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Landcare genetic scientist named recipient of entrepreneurship award

Dr Dianne Gleeson has won the inaugural Women in Science Entrepreneurship Award, receiving $50,000 of venture development advice and access to an international advisory board with experience in science commercialisation.

A genetic scientist has won the inaugural Women in Science Entrepreneurship Award, receiving $50,000 of venture development advice and access to an international advisory board with experience in science commercialisation.

Dr Dianne Gleeson, a director of DNA diagnostic facility EcoGene, says the award will encourage more women at top levels of the industry, where they are underrepresented.

“There is growing commercial demand for scientific services and women can make a valuable contribution to the development of the industry in New Zealand and overseas,” she said.

Dr Gleeson earned her PhD in evolution from the Australian National University in 1996 and cites the application of genetics and molecular methods for conservation outcome as key research interests.

She leads a team of 20 scientists and post-graduate students at EcoGene, which operates as a business unit within Landcare Research and is forecasting revenue of $400,000 this year. DNA-based analytical services provided by EcoGene include detecting new organisms, monitoring pest species, disease monitoring and threatened species management.

The unit has contracts with New Zealand government agencies including the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, the Department of Conservation and the Ministry of Fisheries, as well as a significant client base in Australia.

It is also experiencing increasing demand from the Asia-Pacific and South American regions. The grant will be used to assist Dr Gleeson accelerate the business’ growth potential, particularly as it has no direct competitors in Australasia.

The winning entry demonstrated the greatest social and commercial impact, judges said.

The award was sponsored by Pacific Channel, an Auckland-based firm specialising in life-sciences and clean-technology, and the Association for Women in the Sciences (AWIS).

Runners-up were Dr Fern Kelly, who has developed an environmentally-friendly antibacterial treatment for natural textiles, and Rachael D’Arcy Lacy, who has developed a technology to produce encapsulated dry colour pigments that are easy to formulate and mix into liquid paint.

Mitali Purohit, an associate at Pacific Channel, said it was encouraging women with new ideas as well as those with established track records in the commercialisation of science had entered the competition.

“It is important that women in science are actively looking at ways of commercialising their research, particularly in areas such as environmental and agricultural science where New Zealand is a world leader,” she said.

The panel of judges - which will also make up Dr Gleeson's advisory board - include Dr Jilly Evans, co-founder of Amira Pharmaceuticals, which last week was sold to Bristol-Myers Squibb Co; Sarah Gibbs co-founder of Trilogy; and Purohit. The panel of judges will form an advisory board which will be provided as part of the prize package.

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