Northcott Innovation

Liz Forsyth, Northcott Innovation Executive Director

What are the major barriers when it comes to commercialising your product and taking it to market?

Our product is The Step Climber wheelchair attachment. The Step Climber was primarily developed for the purpose of R&D and/or IP development, with commercialisation a secondary aim. As a result elements which are vital to successful commercialisation, but not vital to R&D or IP such, as market research and market validation didn’t take place. This has had a negative impact on our ability to get the Step Climber to market. The Step Climber has also been developed in lines with R&D and IP development principles so utilises cutting edge technology, premium resources and innovative mechanisms. When trying to commercialise the Step Climber difficulties then arise with affordability, ability to scale and the ability of the product to meet the needs of the broader market.

How has UTS’ approach to IP catered to Northcott’s unique business requirements and timeframes?

UTS have been progressive in their approach to IP, seeing projects to fruition has trumped dogmatic ownership rights, UTS’ Easy Access IP agreement has given Northcott the opportunity and commercial incentive to exploit the IP rights of our project.

UTS has also been very accommodating and supportive of the project. We have subsequently seconded a UTS staff member to further develop the technology.

Why did Northcott choose to partner with UTS and how did the relationship come about, and what outcomes has this partnership led to?

UTS had an existing R&D relationship with Mobility 2000 Australia Ltd, the original developers of the Step Climber. Together Mobility 2000 and UTS worked on developing the first and second prototypes of the Step Climber. In 2015 Mobility 2000 transferred ownership of the Step Climber to Northcott.

Do you have any advice for other businesses like yours who are looking to collaborate with universities?

The best outcomes for the step climber have come when all parties can agree on the tasks required to balance academic R&D outcomes with product development. One action that positively supported this balance has been seconding a UTS staff member to Northcott for a period of time. During this time period the UTS staff member has been relinquished from their academic/R&D commitments and have been able to solely focus on the path to commercialisation for the step climber. Another action which positively supported the project collaboration was Northcott co-locating themselves within UTS for the project duration. This has positively impacted on the communication and innovation required to facilitate the project’s success.

How does your organisation/product/technology make a difference to the community?

Northcott is a disability service provider who supports more than 14000 people with a disability and their families/carers across NSW and the ACT. Northcott’s services and supports promote a genuinely inclusive society where children and adults with disabilities can participate in their communities.

The Step Climber wheelchair attachment aims to enable the 17000 Australian who use an electric wheelchair for mobility to navigate kerbs and single steps by providing an affordable add-on attachment which can be fitted to the users existing chair thus providing the additional functionality without requiring the purchase of a whole new wheelchair. This will enable wheelchair users to more easily navigate public streets and many buildings throughout the world, further leveling the playing field and helping to build an inclusive society.