Victoria University of Wellington's Entrepreneurs Awarded

Published Aug 7, 2019

Viclink is delighted to announce that two of the category winners at the 2019 KiwiNet Research Commercialisation Awards in Auckland tonight are affiliated with Victoria University of Wellington and Viclink.

Dr Shalen Kumar (pictured), CEO and founder of Viclink spin-out AuramerBio, won the Norman F. B. Barry Foundation Breakthrough Innovator category, which recognises upcoming entrepreneurial researchers who are making outstanding contributions to business innovation or are creating innovative businesses in New Zealand. 

AuramerBio focuses on developing aptamers (synthetic bio-receptors) to enable new high-end precision diagnostic solutions that are affordable and mobile.  

Shalen started researching aptamer technology during his undergraduate studies at Victoria University of Wellington when he became passionate about providing high-quality, accurate, robust and sensitive medical diagnostic solutions for third world communities and environmental monitoring. 

Targeting the US$10b biosensor market, AuramerBio is currently developing mobile testing for illicit drugs and female fertility applications, while future market expansion will see the team develop aptamers for steroid and protein hormones, environmental contaminants, amino acids, nutritional compounds, and various diagnostic biomarkers. Partner companies around the world are already utilising AuramerBio’s aptamers in their platform-tech to offer novel diagnostic solutions for their customers. Read more here. 

Victoria University of Wellington student Cynthia Hunefeld took out the Momentum Student Entrepreneur Award with her research-project-turned-company HerbScience.  

Her mission—to bring herbal medicine into the 21st Century with the help of modern science—has seen her combine 20 years of experience in integrative medicine and ethnobotany together with clinical herbal medicine and clinical research to create potential new medicines from a unique perspective.

Helping her father overcome an antibiotic resistant infection with the support of a plant extract led Cynthia to discover an active constituent that can kill bacteria, minimise the occurrence of single-step bacterial resistance, inhibit biofilm and bacterial adhesion, and reduce tissue damage at the same time.  

Combining that discovery with her current study towards a Masters in Innovation and Commercialisation, Cynthia is developing a novel, plant-based treatment for E. coli-induced urinary tract infections (UTIs). The first step is to create a dietary supplement by 2020, followed by an evidence-based integrative medicine within the next three years.  

Her research has been awarded with a regional AMP scholarship and pre-seed funding from the Wellington Momentum Committee. Read more here. 

Dr Anne Barnett, Viclink’s CEO, says that she and the Viclink team are proud of all the award finalists. 

“It’s gratifying to see the hard work of both the nominees and winners—and the teams that support them—acknowledged,” Anne explains. “Win or lose, it’s an incredible achievement just to make the finals of these awards, so we’d like to congratulate our two winners and our other two finalists.” 

Those finalists include: Dr Brendan Darby, who was nominated for the Breakthrough Innovator category with his innovative business MaramaLabs—a Victoria University of Wellington spin-out company focused on developing a world-first analytical spectroscopy technology; and Geoff Todd, Viclink’s former Managing Director, who was a finalist in the MinterEllisonRuddWatts Commercialisation Professional Award, in recognition of the profound impact he has had on shaping the way scientific research is commercialised in New Zealand today.  

“The calibre of the finalists is a testament to the strong state of research commercialisation in New Zealand right now,” says Anne. 

Viclink is a member of Kiwi Innovation Network (KiwiNet), a consortium of 17 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.