2015 Awards Finalists

The KiwiNet Awards celebrate heroes in research commercialisation — those individuals and organisations whose best practice approach is changing the innovation landscape in New Zealand. We congratulate the 2015 finalists!

Researcher Entrepreneur Finalists

This award category recognises an entrepreneurial researcher who has made outstanding contributions to business innovation or has created innovative businesses in New Zealand through technology licencing, start-up creation or by providing expertise to support business innovation.

Doctor Ron Beatson

Dr. Ron Beatson

Dr. Ron Beatson: New Zealand’s Hops Man – A Lifetime in Search of Flavour

Under the leadership of Dr Ron “Mr Hops” Beatson, many New Zealand grown hops have now become a household name in the international brewing industry. Since 1984, Ron has been instrumental in the development of many new “specialty” hop cultivars, a major factor behind the global boom in popularity of craft beer.

Thanks to Dr Beatson’s research, NZ Hops have transformed from a cottage industry supplying hops to NZ-based brewers to a sophisticated export product with more than 85% of production now exported to the some of the world’s leading beer producing nation such as USA, UK, Germany and Australia. Dr Beatson’s research is highly applied and closely aligned with the needs of hops growers and the brewing industry. The end product of his research is a cold, incredibly tasty beer, and it doesn’t get much better than that.

Prof Andy Buchanan: Leading a Vision of Multi-story Buildings from Renewable Resources

Professor Andy Buchanan is pioneering research at the University of Canterbury that has lifted engineered timber buildings into serious contention for the Christchurch rebuild after the devastating earthquakes of 2010 and 2011.

He and his team have initiated a step-change in the perception of structural timber, allowing direct competition with concrete and steel for large span and multi-storey buildings, for the first time. His innovative products allow architects to design structures not previously possible with traditional materials. He is also leading the charge to commercialise these new timber building products with industry partners into the global market.

In 2010 he was also instrumental in the establishment of an industry consortium, creating deep industry engagement channels for him and his collaborators ensuring research outcomes with strong industry relevance.

Prof Andy Buchanan

Prof Andy Buchanan

University of Canterbury
Prof Phil Butler

Prof Phil Butler

University of Canterbury

Prof Phil Butler: Creating a Colour CT Imaging Industry for NZ

Phil Butler is a serial researcher entrepreneur. He has founded two technology companies: MARS Bioimaging Ltd (MBI) where he is CEO, and Medical Laser Developments Ltd (MLD) where he was CEO. He was also instrumental in the establishment of the National Science-Technology Roadshows and Science Alive! which have promoted science to many thousands of youngsters.

MARS Bioimaging has stemmed from his involvement in an international science collaboration led by CERN to develop a colour x-ray detector. Since 2005 Phil and his son Anthony have built and nurtured a cross disciplinary R&D team of 30 FTE, including physicists, radiologists, engineers, computer scientists, orthopaedic and other surgeons, mathematicians, biologists, and cancer researchers. They demonstrated that the colour information can give novel functional information and novel molecular information, and built the MARS spectral (colour) CT scanner.

The company has already sold six “scientific release” scanners which are manufactured by a network of contract NZ manufacturers, and they are now developing a human scanner that will look inside the human body for better diagnosis, and for researching cures.

Dr Stephen J. Sowerby: Facilitating Academic Culture Change with an Applied Science Exemplar of Commercial Innovation

Dr Stephen J. Sowerby

Dr Stephen J. Sowerby

The importance of leading the University of Otago’s Applied Science Programme by example is something Dr Stephen J. Sowerby is acutely aware of and a firm believer in. An entrepreneurial researcher himself, Dr Sowerby strives to impart the value of commercially-focused research to his Applied Science students and other academic staff members.

In order to do this he draws on his experiences in science innovation and enterprise and in particular from the two companies he co-founded around his most recent inventions. The first had research and industrial applications in nanoparticle analysis, while the second in New Zealand’s vitally important agricultural sector. Not limited to New Zealand though, the owners of these technologies are taking them to the world.

As evidenced through his achievements to date, Dr Sowerby’s research ethos aligns strongly with government signals that seek commercially applicable outcomes from publicly funded research. While he is very comfortable striving to solve industrial problems through science, this focus also extends to his primary research curiosity in new ways of analyzing single molecules of DNA and in the chemical origins of life as a route to novel nanotechnologies.

Research & Business Partnership Finalists

This award recognises the deeply embedded working relationship between a research organisation and business that delivers significant commercial value for New Zealand.

The Biopolymer Network Ltd & Barnes Plastics: Zealafoam™ - An Exciting and Sustainable Alternative to Polystyrene

Through a partnership with Barnes Plastics (Barnes), the Biopolymer Network Ltd (BPN) is developing a cost-effective, environmentally friendly process to make a bioplastic foam alternative to polystyrene from sustainable, renewable resources.

ZealaFoam™ is an innovative product which is a low density moulded bioplastic (PLA) foam. This is an exciting and ground breaking alternative to polystyrene with comparative performance. The Biopolymer Network has developed and patented a novel process to enable the impregnation of bioplastic beads with carbon dioxide and have implemented specialised industry scale impregnation equipment in the Barnes Plastics factory in Auckland to do this. The impregnated material is foamed and moulded on existing polystyrene equipment at Barnes, negating the need for additional capital investment to produce a new range of biobased products for both packaging and sporting applications.

Bringing together BPN’s polymer and PLA expertise, and Barnes Plastics’ extensive knowledge of foaming and moulding, the two teams are working closely to overcome the technical challenge of taking a new material to market. Industry interest in the foam is high and already trial product has been requested by, and supplied to, a large global company in the USA for testing. If successful, this will bring new business to New Zealand.

Comvita New Zealand Limited and Institute for Innovation in Biotechnology: Accelerating Innovation Together to Deliver Commercial Success

Comvita New Zealand Limited’s Innovation team is physically co-located at the Institute for Innovation in Biotechnology at The University of Auckland and has been collaborating on various research projects with the different departments at the university for the past five years. The partnership is a prime example of the triple helix model of university, industry and government collaboration. In this partnership, all three parties are intertwined to provide and receive benefit from each other.

Ralf Schlothauer

Comvita New Zealand Limited

  • Comvita is interested in a variety of skill sets available throughout the university and fosters young talents through internships and post-graduate research projects. The Comvita Innovation team has worked together with the university’s academic staff and co-supervised over 50 students in the last three years.
  • With this model, Comvita can access wide-ranging expert knowledge at the university as well as respond to a diverse range of research needs of the business. This leads to IP generation and strengthening of Comvita’s core product value proposition.
  • Students conduct Comvita’s research projects as part of their academic programme or internship which equips them with industry experience. This makes them highly employable, and Comvita has employed many of the senior students at the end of their projects.
  • Many of the student projects are funded by the government’s capability grant or internship grants.

This close working relationship between the business and academia encourages the researchers and students to be both interested in Comvita’s business needs and committed to make discoveries that have strong business relevance. Comvita understands the long term value of this partnership and invests a significant part of their $3M annual R&D spending on the research projects at the university.

Institute For Innovation In Biotechnology

Univarsity of Auckland

Plant & Food Research and Zespri’s Response to the Psa Outbreak: One Team - Science and Industry Joining Forces to Save an Industry

Zespri has for a long time been the largest client of Plant & Food Research, investing several million into R&D annually including a kiwifruit cultivar development programme, health research, postharvest science, consumer and sensory testing and sustainability research.

When Psa was found in New Zealand in November 2010 more than 100 Plant & Food Research staff were redeployed and made available in the fight against the devastating disease.

In the six months following the discovery of Psa, Plant & Food Research conducted more research about the pathogen that had ever been done before. This rapid research helped create management strategies, detection methods and molecular diagnosis that played an important role in supporting Zespri’s management of the pathogen and gave confidence to international marketplaces not to restrict market access.

The joint new cultivar programme identified a Psa tolerant Gold cultivar; Gold3 now marketed as ‘SunGold’. This cultivar proved to be the basis of recovery for the New Zealand kiwifruit industry.  The kiwifruit industry has now recovered to Pre-Psa outbreak levels and is set for huge growth over the next 10 years thanks to the Plant & Food Research and Zespri partnership.

PwC Commercial Deal Finalists

The commercial award celebrates excellence in research commercialisation delivering outstanding innovation performance and the potential for generating significant economic impact for New Zealand.

Cawthron Marine Toxins: Marine Toxins Enabling Better Global Seafood Safety

The Cawthron Institute in Nelson is one of only a few organisations in the world capable of producing purified marine natural toxins. These pure toxins are now required by the world's seafood testing laboratories because of work done by Cawthron to improve international testing standards.

Cawthron specialises in understanding the ecology and chemistry of natural toxins from a range of sources, including algae. Some of these toxins are responsible for making seafood unsafe to eat and are subject to tight regulatory control.

The global seafood testing laboratory community needs pure toxins in order to calibrate tests and ensure seafood is free of toxins. To meet this demand Cawthron has entered into a lucrative deal to supply a range of purified marine toxins to the world's largest chemical and analytical supplier, Sigma-Aldrich.

The export earning potential of these marine toxins is staggering. As little as a teaspoon full could be worth up to NZ$5 million. The deal, signed late in 2014 has already created commercial revenues to Cawthron and demonstrates that the outcomes of publicly funded research can form the basis for outstanding commercial deals that generate significant economic returns to New Zealand.

Revolutionising Plant Variety Commercialisation: An Evolution from Transactional Plant Sales Based Royalties to Participation in Commercial Success

Plant & Food Research has an international reputation for developing new and innovative plant varieties with commercial success. However, early in its relationship with US partner, Northwest Plant Company LLC (NWPCO) it was recognised that a traditional royalties based on plant sales would not generate sufficient revenues to justify commencing, let alone sustaining, a plant breeding programme, even if the resultant varieties were widely planted and hugely successful.

In the case of 'Wakefield', a new raspberry cultivar that had shown promising benefits over other varieties, the solution was to implement a new pricing model based on an annual grower licence fee for use of variety.

The annual fee continues for the life of the planting and is based on the value Wakefield delivers to growers, structured so that the grower retains a minimum two thirds of the commercial benefit of growing Wakefield over and above what they would earn from growing other varieties.

Use of the plant therefore delivers significant benefits to the growers, but also returns annual earnings to Plant & Food Research. This innovative model has now seen licensing fees returned to New Zealand from the intellectual property already exceed NZ$1 Million with significant further growth projected.

STRmix™: Resolve More DNA Mixtures

STRmix™ is an “expert software system” designed by researchers at ESR and Forensic Science South Australia (FSSA), used by DNA reporting analysts for the interpretation of forensic DNA profiles, with particular application to complex DNA mixtures with no restriction on the number of contributors.

The concepts applied and the way that the system works are able to be understood by DNA scientists with an appropriate background in DNA statistics and are able to be explained in court.  This is critical for the acceptance of such an approach within the criminal justice system.  Answers delivered using a “black box” technology are unlikely to be allowed in court proceedings.

The first commercial version of STRmix™ was made available in January 2014, and instantly attracted significant international attention. STRmix™ has had strong sales into foreign markets and ESR have established a strong potential sales pipeline, indicating many potential buyers looking to take up the STRmix™ system.

11 Ants Analytics: Big Data Software Creating International Interest

11Ants Analytics is a spin out company from WaikatoLink, created from machine learning research at the University of Waikato. 11Ants Analytics’ main product is 11Ants RAP, a cloud-based customer science platform for the retail sector including supermarkets, fuel retailing, home improvement, fashion, pharmacies and department stores, which transforms customer data into customer insights to enable deeper customer relationships. 

11Ants has licensed its solutions to a number of notable customers in New Zealand and Fortune 1000 companies overseas.  In early April WaikatoLink announced its biggest deal to date - it completed the sale of the business of spinout company 11Ants Analytics to a joint venture between Air New Zealand and Aimia Inc., the Canadian based data-driven marketing and loyalty analytics company.  This deal will allow 11Ants Analytics to expand the company’s operations, creating more employment opportunities and commercial benefit for New Zealand.