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Otago Innovation Proof of Concept Grant

The $100,000 Proof of Concept Grant competition is closed

The annual Proof of Concept Grant competition is closed for applications. As an established feature of the University of Otago’s calendar, the Otago Innovation POC Grant is in its sixteenth year.

It is an opportunity for Academics, Post-docs and PhD candidates to test their commercially prospective ideas in front of an expert panel of mainly external judges.

The winner of the Grant will receive $100,000 to help further validate their idea.

The judges will see a lot more than one idea worth investing in, and so it will not just be the winner who may benefit from submitting an application. In past years several entries have been taken forward with Otago Innovation.

The UoO is strongly embracing the idea of commercialisation as a valuable way to increase research impact.

A few years ago we instigated the idea of inviting potential investors/partners to the presentations and judging. People often tell us they wish to take a look at projects early. We reasoned that they (Investors) may as well take a look at new ideas out of Otago at the same time as we first do, and so each year since many people come and go throughout the two days of judging.

Over the last 16 years submissions have included ideas ranging from human therapeutics, biomarkers, software development to improved technology in household devices.

If you have a great idea, then feel free to contact any of our Commercialisation Managers. They will be happy to take a look.

Apply now

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Proof of Concept Competition 2022 - Meet the experts

Discover the technology transfer experience of University of Otago academics in our video series, or meet the 2022 expert panel of judges who makes the decision on who wins the $100,000. Finally, get an insight into the investment companies that will be present during the judging.


Video series

The Proof of Concept Video Series has been prepared to give you insight into the world of technology transfer. Listen to three University of Otago staff members talk about their experience and how their work is making an impact through commercialisation and their path to getting investor buy in. The series is available on the unviersity of Otago YouTube page.

Proof of Concept Video Series

Associate Professor Chris Pemberton (Medicine, UoO Christchurch) shares his story of a novel idea, securing Intellectual Property, getting investment and forming a company.

Dr Lyn Wise (Pharmacology & Toxicology, UoO) shares her story. The idea and how the path to getting investment was harder than she first thought. The market wasn’t ready.

Professor Alison Heather talks about her novel Androgen Product. A biotechnology product based on detecting chemicals that illicit that natural biological response to steroid hormones.

Professor Stephen Duffull from the School of Pharmacy chats about his Pharmacy Simulation Software that attracted US investment. 

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Meet the 2022 Expert Judging Panel 

On Monday 22nd and Tuesday 23rd of August 2022, Otago Innovation brings together expert innovators in the technology transfer space. Over the two days we will have an expert judging panel that represents precisely what makes the experience of commericalising University technologies so unique. Representing a cross section of University Commercialisation, Investment, Intellectual Property Management, Government and the Private Sector the panel comes from across New Zealand to meet with you and hear about your innovations.

If your application is short-listed you will have a chance to pitch face-to-face to the panel and get expert feedback on your technology. It's unusual to find such a panel of experts all in the same room, so we hope it is of great benefit to you.

Elliott Dunn imageDr Elliott Dunn

Prior to joining Brandon Capital Partners, Elliott project managed the research team at Blis Technologies Ltd. Previously, Elliott was a Commercialisation Analyst for Otago Innovation Ltd and a Scientific Officer in pharmacology at the University of Otago. After completing his PhD in 2018, Elliott chaired the Return On Science Biotech & Pharma and Otago Momentum Investment Committees, established two Government funded student-led investment committees in New Zealand, and conducted research for Upside Biotechnologies Ltd, which focused on developing a bioengineered solution for burns victims.

Elliott is a board observer of Amaroq Therapeutics, and a director of Cadmus Animal Health and TamoRx.

Elliott has a PhD in Stem Cell Biology from the University of Auckland, and a Bachelor and Masters in Immunology from the University of Otago. He is currently an active committee member of the Return on Science Biotech & Pharma and Otago Momentum Investment Committees.

Dr Andrew Kelley Andrew Kelly POC 2019

(Chair of POC Judging), Bio-Pacific Partners

Dr Andrew Kelly has a forty-year career in science and science commercialisation spanning health, food & agriculture. Dr Kelly was the co-founder of BioPacific Ventures, a $100 million life sciences specialist venture capital fund that operated in both New Zealand and Australia. 

More recently he co-founded BioPacific Partners which has built a centre of expertise in bridging local innovations into international markets via global health, food and agriculture companies.

Martin Gagnon imageDr Martin Gagnon

Director, Research and Enterprise

Martin joined R&E in July 2018, bringing with him his extensive experience in research funding acquired in Canada. Martin spent the last 5 years at Exactis Innovation, a pan-Canadian
clinical research network he helped create, funded jointly by the federal government’s Network of Centres of Excellence program and industry partners. Martin brings strategic and operational expertise having
secured more than $100M in research financing over the past 10 years.

Previously, he co-founded Chlorion Pharma, a neuroscience-focused biotechnology company. As Chief Operating Officer and Vice President of Research, Martin validated the neuronal cation-chloride co-transporter
KCC2 as a novel target for the treatment of neuropathic pain and epilepsy and successfully raised several million from venture capital funds to support drug development activities.

Martin obtained a PhD in pharmacology and therapeutics from McGill University. His doctoral work in rational drug design led to the development of novel cancer therapeutics and allosteric inhibitors of protein tyrosine phosphatases.

Brian RussellBrian Russell

Brian is a tech entrepreneur with over 25 years in product design and commercialisation.

He started his career with large global corporates (Nokia-UK, Analog Devices-USA) then founded and ran Zephyr Technology Corp a US based medical device company for 14 years, raising capital in the US then successfully exiting to Covidien (now Medtronic).

He has 22 patents in silicon chip design and physiological monitoring. He is now involved with various projects and on several boards.

Michelle Sullivan

Michelle Sullivan imageDr Michelle Sullivan is the founder and director of bioscience consulting firm Electric Sheep Ltd and has led a range of diverse consulting projects for both public sector and commercial clients. Michelle is a Trustee of the Malaghan Institute for Medical Research and Chair of the Strategic Alliance board for the Institute’s CAR-T cell cancer immunotherapy partnership.

She is concurrently General Manager at the Cancer Research Trust and CEO of cancer patient charity Neuroendocrine Cancer New Zealand. Her past experience includes Chair of the Board of Trustees of Middlemore Clinical Trials, founding CEO of the advocacy alliance New Zealanders for Health Research, and former CEO at NZBIO, New Zealand's Bioscience Industry Association.

Michelle has held a range of government roles, and has worked in Auckland, London and New York dealing with major multinational corporations, international biotechnology companies and venture capital funds.

Michelle holds a PhD in protein biochemistry from Massey University and an Honours degree in Biochemistry from the University of Otago.

Kjesten Wiig imageDr Kjesten Wiig

Dr Wiig received her PhD from the University of Otago and completed her postdoctoral training at Brown University in the United States.

She worked as Director of Behavioral Neuropharmacology at Sention, a company that was spun out of Brown University based on her postdoctoral work. Sention aimed to create new therapeutics for memory loss. She also served as Director of Neuropharmacology at Galenea, a company spun out of MIT in Boston, that aimed to create new treatments for schizophrenia. At both companies, Kjesten was responsible for all pre-clinical research, involving the development of compounds for multiple disease indications including mild cognitive impairment, Fragile X, schizophrenia, obesity and Huntington’s Disease. She also actively participated in intellectual property strategy, and business development and managed major collaborations with universities and pharmaceutical companies.

Kjesten then brought her experience in creating value out of science to the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment in New Zealand. There, Kjesten worked as National Manager for Commercialisation and Director of Innovative Partnerships, a programme she created and grew to enable international companies to establish an R&D presence in New Zealand.

M Yiannoustsos imageMelissa Yiannoutsos

Melissa has a twenty-year career in science commercialisation and investment. During which she has helped establish the first angel networks in NZ, managed pre-seed funds, grown start-ups within and for industry, CRIs and Universities, and lead investment and business incubation programmes. Melissa has been involved in every aspect of taking an idea from research into product concepts and markets.

Prior to joining Booster Financial Services in 2021, as its Innovations Fund manager, she has progress inventions discovered at Universities into ambitious NZ companies in many areas from vaccine development to biosensors to acne skincare.

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Meet the investors

Otago Innovation may invite experienced investors to take a look at new ideas early in their development. Investors (from NZ and Australia) may be in attendance during the two days of judging, they have all signed Confidentiality Agreements, so your ideas are safe with us.