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13 companies gain up to $24.5M in R&D grants

13 companies gain up to $24.5M in taxpayer-funded R&D grants

By Fiona Rotherham

July 31 (BusinessDesk) - Thirteen companies were the recipients of the latest batch of government-funded research and development growth grants totalling up to $24.5 million over three years, including the listed Eroad receiving its first ever taxpayer assistance since it started commercialisation in 2007.

That brings the number of companies qualifying for the growth grants to 151 and the funding to a total of $344.5 million since they replaced the earlier technology development grants in 2013.

The companies getting funding in Callaghan’s latest funding round include Eroad, Vensa Health, Enphase Energy, ArcActive, Aura Redeye Security, Dodson Motorsport, Howard Wright, Jackson Electrical Industries, Livestock Improvement Corporation, Mount Cook Alpine Salmon, Parts Trader Market, Sirtrack, and Talbot Technologies.

The growth grants meet 20 percent of the cost of an eligible firm’s research and development programme with a cap of $15 million over three years. Individual firms’ funding is not released due to commercial sensitivity.

Auckland-based logistics fleet management company Eroad raised $46 million in an initial public offer when it listed last year. Chief executive Steve Newman said it spent $8.2 million of its $17.6 million revenue on r&d this year and the grant would allow the company to lift that 15 per cent in the next year.

"It will allow us to do more speculative research activity. It's the first r&d assistance we've had from government and a nice endorsement that we're a quality r&d shop," Newman said.

Ahmad Jubbawey, chief executive of mobile health solutions provider Vensa Health, said it's developing an open apps-based mHealth platform that will allow patient users to connect with their health provider. It’s due for release next year in New Zealand and Australia.

Over 650 NZ GPs - 65 percent of the market - currently use Vensa’s mHealth solutions to deliver health messages, appointment, screening and medication reminders to over 3 million Kiwis a year.

Vensa Health, which was founded in 2006 to improve patient management workflows, said it will spend $600,000 to $800,000 this year on r&d, escalating over the following two years to a forecast $1 million to $1.5 million per year.

“Our new technology will both help the company to scale and open up international markets, “ Jubbawey said.

Farmer-owned Livestock Improvement Corp said it spends $16.9 million or 7.5 percent of its annual $232 million revenue on r&d and the growth grant will enable it to build more critical mass in the areas it's researching along with working on some longer term ideas.

The Waikato-based dairy agribusiness is focused on three key areas of research, said chief scientist Richard Spelman: improving genetics with DNA technology so farmers can make earlier decisions on herd selection; on-farm processes including estimating pasture cover and the health aspects of the cow using different devices; and software development so relevant data is more easily collated to give an overview of on-farm performance.

Auckland-based Dodson Motorsport makes dual clutch transmission components for high-end cars that boost performance beyond the original manufacture. Company co-founder Harry Dodson, who also owns an auto-spares company, said the grant will help develop the technology for a wider range of vehicles. Some 99 percent of the components are sold offshore, he said. He wouldn’t disclose the private company’s r&d spend.

New Plymouth-based Howard Wright, which makes hospital beds and medical stretchers, said its research and development was focused on the next generation of technology. It’s due to make an early release later this year of a new bed that chief executive Bruce Moller said better addresses the clinical needs of the healthare profession, particularly patient mobility.

Moller said he had to keep “secret squirrel” on the r&d programme and refused to reveal its spend, except to say it was many hundreds of thousands of dollar annually. He said around three-quarters of its revenue is now off-shore, mainly in Australia.

Another recipient was Enphase Energy NZ, the local subsidiary of a leading US-based maker of advanced solar power system inverters. Enphase set up an engineering design centre in Christchurch in 2011 to work alongside Silicon Valley-based staff to develop its technology.

It has developed new generation microinverters which sit within a solar panel and convert direct current to alternating current for use in homes and businesses.

(BusinessDesk receives funding from Callaghan Innovation to assist coverage of the commercialisation of innovation).


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