Dr Lyndal Thorburn is the poster child for career goals that wind their way through “slightly strange places” and end up somewhere unexpected and exciting.
She wanted to be a scientist. And while she has never officially worked as one in her long and storied career, she did manage to weave science into almost everything she has done.
With a 30-year career in management and consulting for technology-based organisations and government (including CSIRO) under her belt, this says a lot.
As managing director of Advance Consulting and then Innovation Dynamics Pty Ltd, she has worked on over 40 new business ventures over 12 years, mainly in biotechnology, completing business plans and market research and supporting millions of dollars in capital raising.
“I am now in a position to see science and commercialisation of science from a lot of really useful angles that can help others,” she says.
Her journey will be the focus of the latest instalment in Canberran Innovation Network’s Billion Dollar Panel series, which provides an opportunity for innovation community members to deep dive into the wealth of knowledge of experienced mentors, investors and founders.
“It’s important for innovators to gain exposure to people who’ve done this before, to find out how they’ve overcome hurdles because those hurdles come from all sorts of directions,” Dr Thorburn says.
“It’s a chance to question someone who’s been doing this for 40 years and take the learnings away from that to apply to their own businesses.”
The experienced founder, director and mentor says she hopes attendees will realise three things by the end of the panel.
“First, an individual’s career path can take lots of interesting twists and turns, and there’s more than one path to success,” she says.
“Second, people like me who’ve been through various mills – willingly or unwillingly – may have some useful information they can mine.
“Finally, the importance of understanding not only what you’re doing but what the landscape around you is doing and what you need to consider in your personal career and your own company.
“You could invent something useful, people might say ‘what a great idea’ and then wonder why it never came off the ground. In reality, there’s a framework that needs to be understood.”
Considered an expert in innovation, strategy, financing and governance, Dr Thorburn has delivered a range of evaluation projects for state and federal governments and, in the past decade, program and industry evaluations in the Asia Pacific for APEC.
She is currently a director of a university, a research and development corporation and a Regional Development Australia-funded not-for-profit. She has more than 30 years’ experience on the boards and councils of nine private companies, not-for-profits and industry associations and has held advisory roles for six government and research agencies.
In short, Dr Thorburn is well-placed to comment on the big picture for innovators.
She says innovation is a much broader term than many realise. For example, beyond products or services, it could apply to changes in the way a company or organisation is structured, how they incentivise and manage staff or their own processes and systems.
But no matter what form innovation took, it required an understanding that transcended the idea itself to anchor it in reality.
“You might think, ‘I want to do X’ or deliver these critical products or services, and it may well be that your idea is something people want and need. But what might the government be doing in that landscape? What regulations exist? What barriers might you confront in the market?” she says.
“I’m a systems thinker, so if I want a certain outcome, I always think, ‘how do I frame this so I can meet some other person’s needs at the same time?’. It’s more likely I’ll achieve what I want by helping, offering or understanding other points of view.
“I don’t know how many great ideas I have seen that didn’t make it. You might have something wonderful that would benefit thousands, but there will be many interesting reasons why people won’t buy into it. Their reason may not make sense on a rational level, but unless you can figure out how to work around it – whether it’s cost, methods or worries their customers won’t like it – it won’t matter. Your job as the innovator is to figure out those extraneous issues that could mean your very sensible product, service or idea isn’t going to make it to market in time.”
Registration for The Billion Dollar Panel with Dr Lyndal Thorburn is free and lunch will be provided.