The Origins of Foursight
The consultancy, Foursight Associates, an advisory service in science, technology, research and development, came into existence in Melbourne in October 1996.
At the time, Mitchell was Director of Research in the R&D Division of CSL Limited; Stocker was Director of Research and Innovation with Pratt Industries; Nossal had very recently retired from the Directorship of The Walter & Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research (WEHI) and had an office in the Department of Pathology, University of Melbourne; and Penington had also recently retired, in this case, as Vice-Chancellor of The University of Melbourne and was located in Collins Street. The four individuals who became the Principals of Foursight had known each other for many years, Mitchell and Stocker having been Ph.D. students at WEHI, an affiliated institute of The University of Melbourne.
Conversations between Stocker and Mitchell and Mitchell and Nossal in mid 1996 crystallised the Foursight concept. It became clear that there was one particular similarity in the respective positions of Mitchell in CSL and Stocker in Pratt Industries – they were approached regularly to become involved in national and international science and commercial endeavours that were peripheral to the core business and interests of their respective employer organisations. Both individuals had a desire to accede to many of those requests for advice and involvement, preferably remunerated!
Over coffee in Carlton, the concept of a consultancy/advisory service in the commercialisation of Science and Technology was hatched and developed by Stocker and Mitchell. It would aim to provide advice to investors and inventors – “bringing the bench and the bank together” – generally around two key aspects: (a) a dispassionate and authoritative evaluation of the technology and its potential without the hype, and (b) the identification and analysis of the preferred commercialisation option. The essentials of the business plan were formulated on several table napkins. Many different clients were envisaged – entrepreneurs, research institutes, large and small research-driven companies across the life sciences but particularly in the biotech and pharmaceutical sectors, other S&T consultancies, University tech transfer companies, patent attorneys, Government Departments, venture capitalists, merchant bankers, funds managers, business angels and high nett-worth individuals. [In the event companies and individuals in each category have been clients of Foursight].
The three or four exploratory discussions between Mitchell and Stocker coincided with the Olympic Games in Atlanta with terminology such as “Oarsome Foursome”, “Dream Team” etc in the press. It was decided that the team should comprise four people, all of whom would be well known in academic, commercial and Government circles. Stocker undertook to approach David Penington, Mitchell to approach Gus Nossal and within something less than five minutes, the proposed company had four enthusiastic, potential partners/principals! This left, inter alia, matters of name, location and structure, function being quite clear. John Stocker’s wife Jo had the inspired suggestion of “Foursight” there being much mention of foresight and foresighting in the literature at the time.
In regard to site, the general feeling amongst the four Principals was that the office should be located either in Melbourne’s CBD, in Parkville close to the University or in St Kilda Road. A marvellous opportunity to locate Foursight in an annex of KPMG House emerged following discussions between Stocker and Michael Andrew of KPMG. Foursight Associates Pty Ltd was then registered with four directors and shareholders and a deed of commitment executed by the Principals. We were also fortunate in securing the services of a former personal assistant of John Stocker’s when at CSIRO, Ms Aileen Donoghoe, our Executive Secretary.
Early publicity in the Business Section of The Age newspaper highlighted the credentials of the Principals particularly at the academia – industry interface and also our desire to grow the business through engagement of young people who were either technically or commercially trained and who wished to extend their range of skills to embrace the alternate area. “To surround ourselves with youngsters who would become the next cadre of CEOs and Business Managers of biotech start-ups” to quote John and Gus. The publicity led to a flood of enquiries and Foursight was launched – launched formally in fact, on the 3 October 1996 in the atrium of KPMG House by Robert Gottliebsen of BRW and The Hon Mark Birrell, MP, Minister for Industry, Science and Technology. [Again, in the event, we have as yet not recruited staff with the training objective in mind, rather working with young entrepreneurs on a case-by-case basis].
Virtually every significant activity undertaken by Foursight includes input from all four Principals (unless actual or potential conflicts of interest exist – something to which we pay particular and rigorous attention). Mitchell and Stocker generally undertake initial work. An indication of major Foursight projects/appointments is as follows:
- appointment as technical advisors to biotechnology investment funds.
- evaluation of technology in the life sciences and identification of commercialisation options.
- assistance in developing and packaging technology and the commercial opportunity with a view to attracting investment.
- scientific advisors to established and early-stage companies in the life sciences, including advice on intellectual property development.
- analysis of R&D structures and commercial arrangements for industry and academia, including strategic planning.
- appointment as Chief Scientist of the State Government of Victoria’s Department of Natural Resources and Environment (DNRE).
- advice to Federal and State Governments, Universities and Hospitals on science, technology and innovation. [Early in the life of Foursight, Stocker was appointed Chief Scientist of Australia and Mitchell was appointed Principal Scientific Advisor by the Victorian Government].
Of course, Foursight Principals hold various positions and undertake tasks nationally and internationally in their own right. From day one, the essence of the Foursight business has been to take on projects of high potential impact, to provide clear advice in our areas of expertise to clients and to have “serious fun”. We are mindful of the importance of providing critical and honest review of technology to potential investors and investees, facilitating the commercialisation of Australian scientific research (both at the level of the individual and the overall “environment” for commercialisation) and encouraging all aspects of entrepreneurship. We make extensive use of our overlapping networks and earnestly attempt to stay within our areas of expertise – preferably the biomedical arena and certainly confined to the life sciences. It is a fact that Foursight (as of early 2001) is “both an address and a business” with significant pro bono publico and public good activity. Our primary motivation is to aggressively promote innovation leading to wealth, social development and job creation (as well as sustainability) with the conviction that Australia can actually be a “clever country”.