KiwiNet funding supports commercialisation

27 May 2016

Nihal Kularatna

Dr Nihal Kularatna has received KiwiNet funding to develop a new product.

Funding from KiwiNet and the University of Waikato of $285,000 will allow Electronics Engineer Associate Professor Nihal Kularatna to develop a new version of a power conditioner for Perth’s Thor Technologies Pty Ltd.

“A power conditioner is a device that evens out fluctuations in voltage,” says Dr Kularatna. “In New Zealand, our voltage is 230 plus or minus six percent. If there are surges or sags in voltage, these can damage products that rely on electricity, such as computers.”

Dr Kularatna will be using his newly developed technology to improve the existing Power Station 2 and make it a faster, more compact and economical product.

“This technology will also be used in future products. It keeps me thinking constantly of new ways to do things. I’m very excited to be working on this new product. I give a lot of credit to Tipene Merritt at WaikatoLink, who did all the preliminary discussions for our team.”

WaikatoLink is the commercialisation company of the University. Its core role involves working directly with innovators, business, industry and researchers to form partnerships that will progress new ideas and technologies to maximise economic benefits to New Zealand. WaikatoLink staff are instrumental in helping researchers get their research to a commercially viable stage. They also help researchers present their discoveries to the KiwiNet Investment Committee to secure PreSeed funding to cover the cost of this early stage commercialisation process. Kiwi Innovation Network (KiwiNet) is New Zealand’s network of public research organisations, working together to transform scientific discoveries into marketable products and services.

PreSeed funding is matched funding, meaning the research organisations have to 50% match the funding KiwiNet provides. Half of Dr Kularatna’s $285,000 funding comes from KiwiNet, and half from the University. PreSeed funding is intended to stimulate and attract investor interest to publicly funded research and development. PreSeed seeks to maximise the commercial benefits to New Zealand of previously publicly funded research, raise public sector providers' commercial capabilities and skills, and improve public sector research providers' links with potential private sector partners.

The funding will allow Dr Kularatna to employ a post-doctoral engineer and a PhD student to work on the project for Thor Technologies. Thor is an Australian manufacturer of power protection and management products, and will be selling the new project under a licence from WaikatoLink, which has a US patent for the Linear AC Regulator Technique Dr Kularatna developed. In 2015, a supercapacitor-based surge protector invented by Dr Kularatna for Thor made it to commercialisation. Following a three-year research and development partnership, a licence deal was established with Thor, which worked with the University of Waikato and WaikatoLink to develop and commercialise the product.

“This is another exciting development from the School of Engineering,” says Acting Dean of Engineering Professor Janis Swan.

“Our objective is to use good science to develop products and processes that can be commercialised. WaikatoLink has assisted in taking our developments to market (eg Aduro Biopolymers). Obtaining KiwiNet funding helps rapid transfer of the new technology. Our engineering students also get to be involved in the exciting process of the research to prototyping to commercialisation pathway.”

KiwiNet partners are WaikatoLink, Plant & Food Research, Callaghan Innovation, AgResearch, Otago Innovation, Landcare Research, Lincoln University, University of Canterbury, Viclink, AUT Enterprises Ltd, Cawthron Institute, Environmental Science & Research, NIWA, Scion and GNS Science.

KiwiNet is one of three organisations that administers the Preseed Accelerator Fund (PreSeed) investment provided by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE). PreSeed investment provides researchers in publicly funded research organisations with funding for early-stage commercialisation of new ideas.

KiwiNet applies for and receives PreSeed funding every three years. This money is then allocated to researchers across New Zealand by an Investment Committee (IC). The IC has a representative from each of KiwiNet’s shareholding organisations (the universities and Crown Research Organisations) as well as several independent members. The IC meets every six weeks to allocate funding to projects presented for consideration by each research organisation.

KiwiNet is the only organisation of its type in the world. New Zealand is the only country where the majority of its universities and Crown research institutes voluntarily pool their research commercialisation funding and collectively allocate it to any publicly funded research project based on its commercially viability.

KiwiNet funding allocated to other Waikato University projects in 2016 went to Dr Ryan Ko - $25,000 from Computer Science, and Dr Aydin Berenjian who receives $15,000 each for two projects, Dr Lee Streeter - $15,000, Dr Leandro Bolzoni - $15,000, Dr Fei Yang - $15,000, Chrissen Gemmill - $15,000, and Dr Mike Clearwater - $15,000, all from Science and Engineering.