Grey Innovation is turning academic research into life-saving companies

Jefferson Harcourt, Director of Grey Innovation

There have been so many academics that have dedicated their life’s work towards making a difference, only to never see it get out to where it needs to be. That is why Grey Innovation was founded back in 1988.

Grey Innovation is the brainchild of director Jefferson Harcourt, a commercialisation technology company based in Melbourne that extracts big ideas and research projects out of universities and hospitals across Australia.

“The academics who have put their life behind some research are absolutely delighted to see it go somewhere. Because often, as you know, it doesn’t. Those professional academics are over the moon when they see their research finally getting out to where it can actually help people,” Mr Harcourt said.

How the process works

Essentially, Grey Innovation gives academics and researchers all the funding and support they need to turn their ideas into real-world products. That includes support from inception all the way through to taking it to market.

“We licence the projects from the research institution, we partner with them, we raise the capital to spin out the companies that we build around that technology, and we bring in our team of engineers and business people as well to help develop the technology and grow that business,” Mr Harcourt said.

“It’s all about matching sophisticated research. We spend A$10 billion a year funding research in this country, so rather than waiting for an inventor with an idea, why not go to a university that’s had billions of dollars spent over many decades with incredible depth of very, very sophisticated intellectual property?

“That is why we pick up and run with it. There’s a lot of good stuff in the Australian academic system.”

Powering up innovative projects

Firefly is one of the projects Grey Innovation is behind. Looking as sleek as wearable tech from any of the major companies like Apple or Samsung, this watch doesn’t record kilometres, it records lifesaving data.

Instead of the painful norm of needles to monitor the blood in diabetics, this allows for a non-invasive way to do the same thing. And it has enormous life-saving potential by detecting the potentially fatal nocturnal hypoglycemia.

“It’s really, really important tech for diabetes management,” Mr Harcourt said.

“That came out of an Australian hospital and we’ve been working that up for the last couple of years, doing clinical trials around Australia and it’s looking very exciting.”

The next example is Grey Scan, an important technological upgrade for discovering trace explosives, which is attracting global interest because of the terrorist climate gripping the world.

“It slots into a globally, very relevant space to extend the capability of agencies around the world to detect explosives in aircraft and in other places you don’t want explosives.

“We’re currently in negotiations with major players globally, and we’ve developed that technology up and demonstrated to the European and American governments.”

How big data is paving the way for these companies

Research has always been a long, laborious process. Now data can be stored and transmitted on such a massive scale that new possibilities have opened up.

Mr Harcourt pointed to Firefly, which takes 20 million samples per patient, per night off the device as an example of how big data is changing the way researchers operate.

Another example is TALI health, a program for assessing children with autism and developmental delays. It takes 1,000 different readings from a child per second—a far cry from the current practice of appointments with a specialist once a fortnight.

“Big data enables you to find so many more relationships and patterns that weren’t possible before,” Mr Harcourt said.

“And with the connected devices, and devices on the cloud, it makes it all possible and cost effective.”

Victorian Government support is key

Mr Harcourt said the support of the Victorian Government was significant because it gets the conversation going amongst investors and amongst the university system

“It’s no good us, as an industry, just pushing it ourselves. When you’ve got the government backing for all the right reasons, it makes a big difference,” he said.

“And it’s actually attracting attention. We’ve got an office in Munich, we do work in the US and in Europe, Melbourne is getting noticed for the work that it is doing.

“It is becoming a centre like Berlin and San Francisco. It really has that potential.”