Awards accolade for University innovators

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington Professor Jim Johnston has won the top award in this year’s KiwiNet Research Commercialisation Awards.

Dr Eldon Tate and Professor Jim Johnston
Dr Eldon Tate and Professor Jim Johnston

Professor Johnston from the School of Chemical and Physical Sciences received two awards from KiwiNet—The Baldwins Researcher Entrepreneur Award and the BNZ Supreme Award.

The Baldwins Researcher Entrepreneur Award goes to an entrepreneurial researcher who has made outstanding contributions to business innovation or has created innovative businesses in New Zealand using their experience and expertise. The BNZ Supreme Award is the overall award presented at the KiwiNet Awards each year to the highest rated entrant across all categories.

Professor Johnston is a world-renowned inorganic and materials chemist and applied scientist. He is passionate about adding value to New Zealand through high quality research and commercialisation, founding a number of start-ups and forging industry partnerships as a result. He is a founding principal investigator of the New Zealand Product Accelerator and an emeritus investigator at the MacDiarmid Institute.

Professor Johnston has spent his career building both business and academic expertise around the world. He has supervised over 100 postgraduate students and has worked closely with local and international businesses to help them apply chemistry, materials science, and nanotechnology to create new products.

Professor Johnston has received many other honours throughout his career, including a Wellingtonian of the Year Award and the Royal Society Te Apārangi Thomson medal.

Professor Johnston was also the PhD supervisor of another KiwiNet winner, alumnus Dr Eldon Tate.

Dr Eldon Tate, CEO of Inhibit Coatings Ltd—founded with the support of the University’s commercialisation office, Wellington UniVentures—received the Norman Barry Foundation Breakthrough Innovator Award. This award recognises an up-and-coming entrepreneurial researcher who is making outstanding contributions to business innovation or creating innovative businesses through their contributions.

Dr Tate has developed an antimicrobial coating that can be applied to surfaces. It is designed for use on surfaces that require a high level of hygiene, such as food processing. The coating reduces the cost of cleaning and maintenance, as well as improving safety and hygiene.

Dr Tate developed the initial idea for this technology during his PhD studies at the University under the supervision of Professor Johnston, which he completed in 2016. With the help and encouragement of Professor Johnston and Wellington UniVentures, Dr Tate founded Inhibit Coatings Ltd, and they have gone on to create many commercial products using their antimicrobial technology, with many more applications, including in health and aged care, still to come.

The KiwiNet Awards are designed to celebrate impact from science through successful research commercialisation within New Zealand’s universities, Crown Research Institutes and other research organisations.

“New Zealand needs technology innovation now more than ever, to help rebuild a more diverse post-COVID economy and bring into the world new solutions the big global challenges we face. Our awards finalists are doing just that. They are leading the charge in the creating a better, brighter, and prosperous Aotearoa New Zealand for our tamariki to inherit,” says KiwiNet CEO Dr James Hutchinson.

The Kiwi Innovation Network (KiwiNet) is a consortium of 18 universities, Crown Research Institutes, an Independent Research Organisation, and a Crown Entity established to boost commercial outcomes from publicly funded research by helping to transform scientific discoveries into new products and services.