Why did a brain surgeon, an engineer and a materials scientist visit an old meat marketplace in chilly Melbourne?
To share how they’re making their impact in the world and to seek help doing it, of course.
IMPACT7 was one of those events where—held in Melbourne’s Meat Market as a start—it was also running for the first time. What were we all in for? I was lucky to attend as a guest of Refraction Media and was most looking forward to seeing a diverse range of innovation stories presented quickly and then discussed by judges (AKA grillers).
According to Rachel Slattery from SlatteryIT (host of the event), the event aimed to provide an opportunity to celebrate incredible solutions and also to offer a chance for people to connect to bring innovative ideas to life.
“As we received the incredible applications—we received almost 100—from Australia’s top researchers and innovators, we realised that to tackle big problems you have to address discrete challenges,” she said.
Twenty-five innovators, many from Australia’s top universities, talked about their businesses and inventions. There were seven categories: innovative industries, security, environment, clean energy, food security, health and wellbeing. And wildcard. This wildcard category gave the audience a taste of an online marketplace, an indigenous wellbeing framework and a power generator for nano-satellites.
Pitch format and feedback
We heard, in rapid succession, about robots that help conduct brain surgery, of ‘sneaky’ (undetectable) radar systems, smart textiles that can report mining leaks, homes powered by geothermal energy, zapping fruit flies with microwaves, a high-speed rail project, and wafer-thin wearable electronics… just to flag a few of the topics.
This wasn’t just one-way communication. After the three-minute pitches were done in each category, impact leaders—such as Amanda Caples (Victoria’s Lead Scientist), Petra Andren (CEO of Cicada Innovations), Geoff Gourley (Founder of One10) and Sarah Pearson (Pro Vice Chancellor or University of Newcastle)—asked pertinent questions like:
- What is your business model?
- How can you bring more sizzle in how you market so homeowners want your product?
- Who is your target customer?
- We’ve heard great ideas here but why are you doing this?
That last question was my favourite because by answering it, the speaker gave the audience a further glimpse of their passion and drive. People watching also tweeted in questions via an app created for the event.
Could the questions from the impact leaders have been tougher? Well, yes. Everyone (while in the audience) loves a good grilling, right?? Some of the innovators could have more clearly articulated the problems they were tackling. Also, more distinction between the end-user versus the customer (who pays) and the revenue streams they’d identified would have rounded off the pitches. But these finer points did not detract from the quality of the speakers; overall they were engaging and extremely effective communicators.
Innovators to watch
Saving 100,000 lives a year with oxytocin
This statistic is astounding: every year 100,000 women bleed excessively after childbirth and die. Oxytocin can prevent postpartum hemorrhage but the drug is currently only available as an injection that must be kept refrigerated; women in the poorest countries often miss out.
Associate Professor Michelle McIntosh, from Monash University, gave me goosebumps in her pitch. She explained her team has been developing a dried oxytocin powder, which can be inhaled. And amazingly, the new version should cost about the same to produce as the current medication that needs to be kept cold 100% of the time.
Coral reefs mapped in three dimensions
The 3D Reefs project at the University of Sydney is tying together advanced imaging technology and science engagement. By mapping the Great Barrier Reef in three dimensions, scientists can better understand changes over time. They can also 3D-print replacement reef structures, to replace the non-living parts of reefs that have been destroyed. The opportunities from this 3D modeling extend to citizen science and engage people with augmented reality.
Associate Professor William Figueira’s project struck a chord with the audience as he talked about the massive coral bleaching effects of recent years.
“Two-thirds of a 700 kilometre stretch of reef near Port Douglas was killed by one bleaching event in 2016 and we don’t know yet what this year’s heat events will cause,” he said.
While he doesn’t like the boiling down of ecosystems to dollar values, he sees the benefit in this approach to raise awareness about protecting the Great Barrier Reef. (Deloitte Access Economics recently valued the Great Barrier Reef at $56 billion.)
Taking the disease out of mosquito bites
Mosquito-borne diseases account for millions of deaths each year. Perran Ross, a PhD candidate from the University of Melbourne, found that a common bacteria species found in 50% of the insect population could be introduced to mosquitos to stop the transmission of viruses like dengue and zika. While the Wolbachia bacteria naturally occurs in insects (including some breeds of mosquitos), it strangely doesn’t occur in the mosquitos that pass on the disease.
If this sustainable, chemical-free approach does work will wearing insect repellant become a thing of the past? According to Perran, “No, they’ll still bite you but they won’t give you dengue.”
Communicating impact on-stage
Presenting complex science for impact or as part of your business’s value proposition in a three-minute talk on stage is challenging! (Is that an understatement?) And it takes a lot of preparation.
Many audience members I spoke to at IMPACT7 were very impressed by the quality of the speakers. Judge for yourself by watching the videos!
In my opinion, the best innovator pitches had the following attributes:
- A personal story or analogy to hook the audience in. Humans are wired for stories. Michelle McIntosh was my standout here; she connected in to the on-ground impact—women facing impending death from bleeding after childbirth; their families grieving the women they’ve lost—and I think this is part of the reason she won the ‘Greatest Potential Impact’ award.
- Simple and beautiful graphics on screen or props. It’s important to keep the attention of the audience, drive home key points, and to not bamboozle. Less is more. Mathilde Desselle brought in a skull (with a great big hole in it!) and Christine Charles floated a hand-held nano-satellite through the air as she spoke about its movement in space. (Even better would be interaction with props but that wasn’t possible at this event.)
- Good pacing and pauses. Speaking at a slow enough pace will allow people to listen and absorb easily and it’s important to use a mix of tones and energy levels. Want the audience to understand where your idea is struggling and where you need help? Make them feel it.
- Clear answers to:
- ‘Why is this important?’—how can you make people in the audience sit up straighter and hang on your every word…
- ‘Why are you [the innovator] doing this?’—invite people in to feel your passion and to trust your credibility and authenticity. You’ll be far more memorable than someone who seems like they just turn up to work each day because they are contracted to and have to pay the bills.
- Chunked content. By this I mean a limited number of steps down a pathway that are easy to follow, such as:
- The challenge or problem for the customer or society at large.
- Why you’re passionate about solving the problem.
- How you’re solving the problem (including the financials and operations).
- The ask; what do you need to get it done?
You may be thinking that very few of these points focus on the logic or the reasoning behind the science. This is because humans ultimately want to connect with the person they’re listening to and also make decisions with a whole lot of emotion involved. And, if you’ve only got three minutes, you may as well make it entertaining 😉
“There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories.”
― Ursula K. Le Guin, American novelist.
If you’re an innovator and need help connecting with your customers or audiences, get in touch with us today.
Written by Claire Harris
Claire Harris is passionate about innovation and the people that spark it. She helps scientists and engineers—especially in agriculture, environment, and health—to communicate why they do what they do and how they want to impact the world.