This year's NZ Innovators Awards winners' list runs the innovation gamut from sex pests to bladder cancer tests and green plastic.
Sex control – Plant and Food Research, winner, environment and agriculture
They say sex sells, but it’s also handy for other things, as Plant & Food Research found out: controlling insect behaviour. Sex pheromones, the natural chemicals released by the females of many insect species to attract mates, can be used to disrupt communication between insects. Reduced mating leads to a reduction in the population, less chemical controls and greater market access. Pheromones are now used to monitor and control insect pests in New Zealand. Plant and Food Research created a trapping tool called Desire, which allowed growers to monitor pest population size in orchards and support pest control decisions. Then a technology called Isomate was developed as a mating disruption pest control tool. The result? Less insect hanky-panky, and in turn, less pests. Judges said it showed outstanding use of science and technology: “A really fantastic programme of science and innovation in play for the benefit of New Zealand.” Researcher Dr Max Suckling is pictured, left.
Cxbladder, Supreme New Zealand innovator; winner, health and science
To date, testing for bladder cancer has usually involved invasive tests such as cystoscopy, something that is no fun for anyone involved. (Google it if you don’t believe us.) But Cxbladder is a new gene test to detect and manage bladder cancer. It’s non-invasive, accurate and enables early detection from a small volume of the patient’s urine. Cxbladder has out-performed all other benchmark technologies, detecting nearly all of the tumours of concern to a urologist, according to a study published in the Journal of Urology in September 2012. With bladder cancer presenting the highest total medical costs per patient of any cancer, Cxbladder stands to solve not only a medical problem but also a financial one. Judges said it looked to be “a complete game-changer globally” with the company, Pacific Edge (CEO David Darling pictured, left), standing on the brink of big commercial success.
GreenButton Cloud Fabric, Winner, information communications technology; finalist, export innovator
When your customers include NASA, the British Library, the US Department of Energy, Pixar, SAP and Numerix, you know you’re probably onto a good thing. For GreenButton, its Cloud Fabric programme is hitting the big time not only with the big names but also by winning awards. Cloud Fabric works by moving jobs to the cloud efficiently and seamlessly. Dell and T-Systems in Germany saw the light and jumped on board after it was released at Cloud Expo in late 2012. Judges said GreenButton’s high growth was impressive, making it a great story for New Zealand: “A well thought-through business with a clear value proposition that addresses the issues for the consumer.”
Fonterra Alternate Make Cheese, winner export innovator; finalist, hospitality, food and beverage
Fonterra’s mozzarella cheese is a popular topping not only on Kiwi pizzas but also in Australia, Asia and the Middle East. But distances to market and freshness present a problem for dairy products going the distance. Alternate Make Cheese (AMC) uses
a process that produces a premium performance frozen mozzarella shred on a commercial scale that, when thawed, overcomes all the functionally challenging requirements the customer has. Having to produce the traditional product in block format and allow considerable storage time for it to reach acceptable functionality before shredding restricted Fonterra’s ability to manipulate the cheese’s functionality and composition. The AMC process was a “one day direct from milk to functionally acceptable shred” process, adding flexibility from cow to consumer. Judges said it was a great piece of innovation with excellent commercial potential: “An example of incremental innovation on something established and how it can generate great commercial returns.”
Vector Home Solar Programme, winner, sustainability and clean-tech
Vector came up with its Home Solar Programme in a drive to make solar more accessible to everyday people. The programme basically gives customers a sustainable choice in the energy they use to power their homes. It includes a payment solution allowing customers to freeze a portion of their power bill at today’s price until the end of their contract; an integrated battery storing energy for use during the evening (allowing power to be used when the sun is hiding); and automatic switching between solar on the roof, stored solar, and electricity from the grid. Judges said it was a smart system delivering an intelligent solution for customers. “An innovative approach to blend a number of solutions into a package to provide the consumer with an end-to-end solution.”
ZealaFoam, winner, excellence in research; finalist, sustainability and clean-tech
Is there such a thing as ‘green plastic’? Surely not. But wait! ZealaFoam is a low-density, moulded bioplastic foam. It’s cost-effective and environmentally friendly, coming from sustainable and renewable sources. ZealaFoam is a genuinely eco-friendly alternative to expanded polystyrene (EPS) particle foams – it’s even compostable and recyclable. By contrast, EPS has limited end-of-life options, is expensive to transport, not compostable and takes up lots of space in landfills. With annual world demand for expanded polystyrene at more than 5.833 million tonnes to package up goods, food and thermal insulation, ZealaFoam is sitting pretty to capture a slice of a lucrative market. Not to mention saving the whales. Scientist Samir Shah is pictured with a ZealaFoam product, left.
StretchSense, winner, design and engineering; emerging innovator
StretchSense realised, through talks with industry people, that there was no good way to measure the soft deformations of a person. Skin is supple and elastic, while joints bend and rotate through large ranges of motion. Conventional stretch measurement technology was hard and designed for unyielding structures, such as steel and concrete. As a result, StretchSense makes soft, stretchy sensors for measuring human body deformation and movement, while not interfering with natural motion. They’re unobtrusive and they’re even wireless. StretchSense is now in the healthcare, sports training, portable electronics, motion capture and industrial markets, with 70 percent of its customers offshore. Three Fortune 100 companies feature among its customer list. Judges said it was an exciting development in a new technology field, offering advantages over competitor products.
Kainic Medicial Communications international travel scholarship, winner marketing and communications
You know your marketing campaign has been successful when your competitors are retweeting your social media posts with the hashtag #givingback and colleagues are saying they should be doing what you’re doing. That’s the experience of Kainic Medical Communications after implementing an international travel scholarship that cost just $2,500. When you’re a startup in New Zealand almost exclusively exporting services to a small UK client base, how do you get attention on a shoestring? Kainic needed a creative marketing solution to get overseas medical communications agencies coming to them – as they couldn’t afford to go to them.
The scholarship was that solution, enabling at least one PhD student from the Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology at the University of Otago to attend a major international scientific conference every year. That gives research from the University of Otago increased exposure on the global stage, too. Judges said that while scholarships were not new, this one demonstrated “great innovative thinking” by using it as a strategy to build the brand.