Food Innovation Australia Limited (FIAL) has launched a $40,000 STEM PhD internship program to encourage collaboration between SME businesses and PhD research specialists.

It is partnering with the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute’s (AMSI) APR.Intern program, with the aim to accelerate STEM PhD research talent into food and agriculture businesses nationally.

FIAL GM of innovation Dr Barry McGookin told Food & Drink Business that research and business working together is integral to identifying and commercially implementing innovation.

FIAL will provide food and beverage businesses with a subsidy of up to $4000 on the cost of a PhD student research placement. Facilitated by APR.Intern, the three- to five-month placements will connect the FIAL network and food sector with PhD-level research talent.

The FIAL subsidy can also be used as a travel/relocation fund to support student access to internship opportunities.

Further to the FIAL subsidy, under the Australian Government’s National Research Internship Program (NRIP), businesses may receive a 50 per cent rebate on remaining costs.

McGookin said it was the first program of its kind for FIAL, where it was providing an offset to incentivise smaller operations to take up research opportunities.

“Smaller operators don’t have the resources, time or money to invest in research, but they are often focused on transitioning their business from where they are to something different. Sometimes that means bigger or more profitable, sometimes it’s to become more innovative and develop new products.

McGookin said these companies often employ less than 20 years, have been around for a few years and want to be different. They are ready and willing to make a change, but don’t have the time or resources to do so.

“Because the cost can be offset, it gives businesses an entrée to working with universities and research organisations. We broker the conversation between the business and the institution, which is often a real hurdle for smaller companies. Many tell us they don’t know where to begin when it comes to accessing research resources.”

FIAL sees the program as a win-win for business and student. The Australian Postgraduate Research Intern (APR.Intern) is Australia’s only national all-sector all-discipline PhD internship program.

It connects PhD students with industry through short-term research projects, giving them valuable experience in practical research environments. For businesses, APR.Intern provides access to some of Australia’s brightest PhD-level research talent.  

Director of AMSI’s APR.Intern program Gary Hogan said the placements delivered a boost for the food and agriculture sector and the objectives of NRIP.

“Contributing to the delivery of NRIP, the FIAL placements under APR.Intern will allow food and agricultural businesses to cost-effectively tap into specialist research talent and advance Australian agricultural innovation.

“With Australia’s food and agricultural sector facing challenges due to drought, flood and fire, innovation is key to the future success of the industry,” Hogan said.