’ she says.

The business landscape changes all the time, and Lucas-Conwell is keenly aware of how it continues to evolve.

‘Many large organisations have been forced to change because markets move, times change and they need to adapt. To do so, they are increasingly looking to external innovation as a way to stay ahead of the curve,’ she says.

‘Fifty years ago, they were comfortable and didn’t feel the pressure to change coming from little tiny companies. At that time, the average ‘life’ of a company on the Fortune 500 list was 60 years. Now, it’s 20 and dropping.’

This understanding sets a clear and strong direction for CSIRO in the United States, Australia and the world over, ‘CSIRO has amazing science and technology that is unknown in the United States, and part of CSIRO’s focus is on global good,’ Lucas-Conwell says.

As well as experience with start-ups and the business landscape in the United States, Lucas-Conwell is well versed in Australia’s economic development.

‘In the past, Australia, as a country, operated relatively independently and was able to sustain its economy due to its wealth of native raw materials – like iron ore. That boom is over and Australia has had to rethink its ‘business model’. Science and innovation are the next wave, and this makes Australia and the United States ripe for collaboration,’ she says.

So, where do Australia’s strengths lie according to Lucas-Conwell, ‘Australia’s tech sector is growing incredibly quickly and robotics, health, renewable energy, cybersecurity and technologies such as machine learning and artificial intelligence are witnessing growth and investment in Australia, the United States and across the world,’ she says.

‘The potential is exponential across so many of the sectors that CSIRO focuses on – everything from health and biosecurity to agriculture, energy and data science.’

Exciting partnerships that have emerged in the past few months include the collaboration between CSIRO and the University of California Davis, Saildrone and Swinburne. The establishment of CSIRO US is set to bring about great collaboration, innovation and teamwork, and Lucas-Conwell will no doubt provide insightful direction as the CSIRO forges new partnerships and new projects in its efforts to achieve global good.