More WA startups get grants cash

More WA startups get grants cash

Tue, 13/03/2018 - 15:50

AG-TECH: The Indicina team (from left): Brenda Powell, John Bussell, Rod Campbell, Tim Hyde, Ross George, Ivor Gaylard and Beau Tang.

A Perth-based ag-tech startup has been awarded $590,000 and a mobile tech business $226,000 in the latest round of Accelerating Commercialisation (AC) funding.

Startups in Western Australia have been slowly chalking up solid wins in federal grants.

Since September last year, more than a quarter of all AC grant offers (in dollar terms) have been to WA companies.

Among 33 offers made nationally totalling $13.6million, six WA projects have been awarded a combined $2.97 million in AC grants at an average size of $495,000 per offer.

The details are published on the Department of Industry, Innovation & Science website.

Accelerating Commercialisation is a federally funded competitive grants program (a previous version was known as Commercialising Australia) that backs innovative Australian-owned projects.

Grants have to be matched with funds available and/or raised by the company.

Projects have to be strong (novel, pre-revenue and with a clear market proposition and strong management team) because it is a competitive grant process, and WA requests are pitted against the best in the country.

Startup News spoke to one of the latest recipients, ag-tech startup Indicina, about its novel project, SWAN Systems, and the grant process itself.

Indicina’s $590,000 grant will fast track the commercialisation of SWAN Systems (schedule water and nutrients), a world-first irrigation and nutrient scheduling software platform.

Indicina, the East Perth company behind the system, had to demonstrate a clear market need for the product and its funding.

The idea started life as a precision agriculture tool about six years ago but over the past 18 months has been developed into a web-based software platform applicable to any large-scale irrigator.

Indicina co-founders Tim Hyde and Ivor Gaylard met many years ago growing bananas in the Gascoyne. They each have 25-plus years of agronomy, agribusiness and consulting experience behind them.

Another co-founder, Rod Campbell, has a banking and corporate background, having been company secretary for Fortescue Metals Group in its early days, and WA state manager of Rabobank.

The rest of the staff is made up of PhDs and ‘deep domain’ experts.

They have ploughed in their own funds, plus angel investors’ money, to get the system to its prototype stage.

The platform is being trialled across a range of sectors over the current 2017-18 irrigation season, including agriculture, horticulture, public open space (parks and ovals), golf courses, recycled water utilities and property developers.

SWAN Systems enables large-scale irrigators to optimally manage water and nutrient levels

Unique features of the system include the “forward-looking nature of the water and nutrient balancing, as well as being totally hardware agnostic”.

“Farmers and managers of public open spaces will be able to use our system to predict their optimal water requirements and fine tune their nutrient balance no matter what soil moisture probes or reticulation schemes they currently have,” Mr Hyde said.

SWAN Systems has been designed to reduce irrigation costs, optimise plant/grass growth and minimise nutrient leaching. Tests indicate SWAN saves at least 20 per cent of water use compared with previous systems.

“Water scarcity is a growing problem here in Australia,” Mr Hyde said. “We live on the driest continent on the planet, and the situation is only getting more severe.”

Based on feedback from the field, the Indicina team aims to complete the final product ready for full commercialisation in time for the 2018-19 irrigation season.

“The AC process is a reasonable amount of work, and has very well-defined stages throughout,” Mr Hyde said.

“We actually took 18 months from first meeting to putting in the final application.

“Having a full grasp of the grant and its different components – what’s eligible spending and what’s not – takes a bit (of time) to get your head around.

“I’d suggest making contact and having an occasional coffee with an adviser and past recipients on a regular basis, as you will always pick something up.

“One of the overarching principles is understanding where the AC grant fits in the whole AusIndustry federal government offer.

“The R&D tax concession, the AC Grant, then Export Marketing Development rebates essentially follow a pipeline for startups.

“It’s often really hard for a startup as, essentially, you’re investing in a product that you don’t know for sure if there a market or not.

“We thought we had something of value to potential customers but you don’t really know until the market is tested.

“If you are approved for the AC grant there is the obvious advantage of the funding, but (another) aspect which can’t be undervalued is that the federal government has essentially completed some due diligence on you, the business, the market and your commercialisation plans.

“This credibility tick goes a long way for customers and potential investors.”

* The author has been working for AC for the past five months.

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