CSIRO kick-starts startups with $50,000 vouchers to fund collaborative research

Bio-Gene chief executive Robert Klupacs

Bio-Gene chief executive Robert Klupacs

A Melbourne-founded electric car developer and a public non-listed biotech firm are among the first winners of the CSIRO’s Kick-Start program, which offers up to $50,000 to help startups and small businesses with commercial research projects.

Tomcar Australia, which develops military-grade off-road vehicles and Bio-Gene have each secured $50,000 vouchers to engage in collaborative research with the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation to bring new innovations to market.

Another four businesses have also received vouchers but the CSIRO has not revealed their identities due to legal sensitivities around intellectual property. These projects will be undertaken at the CSRIO’s Food Innovation Centre in Werribee, Victoria.

All awarded businesses will match CSIRO’s funding dollar-for-dollar.

Bio-Gene chief executive Robert Klupacs says CSIRO Kick-Start will enable his company to turn a small research project into a “powerful” series of experiments with real commercial outcomes.

“We’re developing a new insecticide and to make it in good [commercial] quantity … we need to get the price down and yields up,” Klupacs tells SmartCompany. 

“CSIRO has tremendous expertise in that area.”

In addition to “world-class” expertise, experience and commercial knowledge, Klupacs says his company will now be able to experiment with very expensive chemicals that Bio-Gene wouldn’t have been able to afford on its own.

“It’s not a handout,” he says.

“This isn’t a grant, it’s something that can make a small project a really meaningful project.”

Klupacs and his team will spend the next six months working closely with the CSIRO to develop the new insecticide before embarking on rapid expansion plans in the year to follow.

“This first stage is pretty intense,” he says.

Tomcar Australia’s research will focus on feasibility testing and developing prototypes for an electric vehicle, which it plans to launch in 2018.

“We pride ourselves on being a disruptive vehicle manufacturer, and being able to partner with Australia’s research institutes to access engineering capabilities and expertise that we wouldn’t normally have access to is what’s helping us achieve that,” Tomcar Australia co-founder and chief executive David Brim said in a statement.

“CSIRO’s Kick-Start program has taken away the financial burdens that would have prohibited us from taking this next step.”

To be eligible for the 12-month CSIRO Kick-Start program, businesses must be able to dollar-match funding awarded, have an annual turnover and operating expenditure of less than $1.5 million in the current and previous two financial years, and be registered for the goods and services tax.

“CSIRO Kick-Start is just the beginning of what we hope to be long-standing collaborations and strategic partnerships,” CSIRO director of manufacturing Keith McLean said in a statement.

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