As with almost all companies worldwide, the tragic events around Covid-19 have impacted PowerON’s team and work practices. Dr. Markus Henke, PowerON CEO commented: “With operating divisions in Germany and New Zealand, PowerON lives in the Cloud with videoconferencing anyway, so we’ve been affected a little less than others who had to pick up a completely new way of working”. Dr. Henke noted that PowerON’s team, as with most technology start-ups, had a backlog of tasks and enquiries that were being dealt with. He said: “To be honest, the Covid shutdown has given our team an opportunity to focus on planning, documentation and product configuration details that needed attention as we come up to launch later this year.” Asked about launch plans, he noted that PowerON had been signalling offers of evaluation kits to qualified prospective customers, supported by a specialised High Voltage Signal Generator (HV SG), used for artificial muscle actuators and PowerON’s proprietary elastomer electronics: “Sure, we’ve had some delays. Covid has put back regulatory approval tests for our HV SG – that’s a problem because we have orders outstanding. Covid laboratory shutdowns for around 6 weeks now have also put back availability of our customer-ready elastomer device kits – but we’ll be back on track for later in the year.” Dr. Henke’s final comments were about industry events delayed or cancelled through Covid-19: “Frankly, the largest downside for us, and no doubt others, has been the train wreck Covid has put through the Northern Hemisphere tradeshow and conference season. Hannover Fair was cancelled while other industry events important for PowerON either went on-line or were cancelled, putting a dent in our plans. But it’s given us the opportunity to connect with customers in other ways and get our product offers right.”
Our team in Auckland has successfully moved to its new office space called Cloud9. The Auckland Bioengineering Institute is providing us a space where we can grow our team and our business under one roof with several other ABI spin-out companies. Enjoying a great view over the Auckland Harbour, our team can work on new products and develop new technology in our own office space.
“We set up Cloud 9 to nurture our fledgling spin-out companies in one space – where they can exchange ideas, work closely with their research groups and continue their R&D – until they are more established.”, says the ABI.
In the framework of this event PowerOn was able to pitch our idea and technology in a pitch competition. It was a very close race! We got second. Besides that we got to know a lot of interesting people from industry, politics and even the new Finnish ambassadress to Germany.
“IP Group plc, the University of Auckland Inventors Fund and local investor Matū Fund have together invested in another spin-out from the Auckland Bioengineering Institute at The University of Auckland. PowerON Limited utilises unique dielectric elastomer switch technology to produce customisable, soft and flexible switches, actuators and logic capabilities. Applications range from simple direct limit switches to distributed intelligence and, eventually, lifelike, nature-inspired, soft and collaborative robots. PowerON’s soft devices enable localised processing and control, conferring biological-like reflexes and multiple degrees of freedom – exemplified in nature by the limb capabilities of the octopus and others. Current soft robotics often have a centralised processing and control module that is bulky, heavy and rigid: not compatible with a future where robots assist people in their everyday lives. PowerON believes its proprietary technology will be a key component for autonomous soft robots free from tethered control – and will offer a practical alternative for many other market areas.
This is the third start-up out of the Biomimetics Lab in the Auckland Bioengineering Institute at The University of Auckland after StretchSense Limited (2012) and Electroclear Limited (2018). The founder and director of the Biomimetics Lab, Associate Professor Iain Anderson, is also a founder of each start-up, managing his involvement while retaining his full time academic role. His past PhDs and Post Doc Researchers have taken the lead in forming and managing the new companies. Associate Professor Anderson sees his participation as providing a conduit for new technologies to market. “In attracting smart and driven students the Biomimetics Lab has advanced our core technology through high-quality research. Focusing on developments with commercial potential has kept us at the international forefront with bio-inspired materials and afforded the opportunity to spin out companies backed by experienced investors”.
The lead investor, IP Group is a leading intellectual property commercialisation company focused on evolving great ideas from its partner universities into world-changing businesses. IPGroup pioneered a unique approach to developing these ideas and the resulting businesses by providing access to business building expertise, capital, scientific insight and the supporting infrastructure. In Australia and New Zealand, IP Group works in close partnership with the Go8 Universities and The University of Auckland to identify ground breaking technologies, rooted in hard science, which have the most promising commercial potential. IP Group, which is listed on the Main Market of the London Stock Exchange, has a strong track record of success and its portfolio comprises holdings in early-stage to mature businesses across life sciences and technology. IP Group has pledged to invest AU$200M over the next 10 years into technologies being developed by the top 8 universities in Australia and The University of Auckland. Head of Physical Sciences at IP Group Australia, Paul Barrett says “we are excited to make our first investment in NZ through our partnership with the University of Auckland. PowerON is a great example of the world-leading technology that we invest in, and we look forward to working with Iain and the PowerOn team in building an outstanding company”. Associate Professor Iain Anderson says that “having IP Group invest is a great validation in the work and expertise of the lab and also of the commercial potential for the technology. They also bring deep expertise in intellectual property management, manufacturing, and what is required to take products to market”.
The University of Auckland Inventors Fund is an evergreen, open-ended $20 million investment fund owned and managed by Auckland UniServices Limited, the commercial company for The University of Auckland. The Inventors Fund provides seed-capital for ventures started out of the University of Auckland. They are typically the first investor for many ventures out of the university, from both students and university staff. Through the specialist ReturnOnScience investment committees researchers and students are able to pitch their ideas receiving valuable feedback, advice, networks and the possibility of investment from the Inventors Fund. Because the Inventors Fund is focused on supporting university research and the wider university ecosystem they tend to invest earlier than most other institutional investors, and their relationships with local and international angel, venture capital investors provides the opportunity to attract co-investment from other investors.
Matū Fund is a venture capital fund investing in early-stage science and technology commercialisation from education and research institutions and the private sector. As an open and evergreen fund, Matū takes a long-term investment view and is aimed at turning ground-breaking ideas into globally focused, IP-rich companies. Matū provides intelligent capital with active governance, executive management, operational support, and mentorship for founding and executive teams.”
We also acknowledge our support from the EXIST programme of the Federal Ministry for Business and Technology, from TU Dresden and the Auckland Bioengineering Institute.