Collaborative University of Auckland research solutions among KiwiNet Commercialisation award finalists
15 September 2020

University of Auckland researchers have been recognised as finalists in the 2020 KiwiNet Research Commercialisation awards. They got their start from publicly funded research projects at the university, and grew their success through ongoing commitment to excellence in research and industry collaboration. 

Russell and Klaus
Russell Snell and Klaus Lehnert

University of Auckland researchers have been recognised as finalists in the 2020 KiwiNet Research Commercialisation awards. They got their start from publicly funded research projects at the university, and grew their success through ongoing commitment to excellence in research and industry collaboration. Through commercialisation, they have been able to apply innovations for real world impact making buildings more resilient to earthquakes and increasing the profitability of New Zealand’s dairy goat farming industry. 

Researcher Entrepreneur Finalist

University of Auckland Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor Pierre Quenneville, has been named as a finalist in partnership with Dr Pouyan Zarnani from the Auckland University of Technology (AUT), for their work in long-term seismic protection for buildings and liquid storage tanks. 

Seeing the need for more resilience in buildings following the 2011 Christchurch earthquakes, Pierre and Pouyan took their idea through the University of Auckland’s Velocity entrepreneurship programme and won the $100k challenge in 2015. From there, together with AUT where Pouyan later obtained a full-time position, they secured funding support from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. 

Subsequent Government-supported research and investment from the University of Auckland Inventors’ Fund run by UniServices has supported the development of a resilience slip friction joint into a spin-out company, Tectonus. Since then, other local investors have come on board as Tectonus gained traction in the market.

UniServices Commercialisation Director Stephen Flint says: “Tectonus was born from research trying to solve known problems which were exemplified by the Christchurch earthquakes. The relationship with the two universities has enabled Tectonus to leverage their collective capabilities and resources for exploring new technologies while allowing the company to focus on delivering their products to the market both in New Zealand and overseas.”

Commercial impact finalist

University of Auckland School of Biological Sciences Professor Russell Snell and Associate Professor Dr Klaus Lehnert’s work supporting farmers in genetically identifying high value dairy goats has been recognised as a finalist in the PwC Commercial Impact Award. 

What started as a research project in 2016, in partnership with New Zealand’s Dairy Goat Co-operative (DGC) supported by co-funding from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, quickly transformed into a powerful genetic test now used by shareholders of the DGC to select goats producing up to 20% more milk for manufacturing of premium infant formula, one of New Zealand’s highest-value export products. 

Professor Russell Snell explains: “We recognised the considerable value in the application of our research discovery for New Zealand and the goat farmers. Our ability to move so quickly from research discovery through to commercial application for dairy goat farmers is credit to a number of factors. One of those was the high-trust relationship we value greatly with the DGC, and another is our impatient focus on seeing our research findings translate to tangible outcomes. It’s incredibly satisfying.”

Within three years, the project team involving researchers and students from the University of Auckland and Massey University, and the DGC, conducted primary research, collected samples, discovered the lucrative genetic variant, and commercialised it. 

Associate Professor Dr Klaus Lehnert says that another factor in the commercialisation success was their commitment to staying close to the process, being readily available to share expertise and keeping all parties, such as the farmers, involved in the research, up to date. 

“While we enjoyed the speed of this project from research to impact, our most important advice to share with other interested researchers is that our ability was elevated through our close relationship with the DGC. Strong relationships are a long-term commitment built on common goals, respect and regular communication.” 

If you are a University of Auckland researcher interested in understanding more about the commercialisation potential of your work, please get in touch with the UniServices Commercialisation team.

The KiwiNet Research Commercialisation awards event will be held on Thursday 15 October 2020. Find out more about the finalists on the KiwiNet website.