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University chooses new funding path

THE University of WA has moved to plug a funding gap it believes exists between research grants and pre-seed capital, launching a “pre-pre-seed” Pathfinder Fund that will be able to make up to $250,000 a year in investment.

The fund will provide financial support of up to $40,000 for early-stage projects developed within the university that have commercial potential but are not advanced enough to interest venture capitalists.

Pathfinder’s establishment comes less than two years after the founding of UWA’s Office of Industry and Innovation.

Headed by Andy Sierakowski, the new UWA division has helped drive licensing of UWA technologies and the formation of spin-off companies based on UWA intellectual property – including the likes of Advanced Nano Technologies Pty Ltd, which is behind the ZinClear sun protection formula.

The Pathfinder launch coincides with reports in WA Business News of industry concerns that development projects in WA, and Australia in general, were being starved of seed capital.

Last week WA Business News revealed that micro-chip manufacturer Intel spent more on research and development than the whole of Australia.

Launching the new fund last week, UWA vice-chancellor Professor Deryck Schreuder said universities were well placed to assist in the innovation that was driving modern economies.

“We intend to help bridge this funding gap and hence increase both the number and success rate of UWA’s commercialisation projects,” Mr Schreuder said.

“The aim is to further shape innovative technologies and applications into investor ready or preseed, fund-ready opportunities.”

He said the university recognised that commercialisation of early-stage research outcomes was a slow, often complex process that required effective coordination by a dedicated team.

Mr Schreuder said the university did not expect a commercial success in every instance, but believed better funding would increase the chances of research being taken up by industry.

He said the UWA’s OII had taken an innovative approach to commercialising the intellectual property of the university, through engagement with internal and external stakeholders.

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