CSIRO's AU$200m Innovation Fund investing in quantum computing, experiential education, WiFi chips, AI-driven cancer diagnosis

Above photo credit: CSIRO

In December 2016, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) of Australia launched an Innovation Fund to invest in new start-up and spin off companies, and SMEs engaged in the translation of research generated in the publicly funded research sector. Now the first investments of the fund have been announced.

The Fund is operating under the name, Main Sequence Ventures (MSV). Established as part of the Australian Government's National Innovation and Science Agenda, the fund will comprise a commitment of AU$70 million in government funding, AU$30 million revenue from CSIRO's WLAN program and additional private sector investment, with a target total value of AU$200 million. (WLAN or WiFi was invented through the work of CSIRO radio astronomers.)

The Fund is focusing its investment toward companies establishing themselves and with most assets in Australia during their formative years. It is expected to be open to investment proposals from CSIRO, Australian universities, other Australian publicly funded research agencies, and their partners including SMEs. It will focus on proposals that bring forward the commercialisation of 'deep technology' across government-aligned national industry priorities as currently articulated through the Industry Growth Centres and invest for both commercial return and national benefit.

Main Sequence Ventures’ first investments are in Q-Ctrl, Intersective, Morse Micro and Maxwell MRI  and they are expected to create more than 60 new jobs.

Q-Ctrl is a quantum computing startup being established under the leadership of Professor Michael Biercuk from the University of Sydney. Q-Ctrl will address the important issue of error control in quantum computing.

Morse Micro creates chips for Wi-Fi Devices, with low peak power requirements. These devices could run for many years on a single coin cell battery or forever from harvested energy. With energy usage potentially 100-200 times lower than conventional wireless links, it could help in making small, long lasting IoT devices will finally become a reality.

The third investee, Maxwell MRI, is combining cutting edge deep learning with modern medical imaging for making cancer diagnosis faster, more affordable and more accurate - starting with prostate cancer.

Intersective is an experiential education technology start-up co-founded in 2012 by veteran tech entrepreneurs Wes Sonnenreich, Beau Leese and Suzy Watson. Its Practera platform powers a range of experiential learning programs like internships, cross-functional projects, accelerators, mentoring and skills micro-credentialing, delivering better outcomes for educators, employers and learners.

Main Sequence Ventures is led by veteran venture capitalist Bill Bartee, and includes Phil Morle, founder of Australia's first Silicon Valley style incubator; Mike Zimmerman, who has two decades of start-up operating and investing experience; Martin Duursma, a technology business leader with deep experience running innovation teams; and Mike Nicholls, an experienced entrepreneur, inventor and technologist. The investment committee of Main Sequence Ventures will comprise the management team, two external members, Alison Deans and Sarah Pearson, plus CSIRO representative Karl Rodrigues, who have strong connections to global venture capital networks and the Australian innovation ecosystem and venture capital networks.

Mr. Bartee said, “Our first investments are giving us a great start in backing ambitious entrepreneurs to build important and growing companies.”

“Q-Ctrl has the potential to provide the firmware framework for quantum computers, Morse Micro is building the next generation of WiFi chip, Intersective is using data science to better equip our workers for the future and Maxwell MRI is changing the way we detect and diagnose prostate cancer. This is some of the best and most exciting research from the Australian innovation sector, and we look forward to working with them to realise their potential in the commercial market,” he added.

CSIRO Chief Executive Larry Marshall said Australia has never been short of great ideas, but the value is rarely captured domestically.

“Science can drive change across the economy despite global disruption, improve our nation’s health and sustainability and make business globally competitive. This is a team Australia effort, with the Fund investing in the best ideas across the research community. This will help Australia better capture the value of science, deliver impact and drive the jobs and industries of the future,” Dr Marshall said.

Acting Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash, said, “As part of the Turnbull Government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda, the CSIRO Innovation Fund is designed to ensure our world-class research can be turned into the jobs and economic growth of the future.”

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