Dr Sarah Pearson
Pro Vice-Chancellor, Industry Engagement & Innovation
- Phone:(02) 4921 5565
An eye to innovation
Since arriving in Newcastle Dr Sarah Pearson has made a powerful impact on the innovation scene, bringing a fresh approach and limitless enthusiasm to a region ripe for entrepreneurship.
Newcastle and the Hunter have long been a budding environment for innovation and entrepreneurship, so it’s exciting to welcome Sarah to lead the innovation agenda at UON. “I see my role as trying to accelerate the way we engage with industry and the innovation ecosystem here in the region,” Sarah says.
In the role of PVC for Innovation and Entrepreneurship Sarah will play a vital role in ensuring that UON students and researchers have the opportunity to translate their ideas via innovation. “We need to help academics and students understand that there are pathways to commercialise their ideas and to help them collaborate with industry and set up start-ups,” Sarah says. “One of my roles is to help raise awareness and build capacity in this area.”
One of Australia’s leading lights in the innovation space, Sarah is the Founder and CEO of the CBR Innovation Network. By setting up a vibrant collaborative innovation hub, working with three universities, TAFE, the ACT government, CSIRO and industry partners, Sarah shaped, designed and supported a broad suite of measures that began to transform the city and its economy.
As examples, Sarah developed and supported a number of programs such as incubator and accelerator programs, whole industry sector collaboration, creative sector entrepreneurship and promoted STEM in schools, all designed to lead to the transformation of Canberra into a clever, creative and connected city. She sees a number of parallels between Canberra and Newcastle. “There’s already an amazing amount of engagement with industry from the University of Newcastle, and a lot of great innovation and entrepreneurship initiatives have already begun,” Sarah says.
Connecting and engaging
However, one of the issues that’s prevented Newcastle from being a global innovation hub is the lack of strategic connectivity – many people have done and are doing great things, but much of it in isolation. Sarah says that we need to address this, by facilitating ‘innovation collisions’!
“It’s really important because if we do this collaborative R&D and entrepreneurship activity in isolation then we won’t succeed because we don’t yet have the critical mass or widespread culture,” Sarah says. “There is a drive to grow the connectivity, and UON has a role in helping to develop it. We won’t be leading it, but we will be a key part of it.”
One of Sarah’s key drivers is the need for a big, bold vision shared by everyone in the innovation ecosystem. Each can have their own goals – but it needs to be a shared passion. “Innovation is not a nine-to-five thing,” Sarah says. “It’s something that people do because they believe in it, and they have a passion.”
Finding the movers and shakers in a town, and helping them to drive change is just one of the items on Sarah’s to-do list. As a self-proclaimed ‘ideas generator’ Sarah takes ideas and makes things happen through a combination of leadership, enthusiasm and dedication. Highly sought after at a high level of government to offer advice on new policy, strategy and programs for Australian innovation, Sarah’s now turning her expertise to shaking up Newcastle’s innovation sphere.
Finding meaning in what matters
With an eclectic career path defined by global roles in the innovation space (including a sweet stint as Global Head of Innovation at Cadbury in the UK) Sarah’s early career as a particle physicist was the product of a curious mind. “I studied physics because I was passionate about it. I wanted to find out what was the meaning of life, the universe and everything,” Sarah enthuses.
This curious mind taught Sarah to always be open to opportunities, but also allowed her to see the importance of collaboration. “A career as a particle physicist means you may end up working in multinational teams. For one major project I was one of 500 physicists working from 12 countries – you have to be open and collaborative.”
It’s this mindset that’s led to Sarah’s success in the innovation space. Having worked all the way along the innovation chain Sarah has led on a global and national level to increase industry engagement and innovation. Her work on boards and within companies means that when she approaches companies to say “Tell me what you need. What are you looking for?” people listen. Sarah then draws in relevant researchers and thought-leaders to make things happen.
This is one of her key projects at UON: to bring together companies and investors and put them together with relevant researchers to help them understand how they can work together. “I think a lot of it is understanding what each side has to offer, ‘colliding’ so that both sides start to understand one another, and then getting on with collaborating. It’s about relationship building and building trust on both sides.”
Sarah draws on the skills developed while working in the UK at Cadbury when working with companies to understand not only what a company’s needs, but the needs of the market. “My role at Cadbury was to look through the whole company to find out what the company needed and develop a long-term innovation plan.” Having worked closely with the marketing team in this role, Sarah gained an insight that’s afforded her a very unique view of the commercial world. One she continues to draw on.
And her interest doesn’t end with STEM – Sarah has held leadership positions relating to social innovation and international Aid. As a Director on the Board of The Australian Centre for Social Innovation, as a member of Minister Julie Bishop’s International Reference Group and Australia’s Innovation Leader for Minister Bishop’s MIKTA group, Sarah has also applied her experience of innovation to help develop solutions to intractable social challenges.
Sarah is passionate about inspiring our future leaders, which is why she’s on the board of Questacon. “One of the things I’ve been driving with Questacon is the need to lead in the entrepreneurship as well as the STEM side of things. And that’s what we can do with the University,” Sarah adds. “We need to be showing prospective students that we’re in the entrepreneur sphere. We need to be demonstrating in schools that there’s a pathway for them to the start-up world.”
UON is already a leader in this space with the National engagement through the Science and Engineering Challenge, but Sarah’s continually looking to the next opportunity, the next chance to engage, to enthuse, to inspire. Whether it’s with the youngest of school children, or one of our young creatives in the city – Sarah is looking to connect people with what they need.
“We’re filling some of those gaps with the hubs that we’ve got,” Sarah says. “But there’s always more ways to build connections to get a critical mass happening.”
Innovation hubs and the innovation ecosystem
Before Sarah’s arrival, UON had already established a plan for a series of innovation hubs and regional incubator spaces across Newcastle and the Hunter. Now Sarah’s on board to help them accelerate. “We want to make them bigger and really let people know that this space is theirs. It’s for industry, innovators, communities and more!”
“These hubs are physical spaces in which you can start to do that awesome awareness raising, capability building and programmatic work to really grow small companies, large companies and the start-ups,” Sarah says.
What drives Sarah? “I think I’ve always been a curious person who’s always open to whatever the opportunities.” And for Newcastle, the opportunities are now limitless.
Dr Sarah Pearson joined the University of Newcastle in March 2017 as the inaugural Pro Vice-Chanceller Industry Engagement and Innovation (PVC IEI) in Research and Innovation Division. The PVC IEI role provides strategic leadership in building industry links and partnerships, forging joint industry–university initiatives, accelerating innovation and entrepreneurship through innovation hubs, and achieving excellence in the translation and commercialisation of research.
Dr Pearson has driven innovation strategy and practice in both corporate, research, government and whole of ecosystem arenas for more than two decades and is passionate about helping Australia benefit from industrial, research and social innovation applications.
Sarah holds a DPhil in particle physics from the University of Oxford and prior to joining UON was the CEO of the CBR Innovation Network (CBRIN), where she designed and oversaw a broad suite of offerings to the Canberra innovation community, including an accelerator program, support for small business, a network for entrepreneurs, and activities encouraging students to study science and mathematics. In this role she drove the growth of a holistic innovation ecosystem in Canberra, in partnership with 6 higher education and research institutes, the ACT Government and the local innovation community. Sarah sits on a number of Boards, such as the Questacon Advisory Council and ANSTO Nuclear Medicine; supports innovation internationally, for example through her role on the Hon Julie Bishop MP’s International Reference group advising on the application of innovation in Asia Pacific; has taken part in granting panels such as the ARC’s ITRH Assessment panel; and is a member of student scholarship panels such as the Rhodes Australia-At-Large selection panel. Sarah is also part of a team working with Innovation & Science Australia to develop an innovation strategy for Australia.
Sarah’s interest in innovation was kindled as a strategic management consultant at McKinsey & Co in Sydney. Combining her research training with connections forged in high-tech industries powered by R&D, she went on to develop and patent new methods for cancer diagnosis, and as a tenured physics academic in Australia she secured several prestigious national grants for her cancer research using synchrotrons, lasers and wavelet based image analysis. Returning to the UK to take up a position as the inaugural Open Innovation Champion at Cadbury plc, she became an early pioneer of a collaborative approach to harnessing ideas for commercial application. With a philosophy of reaching out to consumers, researchers and industry partners she transformed her team from a small UK-based operation to a highly influential global unit. During her time at Cadbury Sarah authored 7 patents in confectionery, supported the development of numerous others, and accelerated the commercialisation of new ideas to market.
Returning to Australia, Sarah accepted a senior post in Canberra as Director of Science in the Office of the Chief Scientist where she managed teams of in-house and external advisors. She facilitated the flow of advice to government; managed the Expert Working Groups and Secretariat for the Prime Minister’s Science, Engineering and Innovation Council; and supported the Chief Scientist’s public advocacy role. Sarah was later recruited to establish a new knowledge transfer unit within ANU (ANU Edge), and her success resulted in promotion to CEO of the ANU Enterprise group of companies, which she turned from loss to profit within two years.
Sarah has published extensively through TV, radio, books, research journals, magazines and newspapers, is an author on eight international patents, and is frequently asked to present on innovation at national and international conferences. She has also been asked to represent Australia as Australia’s Innovation Leader in the Hon Julie Bishop MP’s MIKTA group.
Current Board & Other Positions
Australia’s Innovation Leader, the Hon Julie Bishop MP’s MIKTA group
Member, Questacon Advisory Council
Member, the Hon Julie Bishop MP’s International Reference Group, DFAT InnovationXchange
Director, ANSTO Nuclear Medicine (ANM) Pty Ltd
Member, NT NDIS Sector and Market Development Panel Committee
Member, ANU Tuckwell Scholarship Assessment Panel
Member, Rhodes-At-Large selection Panel
Previous Board & Other Positions
Director, The Australian Centre for Social Innovation Ltd
Director, Capital Angels Ltd
Director, CBR Innovation Network Ltd
Member, Brand Canberra Advisory Committee
Member, Small Business Innovation Partnerships, ACT Government
Member, ARC ITRH Assessment Panel; Director, Australian Maths Trust;
Director, Australian Scientific Instruments Pty Ltd; Member, Commonwealth Government Precincts Board; Member, Innovation Australia Clean Technology Investment Committee; Director, Canberra Business Council; Director, Social Research Centre Pty Ltd; Member, DAFF Rural R&D for Profit Program Panel; Member, UK Government’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) Follow on Fund; Member, EPSRC Better Exploitation Strategic Advisory Team
- Doctor of Philosophy, University of Oxford - UK
- Bachelor of Science (Honours), University of Liverpool - UK
|Dates||Title||Organisation / Department|
|20/03/2017 - 28/02/2022||Pro Vice-Chancellor, Industry Engagement & Innovation||Newcastle Innovation
|1/01/2010 - 31/12/2015||Visiting fellow||Australian National University
College of Business & Economics
|1/01/2001 - 31/12/2006||Lecturer Physics & Electronics|| University of New England
|Dates||Title||Organisation / Department|
|1/01/2014 - 31/03/2017||CEO||CBR Innovation Network Ltd
|1/01/2012 - 31/12/2015||CEO||ANU Enterprise Pty Ltd
|1/01/2010 - 31/12/2012||Director of ANU Edge||Australian National University
|1/01/2009 - 31/12/2010||Director of Science||Office of the Chief Scientist
|1/01/2006 - 31/12/2009||Global Head of Open Innovation||Cadbury plc
|1/01/1990 - 31/12/1993||Strategic Management Consulting||McKinsey & Co.
For publications that are currently unpublished or in-press, details are shown in italics.
Chapter (3 outputs)
|2015||Pearson SJP, 'Learning about Change Through Industrial Open Innovation in the Fast-Moving Consumer Goods Sector', Change!, ANU Press, . (2015)|
|2011||Pearson SJP, 'Successful Innovation Delivery', Strategies for enhancing innovation delivery through an Open Innovation approach, pro-Actuate, . (2011)|
|1992||Pearson SJP, 'Linking Research and Innovation to Global Opportunities', Australian Business in the Asia Region: The Case for Strategic Industry Policy, CEDA, . (1992)|
Journal article (18 outputs)
Sutherland WJ, Bellingan L, Bellingham JR, Blackstock JJ, Bloomfield RM, Bravo M, et al., 'A Collaboratively-Derived Science-Policy Research Agenda', PLoS ONE, 7 e31824-e31824 (2012)
|2009||Pearson SJP, 'The Global Laboratory', Business First, 41-41 (2009)|
Falzon G, Pearson S, Murison R, 'Analysis of collagen fibre shape changes in breast cancer', Physics in Medicine and Biology, 53 6641-6652 (2008)
|Show 15 more journal articles|
Conference (2 outputs)
|2006||Pearson SJP, Siu KKW, Hall C, Reid C, Falzon G, 'Small-angle x-ray scattering and second-harmonic generation imaging studies of collagen in invasive carcinoma', Brisbane (2006)|
Siu KKW, Butler SM, Beveridge T, Gillam JE, Hall CJ, Kaye AH, et al., 'Identifying markers of pathology in SAXS data of malignant tissues of the brain', Nuclear Instruments and Methods in Physics Research, Section A: Accelerators, Spectrometers, Detectors and Associated Equipment (2005)
Conventional neuropathological analysis for brain malignancies is heavily reliant on the observation of morphological abnormalities, observed in thin, stained sections of tissue. ... [more]
Conventional neuropathological analysis for brain malignancies is heavily reliant on the observation of morphological abnormalities, observed in thin, stained sections of tissue. Small Angle X-ray Scattering (SAXS) data provide an alternative means of distinguishing pathology by examining the ultra-structural (nanometer length scales) characteristics of tissue. To evaluate the diagnostic potential of SAXS for brain tumors, data was collected from normal, malignant and benign tissues of the human brain at station 2.1 of the Daresbury Laboratory Synchrotron Radiation Source and subjected to data mining and multivariate statistical analysis. The results suggest SAXS data may be an effective classifier of malignancy. Â© 2005 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
Report (1 outputs)
|2008||Pearson SJP, 'Open for business: open innovation at Cadbury', Innovation UK (2008)|
August 31, 2017
The Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Hon Julie Bishop MP, has announced University of Newcastle (UON) Pro Vice-Chancellor Industry Engagement & Innovation, Dr Sarah Pearson, as Australia’s Innovation Leader, representing the nation in the newly formed MIKTA Innovation Group.
May 16, 2017
Successful female visionaries from the University of Newcastle (UON) will share their experience navigating a career in innovation at the 2017 Women in Innovation event next week
March 21, 2017
The University of Newcastle (UON) is proud to announce the appointment of the institution’s inaugural Pro Vice-Chancellor Industry Engagement and Innovation (PVC IEI), furthering its commitment to translating its world-class research into real-world solutions.