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Crossover to facilitate growth

PARTICIPANTS in the WA Business News innovation forum nominated nanotechnology and aquaculture as two sectors with enormous potential for Western Australia.

They also emphasised the value of linking core research with the State’s existing economic base.

UWA Professor Colin MacLeod said new opportunities were likely to arise from the crossover between traditional disciplines.

“Nanotechnology crossing with biotechnology in the area of nano drugs, agriculture crossing with medical research with smart foods, and basic marine science crossing with agribusiness,” Mr McLeod said.

“I think that will continue to be where the business opportunities are.”

EiR’s Greg Riebe took a similar view.

He praised work being done by WA’s universities, which have pulled together research on nanotechnology, biotechnology and microelectronics and are seeking to apply it ‘horizontally’ to areas like health and energy, “where we can leverage that capability into marketable products”.

pSivida’s Gavin Rezos said nanotechnology – which basically refers to all scientific applications dealing with extremely small elements – had been identified as one of four core areas for Australian Research Council funding.

“We can combine nanotechnology with our core strengths in the mining, agricultural, industrial side,” he said.

“That’s where I’d like to see some focus.”

Mr Rezos singled out sensing devices, diagnostics and light-weight materials as areas with real potential.

Zernike Australia’s Peter Why supported this view.

“I would love us to focus on the nano but focus on the areas that can add real value,” Mr Why said.

WA already has two commercial success stories based on nanotechnology research at UWA.

Advanced Powder Technology has obtained $6 million from Samsung and started production of its transparent sunscreen, known as Zinc Clear.

Vitrostone recently built a commercial production plant at Neerabup, north of Perth, to start producing its innovative lightweight building materials.

Foundation Capital’s Ian Murchison said science in agribusiness needed more focus and that technology developed for the resource sector could be applied in other sectors.

Atrico’s Ivan Gustavino backed this view, citing the State’s expertise in geographic information systems (GIS) software.

“We’ve got a world lead in three-dimensional GIS capability which has been applied in the resource area,” Mr Gustavino said.

“I’d say in 25 to 30 years we will have world-leading products that own 60 per cent market share in different sectors.”

A prominent company in the field is West Perth-based Fractal Technologies, whose shareholders include Foundation Capital.

Last November, Fractal was awarded a $900,000 AusIndustry grant to extend its existing FracSIS software to create the world’s first comprehensive 3D GIS software package.

The company said this development would provide a quantum shift in the way three-dimensional data was managed, analysed and interpreted.

Evandale House Group’s Peter Snow has long been a believer in the potential of aquaculture, or fish farming.

“For 10 years we have been struggling to get an aquaculture industry up,” he said.

“With every natural fishery in the world in decline, there has got to be a huge opportunity

“If the Government did get out of the way, or facilitate rather than create barriers, that could be a huge industry.”

Australian Venture Consultants’ Russell Barnett shared his enthusiasm.

“I don’t think there has ever been an industry with such a natural fit for Western Australia as there is for aquaculture,” Mr Barnett said.

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