Stories for a brighter tomorrow | Innovator
Swinburne alum on a mission to commercialise Australian research and reinvest the benefits in our country
Jefferson Harcourt, Swinburne electrical engineering alum, and Founder and Executive Chair of Grey Innovation, has always had an entrepreneurial spirit
Jefferson Harcourt, Founder and Executive Chair of Grey Innovation, has had an entrepreneurial spirit for as long as he can remember. It was way back at the age of 16 that he started up his first business, Jefferson Electronics. “I repaired things like TV sets and video recorders for my teachers,” says Jefferson. “It was nice spending money, but even then, I’d get so immersed in my passion for the business that I’d lose sight of everything else.”
Laying the groundwork for greatness
Jefferson’s drive for innovation inspired him to pursue a Bachelor of Electrical Engineering at Swinburne in 1994. “Naturally, I had an amazing time at Swinburne and gained countless valuable skills that I carry with me to this day,” says Jefferson.
“Everything about Swinburne, from its innovative approach to its commitment to making a positive impact, created the perfect platform for my personal and professional development.”
During his time at Swinburne, Jefferson connected with Professor Murray Johns. As an established innovator in sleep technology, Murray was particularly interested in Jefferson’s final year project: a device that monitored patients’ vital signs and sent the data to a computer. “The day after I graduated, Murray and I got to work creating a wearable device that uses infra-red technology to monitor drivers’ eye movements to detect sleepiness and trigger an alarm,” says Jefferson. “Murray put in years of scientific research and my team provided the technology which eventually resulted in Optalert: the first of many groundbreaking technologies Grey Innovation would help get off the ground.”
For Jefferson, the integral role Swinburne played in his business journey is a testament to the university’s ability to inspire and equip students with the tools needed to make a meaningful difference.
“Making a positive impact means getting bright young people inspired to go out there and change the world through technology. Swinburne undoubtedly plays a huge role in that.”
Investing in innovators of the future
After reflecting on how his time at Swinburne shaped his journey as an entrepreneur, Jefferson was inspired to take on the university’s Professional Placements students. The Grey Innovation Professional Placement Program provides aspiring engineers with the real-world experience necessary to become innovators of the future.
“Several of our Swinburne placement students are now working with us as fully-fledged employees, which is a wonderful indicator of our shared values and work ethic.”
“We are delighted to be working with such bright young people and giving them the opportunity to work on cutting-edge technology,” says Jefferson. “Several of our Swinburne placement students are now working with us as fully-fledged employees, which is a wonderful indicator of our shared values and work ethic. The students have thrived in our fast-paced team environment and grown tremendously in their time with us.”
Groundbreaking solutions for a better tomorrow
Since its foundation nearly 25 years ago, Grey Innovation has helped fast-track countless technological innovations to commercial success. “Our mission is to commercialise Australian research and reinvest the benefits in our country and its people,” says Jefferson. “This is one of the best ways we can develop the technology needed to make this world a better, safer place for all of us.”
“Our mission is to commercialise Australian research and reinvest the benefits in our country and its people.”
Today, Jefferson’s team invests in technology to grow seaweed in the ocean, help children live with autism, detect impossible-to-see bombs, and much more. In 2021, they launched Grey Innovation Ventures: a $100M innovation fund aimed at accelerating the commercialisation of Australian research.
“The Ventures fund is a unique opportunity for investors to support companies that improve the health of the world and its people,” says Jefferson. “It’s crucial that we spend these upcoming years tackling the challenges associated with global warming, environmental damage and the transition to a post-pandemic world. By investing in innovative solutions for the key challenges of the 21st century, we vow to do just that.”