REX making market transition

02/08/2019 - 12:09
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A medical startup supported by Curtin University and angel investors led by Ian Brown has raised more than $1 million, shining a light on the commercialisation process for university technology.

Ian Brown joined REX Ortho as chairman after he came across Matthew Oldakowski and Intan Oldakowska’s REX Screw technology. Photo: Gabriel Oliveira

A medical startup supported by Curtin University has raised more than $1 million, shining a light on the commercialisation process for university technology.

Medical startup REX Ortho has secured $1.2 million in its first round of capital raising, helping bring its removable, expandable orthopaedic REX screw into the commercial space.

A medical device startup supported by Curtin University, REX Ortho was established in 2017 with the help of Ian Brown, who played a key role in navigating a commercial transition.

Mr Brown has worked in the commercialisation space since the 1990s, with experience at universities in Italy, Sweden, the UK and Australia, and is currently chairperson of Perth Angels.

Although he commends universities for their ability to manage risk, Mr Brown told Business News that skilled and business-minded people were needed to engage investors and understand the risk all parties were managing in terms of research entering the commercial space.

“The key part … is to validate [whether] what the university has been working on in a given project can actually solve a problem in the market,” Mr Brown said.

“If [research is] valid, and you can see a solid connection between a university’s solution and the problem industry has, then you can make further investments.

“When there’s no fit, then you have to say so.

“I think that’s alright, because you’ve got technical universities linked with industry, but you’ve also got research that’s pure and is trying to solve complex, ground-breaking problems.

“It may be the market isn’t ready for it, and while all the pieces may not fit the market, it will all lead to something.”

Mr Brown said he became involved with REX Ortho because of his familiarity with commercialising orthopaedic research at Imperial College in the UK.

Impressed with Matthew Oldakowski and Intan Oldakowska’s work at Curtin on the REX Screw, he introduced the two to his network, putting them in contact with companies such as Johnson & Johnson and Zimmer Biomet, as well as other researchers at University College London.

Eventually, his involvement with their work led him to take up the role of chairman of REX Ortho, licensing the technology out of the university and attracting investors to provide funding.

An adjustable titanium screw used to improve outcomes from hip fracture surgeries, spinal and other bone injuries, the REX Screw is one of the more notable pieces of technology to graduate into the commercial space from Curtin, with the university administering its own early stage seed fund for startups since 2006.

Managed through a commercial advisory board, six companies have made a successful exit in the past three years, with an internal rate of return of 18 per cent.

Though that figure demonstrates a high level of risk in commercialisation funding for research, Mr Brown said addressing the risk for private investors could help realise the commercial viability of applied, technical research.

“A lot of private investors will only invest in what they know and have networks in,” he said.

“One of the things we champion [at] Perth Angels is educating investors on different markets and opportunities so they can build skills and knowledge in those markets.

“There are a lot of high-net-worth people in Perth, and they’re not all private investors in new technology companies, and we could do better to attract them to invest in these early stage startups.”

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