Sarah Pearson


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Sarah Pearson on the importance of cooperation and competition

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Dr Sarah Pearson has a wealth of experience from a wide variety of roles within the science, technology and startup sector. Previously Global Head of Open Innovation at Cadbury, founding CEO of the Canberra Innovation Network, Chief Innovation Officer and Chief Scientist at the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Sarah is currently on the investment committee for Main Sequence Ventures, a Director of RACQ and a Paul Ramsay Foundation Fellow. Sarah was awarded a PhD in particle physics from the University of Oxford, and has published research in the areas of particle physics, medical physics, artificial intelligence, innovation, science communication and science policy, and is an author on eight patents covering cancer diagnosis and confectionary. In her conversation with guest host Will Tjo, she discusses the importance of both cooperation and competition within the startup world, and what she sees as potential changes to the way Australian government is structured that could help foster innovation.


Sarah Pearson profile in Science & Technology Australia: https://scienceandtechnologyaustralia.org.au/profile/sarah-pearson/

Sarah Pearson on Twitter: https://twitter.com/innovationsarah


Will Tjo So Sarah, you have a breadth of experience in innovation spanning across government, the private sector and education to name a few. What drew you to the space? 

Sarah Pearson I think I like having an impact. And the brilliant thing about innovation is that it’s about having an impact. You know, somebody would have an idea and I love ideas. I love the world of ideas. My PhD was in particle physics, trying to understand the meaning of life, the universe and everything. I do love the fact you can take ideas and make a difference in the world with them. So I think that was what attracted to me to it.


Will Tjo When would you say that you first started to dabble in this whole world of startups and innovation? Was it through say an internship or something like that? 

Sarah Pearson Well, actually it was my PhD, but I didn’t know it at the time. So my PhD was in particle physics. The experiment involves 500 physicists from 12 countries around the world and we were collectively and collaboratively building this detector to detect what came out of smashing electrons and protons together.

Sarah Pearson Anyway, the piece that I was working on was called the central tracking detector and because the interaction was happening so rapidly, once every 96 nanoseconds, and back then 30 years ago, the technology was such that, you couldn’t actually keep all that data. You had to make very quick decisions. So you needed parallel processing. 

Sarah Pearson Anyway, we were using these microprocessors called transfusions that were a spin-out from South Hampton University in the UK. So little beknown, I had no idea myself, this was innovation. But we were using technology from a spin-out from university research right back then.

Sarah Pearson And then my next role on my PhD was working at McKinsey as a strategic management consultant and started to work for technology companies there and innovation was all a thing – even back then. Want to say all the thing, it was something that was of interest to technology companies. And so it went on, you know, I just wandered my way through the innovation ecosystem working in pretty much every part of it. But I’ve loved it. 

Sarah Pearson I think the interesting thing for me was, obviously, I love deep tech. I was a physicist. And so that application of deep tech was always fascinating. But, later on, I started to think about using innovation for social impact. And that was when I joined the board of an entity called TACSI, The Australian Centre for Social Innovation, which took me down, not just the, hey tech’s exciting and let’s commercialize tech, but actually now how do you use innovation and the principles of innovation to solve big social challenge. Which later on led me into aid and how you, help developing countries in the global south. For instance, with entrepreneurship and innovation. And I found myself a little side trip was being global head of open innovation at Cadbury. 

Sarah Pearson So, you know, how do you work with a global brand? It was, you know, a massive, fabulous, exciting brand to work with. And how do you work with that to drive innovation and work with entrepreneurs and innovative researchers and innovative companies to take stuff to market venturing out myself in venture capital.

Sarah Pearson So, you know, how do you do the investing side of things? And make decisions about what to invest in and what not to invest in and eventually building ecosystems. So how’d you bring the whole lot together? How’d you bring business, big business, small business, startups, entrepreneurs, researchers, schools, et cetera, et cetera. How did you bring all that together? Which was a lot of fun.

Will Tjo That’s amazing. So far, it seems that we’ve been talking about innovation in a general sense. Like, as you mentioned, you’ve been doing physics and that was considered innovation. And then you went into management consulting strategy and then Cadbury, social impact, venture capital, and so on. How do you see innovation and what does it mean for you?

Sarah Pearson Oh gosh, I saw something, a description once, which was innovation is ideas applied for impact. And there are so many definitions of innovation and honestly you get sick of it and I’m even sick of the word innovation. Just recently in the last few months, maybe six months, I’ve been using the word ingenious, ingenuity. Because everyone’s had enough of the word innovation.

Sarah Pearson And then people say okay, well startup is innovation. Well startup is only one part of innovation. A startup is part of the ecosystem and it’s someone with a great idea that they try to commercialize or, make into some sort of a service or product, that could be not-for-profit or for-purpose. I’m waffling on because innovation is a big word and the startup and the entrepreneurship pieces, from my perspective, just a part of it.

Will Tjo It’s just one segment and really the whole idea, as you mentioned, was ideas being applied. 

Sarah Pearson Yes. It could be a school. So you could work with, as we were at the Canberra Innovation Network, we were working with school kids. School kids could have an idea. Then they might want to set up companies. That’s entrepreneurship and the startup piece. But, you know, large multinationals could be wanting to check out how they’re going to be paradigm shifted and thrashed by, you know, these startup competitors or these new technologies that are coming through the universities. 

Sarah Pearson It’s just as important for large companies to be innovating just as it is that there are SMEs, small to medium enterprises, out there who are, started with one product, but then they start to move into new products. So, they’ve got a product portfolio. Or it could be a service entity that’s delivering some social change for health or education, or something like that, that is also looking for new ways to achieve the outcomes they want to achieve. Or it could even be just, you know, business model changes or just trying to do things a different way.

Will Tjo Yeah. And since you started doing particle physics back then, how do you think the ecosystem for innovation has developed up until now?

Sarah Pearson Yeah. So that was back in the UK and it was a long time ago. The ecosystem then really wasn’t a connected ecosystem. But there were, you know, science parks and things like that 30 years ago. And I still think that science parks and your precincts are incredibly important because a lot of innovation is actually serendipity. So you need that opportunity and there’s places and spaces where people can bump into one another and chew the fat and throw ideas around. 

Sarah Pearson So anyway, what about Australia? So I came back, so I’ve been in Australia 30 years. I went back to the UK for the Cadbury job for three years and then came back in 2009. And, you know, I got so excited in the Northern Hemisphere about what was happening up there with innovation and was so disappointed when I got back to Australia in 2009. And so, I just made it my mandate to as, you know, plenty of other people did too, to try and help Australia to really catch up.

Sarah Pearson And so, you know, I did things like went and spoke wherever anyone asked me to speak. And I was in Canberra so I just hassled public servants and politicians as much as I could – as did other people. And then within about three years, I started to go to conferences and hear people talking about chief innovation officer and things like that.

Sarah Pearson And I thought, ah great, something’s happening. And all sorts of things were bubbling away in those days: you know, 2010, 2011, 2012. Little new startup spaces, co-working spaces. There wasn’t much around, they were sort of nascent accelerators, but certainly a bunch of programs to help people with ideas. Really early stuff. So there were bits and pieces. A few little venture capital funds bumbling along. 

Sarah Pearson And from my perspective, when Malcolm Turnbull did his piece in 2015, it was almost like it put rocket fuel in us, it was like someone said to the innovation ecosystem, hey, okay. You’re valid. Off you go, here’s some programs to help. But also you’re just, you’re valid. This is what you want Australia to do. 

Sarah Pearson And so I saw massive acceleration then, which was really good. It was based on humans that were doing it anyway, plus others that jumped in because there was money around. But you know, it just gave a lot more momentum. And I think that momentum has been growing and growing over the years ever since. I mean, it was a shame that it all fell apart somewhat when Malcom finished his time. 

Sarah Pearson It’s certainly, from my perspective, slowed down politically since then. But people have still being going on with it. I sort of feel, right now, there are, in certain parts of Australia, it’s really well connected and humming. Yeah, I’m really proud of what they’re doing in Canberra. They were ranked third city in the world for innovation just recently one of the things. And anyway, so, they’re doing a really good job. I think Hunter, they’re doing a really great job building a connected ecosystem. I’ve seen a bunch of them really springing up across Queensland, which is really fantastic.

Sarah Pearson Obviously there’s been a lot of money and energy thrown at this within Victoria, Melbourne and Sydney in particular. I think we’re beginning to get more of a connected, collaborative ecosystem than we’ve had in the past. I do think though we’ve lost a bit of our oomph.

Will Tjo That’s very interesting. And there were a couple of things that you talked about that I want to touch on. And the first is, it seems that innovation can largely be affected by the whims of policymakers. And as you mentioned, it really started to accelerate when Malcolm Turnbull came in in 2015 and help the ecosystem there. But then as soon as he left, it started to fall apart. What do you think we can do to mitigate the effects of changes in government? 

Sarah Pearson Well, the first obvious thing is to make sure that you’re talking to both sides. To make sure that you’re, as innovators and entrepreneurs, we’ve got voice with all the parties. So that whoever’s in power, we’ve got some sort of a voice. 

Sarah Pearson I feel that we’ve got to a place now where we’ve matured quite significantly to the degree that there are plenty of stories to tell. There are some really great success stories. I mean, unicorns are one and we’ve got a lot more unicorns. There’s some big stories like that to tell. But there’s a lot of other stories to tell too. And I think that’s something we should do much better at. For instance, there was a great story the other day about hydrogen in Queensland.

Sarah Pearson Yeah. This is how you build thousands of jobs and with examples of how it’s worked. So I think that’s something we really need to get better at. The other thing is, we don’t need to wait for the politics to catch up. I mean, you know, It’s really helpful if you have got a government that works for you, I’ve seen the impact of that in the Indo-Pacific. For instance Vietnam is the phenomenal what’s happening over there because the government’s got so much support. 

Sarah Pearson But still, I think something we forgot about in Australia is that it’s actually not about government. I mean, government absolutely has a part to play. Early stage funding, it’d be great for government to step in. Government is a trusted partner to draw together the stakeholders within an ecosystems. There’s obviously export and support for that. But they are only just one part of the puzzle. And I feel that, in some parts of Australia, we’re doing that well. So entrepreneurs and innovators and investors are stepping up, but in other parts they’re not.

Sarah Pearson So I think that’s something we need to do more uniformly across Australia, is realize that actually everyone’s got a part to play. Everyone needs to step up and play that part collectively. So I think that’s something we still need to do.

Will Tjo What you mentioned about how it’s not as uniformly, for a lack of better terms, successful across Australia. You also mentioned for example, that Canberra was ranked third for the ecosystem. Why do we have such a discrepancy with some pockets seeming to do better than others? 

Sarah Pearson Look, I will give a top of mind, which is people. All these things are about people, people, people. So I think the places that don’t succeed are places where they have a low maturity in terms of their understanding of how you run this with people. I think a number of places that try this forget that this is not a competition. It’s a collaboration. You know, what’s the BHAG: the big, hairy, audacious goal that you can all buy into and you can all collectively have your part to play in rather than having the one or two people who’ve got high-profile and everybody else follows. 

Sarah Pearson Or in some instances, there’s just so much competition going on between the groups that they just don’t get around to collaborate. And they don’t understand that actually, if they collaborated they’d achieve so much more than if they fought over the small piece of money or whatever it is that they’re trying to find to get. So I think it is, it’s people. It’s people who have all bought into what they’re trying to achieve. And then people realizing that there’s no room for prima donnas. It’s actually all about everyone just getting in, pulling up their sleeves and doing their piece that they can. 

Will Tjo Yeah, absolutely. Collaboration and making sure that people don’t compete with one another. That sounds beautiful in practice. 

Sarah Pearson Sorry to butt in but a little bit of competition is fine. I call it collabetition. So you wouldn’t achieve anything without competition, but you need to be able to work out where you collaborate and where you compete. 

Will Tjo Yeah, definitely. And in theory, that sounds great. But how do we stop people from over competing? Is it just like a cultural mindset shift that needs to happen? 

Sarah Pearson Goodness. That’s a very, very good question. I think you do it through this BHAG. So if you, as a group of competitors, can agree on what it is you could all benefit from. So for instance, in Canberra, if there were, I think we had six universities research institutes, all collaborating to build an innovation ecosystem.

Sarah Pearson Now they were in strong competition. Really strong competition. And, the thought of getting them all into a room and signing agreements around money and stuff they’re going to do together was quite unheard of. But because they realized that together, if they built this ecosystem for all of them, there would be more for them to be successful. 

Sarah Pearson There’d be more companies attracted to Canberra so that they could collaborate with them on research. There’d be more support for their spin-outs. That they would attract great talent to the city. So there were, really important things that they knew they had to have and they couldn’t achieve on their own. So finding out what it is that people can all buy into and they know they can’t achieve on their own. I think that’s, that can be a big help.

Will Tjo Yeah, that makes sense. I guess it’s the old adage of just finding the lowest common denominator and what can we work together towards. 

Sarah Pearson Yes. Yeah. I wouldn’t call it the lowest common denominator. Cause, I’d like to think it’s an inspirational, maybe we can call it the highest common denominator.

Will Tjo A fair point. Sarah, this is very interesting. And so far, obviously we’ve been discussing the challenges on what we could do to improve. What do you think on the flip side that we have been doing great at and what makes us unique? 

Sarah Pearson I think, in terms of uniqueness, and we’ve obviously got some industry sectors that we are world-class in: agriculture is an obvious one, mining is an obvious one. And if you look at the areas that the government has chosen to focus on, they’re all areas that makes sense for us to focus on. 

Sarah Pearson Climate tech would be another obvious one given how much we’re impacted by it. And that’s all quite controversial at the moment, but it’s a no brainer for Australia, I think. I’m really disappointed that we have left it behind for so long. Cause we could be leading the world right now, but anyway, blah, blah, blah. We can still press on now with that.

Sarah Pearson So, I think we’ve got some great industry sectors that we have advantages in and it’s good to focus on those. I think people have found that challenging in the past, cause they don’t like this thing called backing winners. But, I reckon, go where the probability of success is the highest. So I think there’s a bunch of industries that do well.

Sarah Pearson The universities have really been giving it a go in terms of helping students become entrepreneurs and giving them a lot of support. I think there’s some really good examples of that. It’s not uniform across all the universities, but there’s definitely some good examples of that. I think the industry growth centers in terms of places that industry sectors can come together and look at what the high growth export opportunities are and how they collaborate around that have been successful and impactful.

Sarah Pearson You know, venture capital has grown a lot. I remember, I think it was six years ago. I went to China on this Australia Week in China program. There’s a thousand of us that went. A hundred of us in the innovation pipeline. And it was fascinating because we had 1 billion of venture capital in the whole of Australia at the time. I ended up sitting next to this venture capitalist in Beijing and I cheekily asked him how much he had in his fund. And he had a hundred billion Yuan, like a billion Aussie dollars. Like, ooh, okay. We don’t have very much then do we. And that’s grown a lot since and I’m very proud of what we do at Main Sequence Ventures.

Sarah Pearson I’m on the investment committee for Main Sequence Ventures. And we’ve now got about a $500 million, two funds. Two and then two full on funds worth about 500 million. We’re investing in deep tech So, I think that’s been a success. 

Sarah Pearson I love the space agency. I love what we’re doing around space and spatial, that industry and Enrico, who’s joined recently, is a great leader for that. And there’s some amazing entrepreneurs working in that space. You know, Gilmour Space Technologies come to mind in the Gold Coast. I’m big fond of the Gilmour team. 

Sarah Pearson So yeah, I think we’ve got a lot to be proud of. A lot have been building. We’ve got a lot of hubs in the regions. I think that’s something else to be really proud. This isn’t just in the cities. This is in the regions too. And there’s some really great humans in the regions. I’m thinking of Liam O’Duibhir and Bega. There’s a bunch of really great people here in Queensland. I’m thinking of Townsville, and Cairns, and Goondwindi, Rockhampton, really great people. And Gladstone building those connected ecosystems. So I think they were making a lot of progress.

Will Tjo What could we do to support us further? I mean,it seems like we’re growing really fast here. Who bears the onus of supporting the ecosystem? And if it’s the entrepreneurs, for example, what could they do if it’s the venture capitalist, what could they do? 

Sarah Pearson Yeah, government is obviously is challenged financially at the moment, but one of the things they can do is buy stuff. I am not the first person to say this government procurement could be a lot better for innovative Australian businesses. So I think that would be such an easy one, but for government to do in terms of playing their role. I do see that government is a good neutral territory for bringing competing stakeholders together to help them to connect and collaborate across the ecosystem. So I think that’s good.

Sarah Pearson In terms of venture capitalists. I think for them, it’s a challenge finding all the deals. How do you reach in and find the deals? For instance, if you go to a university, it’s probably, it’s quite challenging to go to all the universities and find out all the great stuff that universities are doing. I think we could make that better, that connectivity between university base and the venture capital base. 

Sarah Pearson I think the universities and the corporates could do a lot better at collaborating. That there are some really good examples of great collaborations already happening. But I think there’s more that we could be doing. I’d like to see us doing what’s called strategic technology roadmapping. The Innovate UK, their original technology strategy board, several, maybe 10 or 11 years ago. And they were designed to build these new industries as well as innovating in the current industries in the UK to inject innovation and new tech; emerging science and technology. And they do this thing called strategic technology road mapping, which is looking at where the high growth export opportunities are, and then planning by bringing the triple leaders together.

Sarah Pearson So bringing big business, small business, research-based government, supporters, investors all together to agree what that strategic technology roadmap should be. And I think that can really help and give direction to those collaborations. So that could be done. I would love us to set up something like Innovate UK. If people don’t know it, check it out. It does this strategic technology roadmapping, but also funds startups and entrepreneurs. It works with big business and the research base. It’s just something I think we could really benefit from here in Australia and it needs to be not government. It needs to be much more nimble and agile than government can do. 

Sarah Pearson So that’s that. I think, what else could we do better? I think the entrepreneurs are doing a good job and the Tech Council is a great example of entrepreneurs jumping in and saying, okay, so we can see a gap here. Government’s not doing everything we’d like them to do. So let’s set up the Tech Council and work with a whole ecosystem. And they’ve got a whole bunch of really great partners that they’ve brought together to try to drive some policy changes. So I think that piece is really good. 

Sarah Pearson And of course serial entrepreneurs are really good at investing in new ideas. I think if Steve Baxter here in Queensland and the great work he’s done for many years investing in the ecosystem. But, you know, entrepreneurs, serial entrepreneurs could do more of that and be great mentors as well. I think something we’re missing in Australia is, we need many more mentors to help these early stage ideas.

Will Tjo Do you have any unpopular opinions about innovation and our startup ecosystem in general? Something that you believe is true, but others may not necessarily agree with you? 

Sarah Pearson Well, look, I think one when I said you know, picking winners. That’s been so controversial so many years from a government perspective anyway. Like I said, maximize your probability of when you’ve got a certain amount of money. So that, that can be a bit of an unpopular one. 

Sarah Pearson I think my one about get rid of the egos and, just have people in leadership who are almost invisible and who are really good at drawing people together. That might be controversial. I think that having those charismatic leaders at the beginning of our Australia’s journey was really important because it was needed to raise awareness and get people excited about what they could be. But I think we’ve got enough people excited about setting up startups and there’s a bit of a culture growing in that. But we need now different sort of leaders who are much more about the connected, collaborative, enabling side of things. And that could be a bit controversial. 

Sarah Pearson Maybe another one is that, I think the corporates should be doing a lot more than they are. And I think they should be realizing that Australia is a fabulously safe place to have staff and to innovate, that Australia is an amazing knowledge base. And I would love to see corporates really stepping out much more than they are right now to think about Australia. And so not necessarily to think about even their own business, but think about how do they make Australia better so that then their businesses can do better. 

Sarah Pearson Here’s another one. I actually think that the whole model of government needs to change because we cannot afford – we just don’t have the taxes anymore to afford health care and social support. I mean, look at the way it’s going right now. So I think government needs to really change. It needs to A, work out what its role is. Its role is not just to come up with program ideas that ministers can then go, woohoo. Aren’t I great. I came up with this fabulous program or policy and then tick a box. And after you have a photograph taken. 

Sarah Pearson I think government really needs to understand they are a piece of the puzzle. They are part of the ecosystem. They need to become a semi-permeable entity so that they can actually be much more a part of the ecosystem and the ecosystem can be much more a part of them. So I think that could be a bit controversial. And I also think that government needs to really reach into the ecosystem to find people who can deliver the things that need to be delivered, that they can’t, or that actually entrepreneurs are better at.

Sarah Pearson And here’s an example in Cambodia, there’s a startup called 40K plus that delivers personalized education on iPads to student in schools, in villages, that have no internet connection. So don’t tell me we cannot deliver personalized education in Australia. It’s BS. It’s a big beast to change, but it needs to, and I think that would, be controversial in some circles and not in others.

Will Tjo I understand your points. And tell me more about what you meant by government needing to be a semi-permeable entity. So you mentioned before government needs to buy more things, is it just a matter of them needing to be more of a hands-on entity? 

Sarah Pearson So back in the day when I was Global Head of Open Innovation at Cadbury, we were just moving into open innovation for the first time, which was frightening for a large corporate who thought it had to own all its ideas. It couldn’t let anything out of the bag because then competitors would know what you’re doing and blah, blah, blah.

Sarah Pearson And in those days corporates, in the FMCG sector, had a very firm and strong membrane around them. You would not go outside of Cadbury and ask people for their ideas. So, the semi-permeable membrane concept is well, okay, there’s some things you could go outside for. So for instance, we were trying to deliver flavour and chewing gum in a different way, rather like they do in Mr. Willy Wonka. You have entree, main course, and dessert being delivered. The flavours delivered at different times. And we just couldn’t do it. With internal resources, we hadn’t, we just had no clue. We tried and tried and couldn’t do anything. 

Sarah Pearson So we ended up going to a nutraceutical company that had this nanopore silica that was delivering chemicals into the skin – nutraceuticals into the skin at different rates, depending on the pore size. So, you know, you could take that straight from nutraceuticals into confectionary. And that was that semi-permeable. So you’ll let some things in and out, but not everything.

Sarah Pearson Like Flake. You’ll never tell anyone how to make Flake. It’s these little leprechauns in Ireland with their silver shovels. And you’re not gonna tell anybody about that. So you have to decide. Are you going to make it, you’re going to buy it, or are you going to co-develop it. Make it because it’s so secret, you want to keep it inside. Buy it because someone else has done it already so why would you develop it or co-develop because it doesn’t exist and you want to collaborate with someone who’s got the expertise outside of your organization to do that. Same with government. So, you know, what is it you need to make yourself?

Sarah Pearson Are there some things that are so secret in government and you can think of plenty of those, that you just have government people working on it. Are there some things that actually, someone has already made or could make easily for you and you just buy it. And then, so you don’t need to develop it yourself. And now there’s some other things you need to co-develop. So for instance, you wanted to develop some new platform to deliver some social service. Okay, go out to the startup community or the research base and work collaboratively to deliver that. But the word collaboration there is really important.

Sarah Pearson So there’s a lot more than just the words that you were using earlier to describe what this semi-permeable means. And then on top of that, you need public servants to not just stay in their office – they need to actually be out in the ecosystem, networking. But back at Cadbury, the way I described it was we lived in this sea, this ocean, this global ocean of ideas. Inside the company, inside other companies, the universities and the networks we had, our suppliers and government, I think, needs to do a lot more of that.

Will Tjo So in essence, it’s just not having these huge walls up, would you say so? 

Sarah Pearson Yes. Someone once described it as drawbridges. You’ve got your castle and your drawbridges drawn up. Well, get your drawbridge down.

Will Tjo Yeah, absolutely. So, if a new founder came to you Sarah, going into the tangent of practical applications for entrepreneurs. Given all your experience, mistakes and wins, what’s one advice that you would want to impart to them?

Sarah Pearson So I think for me, and this is me personally, purpose is incredibly important because having a startup is really difficult, you know, it’s an up and down journey and you know, there’s some wins and losses and it’s challenging, but if you’ve got a purpose that you really strongly believe in, it’ll help you get through that. So that’s the first thing I’d say to an entrepreneur, right? What’s your purpose? Why are you doing this? Sort of help them through that. 

Sarah Pearson Secondly, my advice would be, okay, are you sure that someone really cares about this? Back at CBRIN there was a team there, Petr Adámek, who’s now the CEO there, and Craig Davis, developed this series of workshops around lean startup. And the first one was all about your customer. And even if you’ve got a nascent idea, no product, or just an idea, they may use you to call up potential customers. And it was genius because, you know, before you go any further, you work out, okay, does anyone care, would anyone buy this or use it? 

Sarah Pearson And it was interesting, the university researchers went through this, loved it because just had no idea that humans cared about their research, that were outside the research base. So that’s the other thing, does it really matter and would people pay for it? 

Sarah Pearson And then the last thing I’d say is, okay, who is best to deliver this? If from a whole perspective, are you the best to deliver it, and from a microscopic perspective of the pieces that need to be done, who should be doing them? What skills do you need to bring in to collaborate on or partner with as well as what do you need inside your team. So forget about whether it’s just you as an organization and think bigger in terms of the whole picture, what needs to get this to market?

Will Tjo The last question is not really a question, but more so a space for you to talk about whatever is on your mind about our ecosystem. We’re aiming to reach policy makers and government, venture capitals, investors, entrepreneurs themselves, students. What would you say to them? 

Sarah Pearson I remember when I came back from the UK, 11 years ago, I was just so struck with the amazing creators, ideators, you know, the amazing ideas that we have here in Australia. We are phenomenal and world-leading in a number of areas, and we won’t stop at doing quantum for instance. So, the first thing on my mind is, let’s be really proud of the fact we’ve got these fantastic assets, which are all these ideas and people with ideas. And that includes people in sheds. 

Sarah Pearson I met this amazing guy outside of Mackay who is developing new technologies to cut sugar cane. Which eventually is gonna be so useful for, new foods, new food production using biorefineries. And he’s just in his shed out in the middle of nowhere, as well as the universities, as well as kids, blah, blah.

Sarah Pearson We’ve got this amazing base of great people ideas. How do we really make the most of that? And let’s get behind all of that with a collaborative ecosystem. So for me, the big piece is how do we build these collaborative ecosystems that are open and accessible and people can get what they need when they need.

Sarah Pearson And then the last thing I really want to say is, let’s make sure this is inclusive. Make sure that no one gets left behind you. I’m like my work with DFAT around aid and helping countries in the Indo-Pacific build their innovation ecosystem was all around that. And no one should miss out on this global opportunity to drive new economies and higher value jobs for people. 

Sarah Pearson So absolutely no one should be left behind. And obviously as a woman, a big piece of that for me is the agenda equity side of things. So let’s not treat it as a nice to have. You know, all the stats say it’s going to take, a few years ago it was 75 years now, I think it’s a hundred and twenty-five years. Let’s not live with that. Let’s make some progress on that collectively, rapidly.

Will Tjo Personally, what’s next for you, Sarah? 

Sarah Pearson So a couple, well a few confidential things. So I can’t really say except the one is I’m going to be working with a foundation to look at how we use innovation within foundations globally, to help lift people out of poverty and break that poverty cycle. I’m really excited about that. I’m about to join a board that has three different businesses that are all being paradigm shift right now. Paradigm shifted by technology and innovation. So that involves climate change, mobility, renewable energy. And that’s really exciting I’ve also got Main Sequence Ventures that I’m loving, building, helping build deep tech in Australia through that entity with a great, really fantastic team there at Main Sequence Ventures. 

Sarah Pearson There’s another venture capital entity that asked me to be on their investment committee, which is around food and agtech, I’m pretty excited about. A global entity looking at scaling up health take across the global south, should hopefully be announced soon and yeah, blah, blah, blah, a bunch of different things, basically around how do we break the poverty cycle? And what do we do about climate whilst having an overlay of all of that in terms of gender equity and inclusivity.

Will Tjo That’s amazing. They say that there’s 24 hours a day, but listening to you describe your work, I don’t think you live in a 24 hour day. Sarah. How do you manage? 

Sarah Pearson I remember saying God, about 30 or 40 years ago, thinking, God I wish I had 36 hours and then thinking, I just feel them. 

Will Tjo But how do you manage?

Sarah Pearson I make sure that I take time out. I think that’s really important. I’m incredibly lucky. I have a horse. And for me, the outdoors and that physical exercise is incredibly important. So I make sure I do that at least once a week. And working with people you enjoy on things that you feel passionate about. I don’t work on stuff I don’t feel passionate about it cause I can’t get the energy for it.


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