Univer­si­ties catch the goose but fail to gather the golden eggs

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Research Round - Up - Derek Parker

AUS­TRALIAN univer­si­ties con­sis­tently pro­duce world- class re­search, but the dif­fi­culty of turn­ing aca­demic knowl­edge into com­mer­cial prod­ucts has led to op­por­tu­ni­ties be­ing lost.

To bridge the gap, Uniseed was es­tab­lished as a joint ven­ture by the Univer­sity of Queens­land and the Univer­sity of Melbourne with as­sets of $ 20 mil­lion in Septem­ber 2000. In 2005 Westscheme, West­ern Aus­tralia’s largest non- gov­ern­ment su­per­an­nu­a­tion fund, in­vested $ 15 mil­lion and the Univer­sity of NSW com­mit­ted $ 10 mil­lion.

A fur­ther $ 8 mil­lion each

from

the found­ing univer­si­ties took the fund to over $ 60 mil­lion. ‘‘ Our aim is to forge a link be­tween academe and busi­ness that fo­cuses on the com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion of in­no­va­tive ideas and in­ven­tions for global con­sump­tion,’’ chief ex­ec­u­tive Peter Devine says.

Devine notes that Uniseed has al­ready achieved in­vest­ment suc­cess. It was a seed in­vestor for QRxPharma, a firm de­vel­op­ing biotech­nol­ogy- based ther­a­pies for pain. In May, QRxPharma listed on the Aus­tralian Stock Ex­change with an ini­tial pub­lic of­fer­ing that raised $ 50 mil­lion: the largest IPO by a biotech­nol­ogy firm in the his­tory of the ASX.

‘‘ We are ex­pect­ing a good re­turn on our ini­tial out­lay of $ 1.1 mil­lion,’’ Devine says. ‘‘ We have seen other in­vest­ments all the way from in­cep­tion to suc­cess­ful com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion. We are pre­pared to stay in for the long haul if nec­es­sary.

‘‘ How­ever, if an op­por­tu­nity for an exit at a good re­turn arises, we will take it.’’

Uniseed op­er­ates through first iden­ti­fy­ing an area of aca­dem­i­cally gen­er­ated tech­nol­ogy with com­mer­cial po­ten­tial, and then set­ting up a ve­hi­cle in which it holds eq­uity.

‘‘ In­no­va­tive tech­nol­ogy does not au­to­mat­i­cally trans­late into a good com­pany,’’ Devine notes. ‘‘ Part of our in­volve­ment is to bring in peo­ple with top- level skills in man­age­ment, fi­nance, or what­ever par­tic­u­lar en­ter­prise.’’

Uniseed has a broad port­fo­lio, with in­vest­ment de­ci­sions made by a com­mit­tee that mixes sci­en­tific and com­mer­cial skills. Some of its in­vest­ments in­clude Hatchtech, which is de­vel­op­ing a new gen­er­a­tion of low- tox­i­c­ity in­sec­ti­cides; Hy­drexia, which holds an exclusive li­cence for an al­loy that stores hy­dro­gen in solid form, point­ing to the pos­si­bil­ity of mak­ing hy­dro­gen a vi­able en­ergy source; and Ac­tiveTorque, an en­gine tech­nol­ogy com­pany that aims to com­mer­cialise soft­ware that can dy­nam­i­cally tune a com­bus­tion en­gine to op­ti­mal set­tings.

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