Why investor funding could be the best option for your research

26 Mar 2021 | 3 mins

What if you could attract industry investment to fund your research, giving you the resources to commercialise your ideas and income to invest into your next project?

It turns out there’s a good chance you can.

Research commercialisation is becoming increasingly common practice for Australian researchers looking to move beyond traditional research grants to fund their work.

Late last year, 20 UWA teams spent 12 weeks going through a Research Commercialisation Accelerator.

The Accelerator, delivered in collaboration with corporate advisory firm Axito, offered researchers the opportunity to develop their business strategy and pitch decks with the goal of becoming investor-ready.

Some of the Ex-Planta team

Image: Associate Professor Parwinder Kaur (centre) with some of the team behind Ex Planta Pty Ltd.

Already, one project has attracted the attention of investors.

Ex Planta Pty Ltd was launched as a start-up company in October 2020. With a mission to develop synthetic isoflavones – which offer a range of health benefits, including menopause treatments– the company has attracted enough investment to support its research and product development operations for the next two years, through Alto Capital.

In fact, the company’s launch was so successful that UWA researcher Associate Professor Parwinder Kaur, Ex Planta’s Co-founder and Chief Science Officer, had to turn away potential investors due to oversubscription.

UWA researchers were guided through the commercialisation journey by Pia Turcinov, an experienced innovation strategist and company director.

“We’re using an industry lens to see how UWA research fits within problems and challenges in the modern marketplace,” she said.

“It’s really exciting to see the clever ideas coming out of universities and how they can meet real demand.

This is an opportunity to match UWA researchers with industry partners and take projects from Perth direct to the world.”

Pia Turcinov, innovation strategist

Associate Professor Kaur attributes the success of Ex Planta’s launch to the Research Commercialisation Accelerator.

“I know my product but I didn’t know the market – and that’s where this program was invaluable,” she said.

“Now, UWA is a shareholder of Ex Planta and we have full commercial support so I can concentrate on the science.”

Ex Planta’s Co-founder, Stockley Davis – a UWA graduate, stockbroker at Alto Capital and corporate adviser – explains that being ‘tech ready’ is very different from being ‘investor ready’.

“For a project to be investor ready it needs to articulate its value to the market. This means identifying a big enough problem and market size, and demonstrating you can make money by solving the problem,” he said.

“The product doesn’t need to be technically ready, but investors do need to be confident it can be done and there’s a high likelihood it will work.

Investors are willing to take a risk if they’re backing people they trust, own the intellectual property and can commercialise it.”

Stockley Davis, Ex Planta co-founder

In Ex Planta’s case, producing isoflavones in a petri dish will remove the need to grow plants in paddocks, saving considerable land, water and energy resources.

While the concept grew out of a ‘Friday afternoon’ blue sky project, the science is now supported by a full commercial management team.

Associate Professor Kaur’s advice to other researchers is to engage with the University’s Research Commercialisation and Industry Engagement teams early and to develop an intellectual property strategy in parallel with applications for research grants.

“You need to find the space to operate where you can make an intellectual property claim, and that will probably be very different to the space you’ll find by following academic literature,” she said.

“In five years’ time I’ll be on cloud nine if I see some of my research knowledge translate into products doing some good to the people and planet. This is something my family and outside academia world value and understand as they don’t tend to read the research papers we publish.”

The Research Commercialisation Accelerator was supported by a federal government Incubator Support “Expert in Residence” grant and CP Ventures, a venture capital and private equity firm.

If you’d like to connect with our Innovation and Industry Engagement team, contact Rob Shannon, Associate Director Innovation (rob.shannon@uwa.edu.au).

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