Universities catch the goose but fail to gather the golden eggs
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
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.