WA wins big with recent Accelerating Commercialisation grants

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Indicina-Brenda Powell (left), John Bussell, Rod Campbell, Tim Hyde, Ross George, Ivor Gaylard and Beau Tang.
Indicina-Brenda Powell (left), John Bussell, Rod Campbell, Tim Hyde, Ross George, Ivor Gaylard and Beau Tang.

A Perth-based agtech startup has been awarded $590K and a mobile tech business $226K in the latest round of Accelerating Commercialisation (AC) funding…

WA has been slowly but surely chalking up the AC grants in recent months.

Since September 2017, over a quarter of all grant offers (in dollar terms) have been to WA companies. Among 33 grant offers made nationally totalling $13.6M, six WA projects have been awarded a combined $2.97M in AC grants at an average size of $495K per offer. You can peruse all recent (and historic) grant offers as they are published on the Department of Industry, Innovation & Science website.

For those readers unaware, Accelerating Commercialisation is a federally funded competitive grant 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. So if you want $250K from the government, you need to have $250K in matching funds available. [Full disclosure here – this author has been working for AC these past 5 months.]

The projects themselves have to be strong (novel, pre-revenue and with a clear market proposition, strong management team, etc…) as it is a competitive grant process, and WA requests are pitted against the best in the country. WA’s recent wins were completed thanks in no small measure to the work of my colleague, Sheryl Frame, who’s been working away obtaining AC grants for WA companies for over six years.

So, the message is – there IS money there, and WA companies CAN (and do) win it.

Startup News spoke to one of the latest recipients, the agtech startup Indicina, about their novel project, SWAN Systems, and the grant process itself…

The Project – SWAN Systems

Indicina’s $590K matching (dollar for dollar) grant which 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 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 would admit they are not your typical 20-something startuppy folks. Cofounders Tim Hyde and Ivor Gaylard met many years ago growing bananas in the Gascoyne. They each have 25+ years of agronomy, agribusiness and consulting experience behind them. Another cofounder, Rod Campbell, has a banking and corporate background, having been company secretary for FMG in its early days and been 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 MVP (or prototype) stage, and over the current irrigation season 2017/18 the platform is being trialled across a range of sectors including agriculture, horticulture, public open space (parks & ovals), golf courses, recycled water utilities and property developers.

SWAN System allows 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 current have,” Tim Hyde told Startup News.

SWAN Systems has been designed to reduce irrigation costs, optimise plant/grass growth and minimise nutrient leaching. Tests indicate SWAN saves at least 20% of water use as compared to previous systems. It’s a product of its time.

“Water scarcity is a growing problem here in Australia, “ said Mr Hyde, “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. It’s been along haul for the team, who are (understandably) itching to get the product into the market later this year and keen to earn revenues.

The Grant Process

“The AC process is a reasonable amount of work, and has very well defined stages throughout,” Tim Hyde told Startup News, “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,” said Tim, “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, “Tim told Startup News, “We thought we had something of value to potential customers but you don’t really know until the market is tested. We spent a considerable amount of time on the application and changed lots after the draft review to ensure we ticked all the boxes so we were reasonably confident (of winning the grant); but in saying that, it’s very competitive!

“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.”

What advice would Tim give others considering an AC grant?

“Understand where you are in the commercialisation process and  eligibility criteria,” said Tim, “Ask for the contact details of an adviser and past recipients and meet occasionally to keep on track.”

TOKN Mobile Platform

In the latest round of AC grant offers, Innaloo-based TOKN were awarded $226K in matching funds to commercialise their software which allows legacy systems to move across to mobile platforms.

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Feature Photo, from left: The Indicina team  – Brenda Powell, John Bussell, Rod Campbell, Tim Hyde, Ross George, Ivor Gaylard and Beau Tang.

For more information on Accelerating Commercialisation grants, visit the AC website and contact one of the WA advisers, Sheryl Frame or myself.