Double Win for UniServices

Winners of the fifth annual KiwiNet Research Commercialisation Awards, designed to celebrate commercialisation success within New Zealand’s universities and Crown Research Institutes, have been announced.

"We are very proud to have won two awards at the recent Kiwinet Awards, to win Deal of the Year and Research and Business Partnership award, demonstrates that our innovative, client led approach to commercialisation and research deliver great results that are recognised within the community." Will Charles, GM Technology Development.

MinterEllisonRuddWatts Research and Business Partnership Award

PwC Commercial Deal Award


University Of Auckland, Orion Health and Waitemata District Health Board: Precision Driven Health

Precision Driven Health (PDH) is a seven-year NZ$38m research partnership which improves health outcomes through data science. It brings together Orion Health, Waitemata District Health Board and the University of Auckland with support from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. More commercial partners, healthcare providers and academic institutions will join as the partnership continues.

PDH positions New Zealand at the forefront of the global transformation in healthcare known as precision medicine, enabled when all information about an individual – including his or her genetic and social profile – is available as part of an electronic health record, accessible by clinicians in real time.

PDH's research programme harnesses New Zealand's unique combination of existing electronic healthcare data and world-class research capability to enable the development of data-driven healthcare solutions that can be applied globally. These findings are already a key contributor to the development of the product roadmaps of its commercial partners. In the case of Orion Health, PDH's research programme feeds directly into enabling its Amadeus precision medicine platform to manage and analyse large volumes of data from a variety of sources, and then present those insights back to healthcare professionals and consumers in real time.


Soul Machines: Humanizing the interface between man and machines

In 2011, UniServices and The University of Auckland used the Vice Chancellor's Strategic Hiring Fund to provide Auckland and MIT Alumnus Dr Mark Sagar, a two-time Academy Award winner, with the opportunity to leave his role at Weta Digital and return to the University.

Dr Sagar joined the Laboratory for Animate Technologies based in the Auckland Bioengineering Institute (ABI), University of Auckland. With his engineering and research team he developed two technologies: Facemaker designed to rapidly and reliably create avatar faces based on real human anatomy and physiology, and Baby X, the first avatar created by Dr. Mark Sagar. Baby X technology provides an emotional and social reasoning platform to existing and developing intelligence in the Artificial Intelligence industry.

In 2012 the first long term research contract was secured and UniServices invested in the technology. UniServices also managed research contracts, the patent portfolio and market validation. This enabled the lab to grow and develop both technologies.

In 2016, Hong Kong based Horizons Ventures was introduced to the technology on a tour of the University and was so impressed the team made the decision to invest almost immediately. A $7.5 million USD Series financing round led by Horizons Ventures with Iconiq Capital, the University's biggest Series A fund raising deal to date, launched Soul Machines, built on the technology behind Baby X.

As a result of the investment, Dr. Sagar became the CEO of Soul Machines and his research team now make up the newly formed Soul Machines brand. Auckland UniServices reassigned ownership of all Intellectual Property and associated research contracts to Soul Machines in return for a shareholding in the new company. Dr Sagar continues to head the Bioengineering Institute's Lab for Animate Technologies.

The investment will allow Soul Machines to deliver on its vision of humanizing technology to create intelligent and emotionally responsive, human-like avatars that augment and enrich the user experience for customers and markets adopting Artificial Intelligence-based platforms.

Comments from the Judges

Lead KiwiNet Awards judge Dr Andrew Kelly, Executive Director at BioPacific Partners says, “The quality and sophistication of presentations rises every year and applicants are really demonstrating how commercially savvy they are.  It’s great to see the commercial focus getting sharper.  Yet again, we’re seeing the benefit of previous research commercialisation success stories, and some failures, and people are learning from those.”

Dr Kelly was joined on the judging panel by Rob Heebink, R&D Executive at Gallagher Group, Bridget Coates, co-founder of Kura™ and Chairman of White Cloud Dairy Innovation Ltd, and Paul Dyson, entrepreneur and angel investor.

KiwiNet CEO Dr James Hutchinson says, “We've had some really inspirational pitches from finalists today.  They're showing that with some entrepreneurial spark, and the right support and commercial expertise, in New Zealand we can take our cutting edge technology innovations to the world.”

The annual KiwiNet Awards are designed to recognise and celebrate research commercialisation success.  Sponsorship support is provided by BNZ, MinterEllisonRuddWatts, PwC, Baldwins, MBIE, Norman F. B. Barry Foundation and Sciencelens photography.

Jason Lewthwaite, Senior Partner at BNZ says, “Today’s winners have created game changing innovations that will create new commercial opportunities for New Zealand. BNZ is very pleased to be a long-time supporter of these awards as they inspire and celebrate people who are dedicated to making a global impact through cutting edge research, world leading product development which will in turn deliver a higher achieving New Zealand.”

Paul Stocks, Paul Stocks, Deputy Chief Executive of MBIE's Labour, Science and Enterprise group, says “Commercialisation of publicly-funded research drives innovation, helps to solve problems and creates economic growth for the benefit of all New Zealanders.”

The Kiwi Innovation Network (KiwiNet) is a consortium of 16 universities, Crown Research Institutes and a Crown Entity established to boost commercial outcomes from publicly funded research.  Principal support is also provided by the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment (MBIE).

For more information on the KiwiNet Awards winners see