Published Apr 22, 2020
Wellington UniVentures’ close partnership with the Kiwi Innovation Network (KiwiNet) has once again opened up opportunities for Victoria University of Wellington researchers—with two research teams recently accepted into KiwiNet’s new Trans-Tasman pre-accelerator programme aimed at growing big ideas towards big impact.
Known as Rewa—te reo Māori for ‘rise or elevate’—the 12-week programme is helping a total of seven teams from public research organisations across New Zealand to advance their promising, early-stage ideas. Through intensive virtual* mentorship and coaching, teams are gaining valuable new skills, overseas connections and market insights that are empowering them to find real-world applications for their research and take their science to the next level.
The first of the two Victoria University of Wellington teams is focused on developing a revolutionary new way of synthesising ammonia under mild conditions that is less energy-intensive (and therefore more environmentally-friendly and economically-viable) than current, unsustainable methods. While the tech is still being incubated, the Rewa programme is helping the team to align technical development alongside market needs.
“Rewa is connecting us to industry players from literally all over the world at the same time we are developing our technology,” says Dr Paul Geraghty, Wellington UniVentures Commercialisation Manager, and a member of the sustainable ammonia team. “It’s helping us to determine where our tech fits into the clean energy and carbon-neutral fuel markets, and to ultimately develop a product that exactly meets customers’ needs.” With a target of 100 industry interviews to be completed by the end of May, Paul says they have already completed 21 with the programme’s connections in the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
Other team members include Dr Franck Natali—inventor, and Dr Jay Chan—Postdoctoral Fellow at The MacDiarmid Institute. “Being able to have the whole team involved on the programme is a huge bonus,” says Paul. “It means we are all on the same page about what we need to do to move forward, and we gain a collective insight into the opportunities that exist.”
As a Commercialisation Manager for Wellington UniVentures, Paul is responsible for a number of different pipeline projects, and says he’s welcomed the opportunity to more fully immerse himself in the sustainable ammonia project so he can test “a whole bunch of theories” about potential markets.
Liam Sutton, also a Wellington UniVentures Commercialisation Manager and a member of the second team—Docketier—feels the same way. “By working through Rewa’s framework, and gaining so much external feedback, it becomes less about our internal beliefs and moves us away from high-risk assumptions. We’re discovering what the market is, rather than what we think it is,” he says.
Docketier is a knowledge management software tool developed by team members Tim Brox— inventor and Product Design Manager for Wellington UniVentures, and Marcel Nogueira d’Eurydice—inventor and Director of Source Crafting Ltd. Designed to efficiently capture institutional knowledge and provide context around decision-making, the idea is that Docketier can provide access to critical information about an organisation’s data, making it readily and intelligibly available at all times.
“Knowledge management is a complicated issue that is faced by almost every business,” says Liam. “Our challenge is to work out which industry has the biggest need for our product and fine-tune it accordingly.” He says that because the biggest markets for software are overseas, the programme’s international connections are proving invaluable.
“With Rewa’s fantastic mentors, and the programme deliverables that hold us accountable, we can move mountains not molehills,” says Liam. “It gives early-stage university ideas the best possible chance to generate value for our economy.”
* With Rewa scheduled to start on 31 March (just six days after COVID-19 lockdown), the first week of immersion suddenly had to be delivered to 40+ participants, each in different locations and across multiple breakout sessions, interview schedules etc. Participants reported that it went so smoothly you would never have known that KiwiNet had so little time to prepare. All follow-up coaching and mentoring is also being delivered virtually.