Seed funding to give university-based ideas a boost to market

Dr Jason Wargent, Chief science officer of BioLumic, shows off his light treatment technology, which helps grow stronger ...
David Unwin/Fairfax NZ.

Dr Jason Wargent, Chief science officer of BioLumic, shows off his light treatment technology, which helps grow stronger plants.

Consumers could reap the benefit of new products, after a $1.8 million funding injection to push Massey University ideas and discoveries toward market. 

New Zealand's science and technology sector has long faced criticism it undersells high-quality research and ideas by not developing them to reach commercialisation and end users. 

This year's Budget included a boost from $14.9 million to $24.9m for the PreSeed Accelerator Fund. This is designed to foster technologies emerging from publicly funded research, to the point a company can be formed or the technology licensed or sold. The money is to be spread over three years.

PreSeed recipients were announced this month, and include Massey, which will get $927,692. The university will then match this, creating a $1.8 million windfall for new ideas. 

Massey ventures chief executive Mark Cleaver said it would be exciting to see where the assistance would lead the emerging technologies. 

"It's great news for us, what it will do is enable us to really increase the volume of commercial projects we're developing. 

"It will encourage higher levels of activity, and in time, greater benefits." 

The university has been fostering a 'pipeline' of potentially commercially interesting projects to various stages of development.  

One of the most successful has been agritech start-up BioLumic.

"It works on the idea of using UV light to benefit plant life... [seedings] have more mass and more resistance to things like transplant shock and wind," Cleaver said.

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"If the technology is validated and can be used commercially it could have a significant impact on production of some crops." 

 Last year one of its ideas was sold to a large US-based company for a sum the university was "very happy with", but can't disclose, Cleaver said.  

"That generated returns for the shareholders, and that was a model for us. We've shown that we can actually do that.

"We can grow the pipeline, and hopefully at the end of that we'll end up with more successful businesses." 

Another Massey innovation was a gadget developed to measure culture growth in lab experiments.

"A couple of our researchers decided that there has to be a better way of doing it, so they went about working out how they would make this thing," Cleaver said. 

"It will do it automatically, and send the results back to the researchers - it saves a lot of time."

"Now it's being commercially manufactured, and it appears to be a new market segment."

Massey would fund at least 21 projects from initiation to commercialisation. 

There were about 10 currently under way, and it was hoped that the funding announcement would bring other researchers out of the woodwork, with the possibility of discussing their ideas with Massey. 

Up to $30,000 could be allocated for proof-of-concept development, market validation, and novelty and patent searches; up to $60,000 for technology development and strategy advice; and more than $60,000 for technology refinement, intellectual property protection and deal negotiation. 

The projects provide opportunities for shared learning, Cleaver said.

"It's very much a symbiotic arrangement ... it throws up interesting cases where the university can use that as case studies for research."

Profits made from commercialisation now probably amount to a few per cent of the university's income, he estimated.

That money was put back into the university's charitable purpose - education and research. 

"I think it's about the university's role to create new knowledge, and to translate that for the benefit of society. 

"In some instances, that knowledge is better translated by commercialisation, because that's the best way to get it to people."

 - Stuff

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