The commercialisation arm of Te Herenga Waka–Victoria University of Wellington is celebrating the arrival of Rekover Therapeutics, X-Frame, Tasmanlon, and Bontia Bio in 2020 and promises it is just the start.
The companies specialise in human health, construction, energy, and animal health respectively.
Wellington UniVentures chief executive Dr Anne Barnett says this diversity reflects research excellence and talent across the University and Wellington UniVentures’ experience at developing intellectual property (IP) to a high standard.
“This year is not just a one-off—it is the beginning of a sustained effort creating high quality new companies which will provide direct local benefit to Wellington and New Zealand.
“We have a great pipeline of opportunities we are working on for next year and 2022.”
Creating a new company from research takes a “huge amount of hard work”, she says. To attract investment, the research and IP has to be “innovative and market leading, solving real problems for society, industry or the environment”.
Rekover Therapeutics will help researchers working on a potential cure for multiple sclerosis (MS), a chronic neurological disorder that affects 2.5 million people worldwide.
At present, disease-modifying therapies only slow the rate of accumulating disability, but none actually reverse it.
However, Professor Anne La Flamme and Associate Professor Bronwyn Kivell from the School of Biological Sciences have found compounds that could potentially restore function to MS patients.
Associate Professor Kivell says the idea came from years of research and building strong collaborations, but the commercialisation process happened very quickly.
“It is very different from being a research scientist. It continues to be a rollercoaster ride as we try to secure funding to enable us to do a clinical trial and feels great to be part of a team that has the potential to make a real difference.”
Spin-out company X-Frame features a reconfigurable structural timber framing system which reduces waste and allows for the reconfiguration and reuse of every building element.
Creator, Wellington School of Architecture doctoral student Ged Finch, says most existing systems relied heavily on carbon-intensive materials like steel and concrete, with construction and demolition making up about 50 % of New Zealand’s waste.
Through Wellington UniVentures, Ged become involved with the KiwiNet Emerging Innovator programme.
“This opened my eyes to the commercial potential of the X-Frame technology. We are now looking to raise capital and accelerate things further.”
Spin-out TasmanIon is raising capital as it further develops a non-flammable, cost-competitive and more sustainable aluminium-ion battery, which out-performs the current market-leading lithium-ion battery.
Bontia Bio is developing a natural, microbial, anti-parasitic treatment for companion and agricultural animals. The treatment has low resistance in the target population and is not toxic to the host.
Wellington UniVentures’ general manager, commercialisation, Hamish Findlay, says it has built a strong team during the past three years.
“The time it takes to get a technology to a point where a new company is feasible is often more than two years. So the success this year is a result of the work over the previous three and what we hope will be the new normal.”
Dr Barnett says a partnership with Booster Financial Services in 2018 had been a key move.
“This created the $10 million NZ Innovation Booster Fund, which has allowed us to co-invest with Booster in the establishment funding round of our new companies.
“That provides us with much greater ability to get new companies up and running.”