Start it up: industry unites with universities to innovate in pandemic

By Rebecca Pham, 3 June 2020

Mr Fisher has exported his water recycling technology to the US. It has been widely used in Australia to help overcome problems of drought. He has also supplied water recycling systems for big mining companies and the Sydney Olympics in 2000.

“It all started with me doing this from home, so it’s come full circle,” he said.

Mr Fisher, who is chief executive officer of his company, Aquacell, recently took his idea for a reusable face mask to the Western Sydney University’s Launchpad program which encourages innovation in adversity.

“A lot of what we do is remove waterborne viruses from water so it can safely be reused,” Mr Fisher said. “So I had an idea to come up with a sustainable face mask to replace the disposable ones being imported from overseas.

“I pitched that idea to Don Wright and his team at Launchpad and we decided to develop this in Western Sydney.”

Mr Fisher said his business had not suffered as much as some others and he was looking at ways to keep employing people.

“We are very much about sustainability and doing good work – so how can we help the community to make the best of the situation during COVID-19 and beyond,” he said

“Launchpad need industry partners like us to bring the problems to them and help orchestrate the solutions.”

Mr Fisher said Australia has imported many millions of disposable face masks which needed to be replaced every couple of hours at great cost.

Head of Launchpad Don Wright said Western Sydney was the fastest growing economy in Australia before the pandemic hit.

“We are now heavily focused on helping our region’s small businesses to not just survive but to thrive through the crisis by embracing innovation opportunities that adapt business models, develop new products and services, and leverage new technologies,” he said.

The Launchpad business incubator, supported by NAB, launched the ‘Innovating Through Adversity’ program to assist small businesses cope with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Western Sydney University vice-chancellor Professor Barney Glover said the program aimed to strengthen innovation and enterprise in Western Sydney.

“This program and the many support services Launchpad offers will be fundamental to the economic resilience of our region: helping small businesses manage downturn in demand, disruption to supply chains and adapt to trading restrictions,” he said.

At the University of Sydney, domestic and international students at the Business School are helping social enterprises solve real-world business problems.

The projects are part of an undergraduate subject called Social Entrepreneurship which encourages students to apply their knowledge and skills by working with real enterprises to address social issues.

Michelle Olivia Nee, a third-year student from the University of Michigan, has been working with Black Duck Foods to help develop their official website. Black Duck Foods is a new social enterprise founded by Bruce Pascoe, author of ‘Dark Emu’, aimed at commercialising traditional Indigenous food produce.

Nee and five other students working on the project had planned a visit to Black Duck Foods’ farming site in Mallacoota, in rural Victoria, but social distancing measures meant they had to take a virtual tour via Zoom instead.

“The COVID-19 pandemic meant we had to pivot and ask ourselves what was practically possible given we’re now having to work across different time zones,” Michelle said.

Nee, who is studying for a Bachelor of Business Administration, arrived in Australia as an exchange student in January. She returned to her home in Chicago after American travel restrictions were announced in March, but has continued working remotely on the project.

Dr Jarrod Vassallo who co-ordinates the Social Entrepreneurship unit said the project was under threat, but had managed to survive the coronavirus pandemic.

“The pandemic has sped up an inevitable development: that increasingly, units will be delivered online,” he said.

“We’re lucky to have deep relationships with enterprises like Black Duck Foods who’ve worked with us through these difficult times and students who continue to add real value to their operations.”

Final year Bachelor of Commerce student Sachin Shah is working with BackTrack, an organisation based in Armidale that helps reconnect disadvantaged young people with education and training.

The university students have been working on a database of farmers who are looking for contractors for work including animal care, fencing and feeding livestock.

This article was originally published on Sydney Morning Herald by Anna Patty.

Receive Launch Pad's monthly newsletter with a wrap of workshop and events, news and more

Contact Us

  • Launch Pad Penrith 
    Suite 12, Ground Floor,14 Great Western Highway,
    Werrington NSW 2747

    Launch Pad Parramatta 
    Ground Floor, 100 George Street, 
    Parramatta NSW 2500
  • 02 9678 7200