Two homegrown vineyard managers are on the verge of transforming viticulture around the world.
Over the past few decades, New Zealand has matured into a producer of some of the world’s best wines, so it’s hardly surprising that a pair of Kiwi innovators would develop a system that’s set to revolutionise the global wine industry.
With extensive experience in the sector, Marcus Wickham and Nigel George from Klima had spent too many hours trying to prune grape vines effectively and efficiently – a job that Wickham describes as the hardest in any vineyard.
“Cane pruning is hugely labour intensive,” Wickham says. “It’s considerably more effective than the alternative, spur pruning, but also double the price. Cane pruning has long been considered the last frontier of vineyard mechanisation. People wanted to do it but there’s never been a cane-pruning solution – until now.”
Traditional cane pruning is a manual process that involves large numbers of workers, high costs and quality-control issues. Wickham and George felt there had to be a better way, so they set about developing a prototype for a mechanised system in 2007.
The major challenge was the wires the vines grow on. The waste canes they wanted to remove were tangled into the trellis wires, making them hard to pull out by hand and even harder with a machine. So they turned their worst enemy into their biggest asset. Rather than have the wires stapled to the posts, as was standard practice, they made them detachable.
“We knew we had something special after the tractor had gone 20 metres down the first row with perfectly pruned vines left behind. All the waste material came free with the wires and left our replacement canes beautifully intact,” says Wickham.
Klima started selling this cane pruning system in New Zealand and Australia in 2010. It launched in Europe in association with Klima’s German licence partners, ERO Weinbau. Licence agreements are also being negotiated in France, Italy, Austria, North America and Chile, with several other EU countries and South Africa to follow. The goal is to make this technology the global benchmark for vine pruning.
It all seems fairly simple now, but Wickham admits that back in October 2008, he and George were floundering. Having a great idea is one thing, commercialising it is an entirely different proposition. Then a contact introduced the pair to commercialisation specialists EverEdge IP – which was fundamental to the business moving forward. Wickham says they guided Klima through the whole commercialisation process.
“If we’d done what we thought was the right thing, we’d be in all sorts of strife right now. They’ve been critical to our survival past year one. When you have a high-potential product like this, everyone wants to give you advice, but 99 percent of them have no first-hand experience. EverEdge has real-world experience and that’s what makes them different.”
EverEdge IP CEO Paul Adams says most ideas fail not because the idea itself is flawed but because the commercialisation process is mismanaged. He and colleague Paul Davies took Klima through three key stages: they assessed Klima’s innovation from a technology, commercial and intellectual property perspective; they created a plan to extract value from the innovation; and they then worked alongside Wickham and George step by step to execute the plan.
“When Marcus and Nigel approached us, they had a prototype and a patent application and not much more,” Adams says. “The first step was to help them assess their IP position. That’s critical because the strength of that IP bundle affects everything else in the commercialisation process. Weak IP really should be ringing alarm bells.”
Independence and objectivity is crucial to assessment. He doesn’t recommend asking the firm that files your patents whether or not it is worth the money. It’s for this reason that EverEdge, despite having patent attorneys on staff, doesn’t file patents on behalf of its clients, to maintain that independence.
On Adams’ advice Klima retained the right to manufacture its product in Australasia. However, for other major overseas markets, he recommended and devised a licensing programme to ensure ongoing income. Wickham says the beauty of this model is that they now have a large partner in Germany with the manufacturing and distribution resources to scale up and rapidly globalise the technology. The final stage was commercialisation; EverEdge and Klima identified target customers and guided the negotiations with major agricultural machinery manufacturers in North America and Europe.
“We roll up our sleeves and go into battle with the client,” says Adams. “We’ll pitch to customers, help manage R&D, develop strategy, raise capital, jump on planes, whatever it takes to successfully commercialise. When the potential value of the technology is high, it pays to get good advice from someone who’s done it before. Two thirds of our revenue still comes from commercialising our own technologies, so we know what it’s like in the trenches. The advice we give is very pragmatic. It’s like being at the bottom of a ruck with your client, versus yelling at them from the sidelines.”
He describes what Wickham and George have achieved as extraordinary. “By being smart about how they approached their commercialisation, they’re really reaping the rewards.”
EverEdge IP helps innovators make money from ideas. It guides clients through the commercialisation process, from start to finish. It’s also independent of the patent attorney industry and provides objective, insightful and robust advice around if and how to commercialise technology. The EverEdge IP team has been there, done that – two thirds of company revenue still comes from commercialising its own technologies, so its advice is pragmatic and deal orientated.