SPARK 2011 starts with a hiss and a roar

07 June 2011

A biomedical technology tool that promises to successfully treat diseases at the back of the eye has swept the first major competition at The University of Auckland Business School’s Spark entrepreneurial challenges for 2011.

Scleratrans,  based on work done by Auckland PhD Student Thilini Thrimawithana  and her international supervisors including the School of Medicine’s Professor Colin Green  – has won three of the seven prizes on offer in the  Spark Ideas Challenge.

The group has developed a drug platform that provides stability and prevents drug leakage to give consistent dosing for diseases such as age-related macular degeneration, which causes irreversible visual impairment in people aged 60 and over, and affects at least 10% of the population in that age range.

“The cost of managing age-related macular degeneration in Australia alone is currently $2.9b yearly, and that is expected to increase to $6.5b by 2025,” Professor Green says.

“Delivery of drugs to treat diseases at the back of the eye remains a significant challenge, and severely hinders treatment of diseases.  Scleratrans has developed a drug platform that provides reproducible delivery of incorporated drugs, and offers a significant opportunity in product formulation for the pharmaceutical industry.”

In conjunction with University of Kingston’s Professor Raid Alany, Dr Simon Young from RIMT in Melbourne and Dr Craig Bunt from Lincoln University, Ms Thrimawithana and Professor Green say their formulation has been proven in the wake of other unsuccessful competitors.

Scleratrans won one of the 10 prizes for commercial business ideas, one of the five UniService prizes and the Chiasma award, clinching a good proportion of the $30,000 in prize money allocated.

Other commercial winners were: • Taming Brain Inflammation (a method of decreasing inflammation in the brain by decreasing a protein only found in the brain immune cells);

• Garden Tech (developing an organic product that provides a cost-effective time-saving and green alternative to weed control);

• Radar Physics Group (using high resolution weather radar systems to supply data on rainfall and improve wastewater network management);

• Dietetic Innovation (developing a smartphone and tablet computer application that clinical dietitians and other health professionals can use to reduce errors and speedily calculate patients’ tube-feeding or intravenous feeding  requirement  );

• EValue8 (a new personal development tool that brings individual development into the digital age and adds a game layer factor);

• Sunclean (developing a solar-driven wastewater treatment system for vineyards, based on photocatalytic degradation);

• Wero (encouraging the use of matauranga Maori (Maori knowledge) and values via the use of innovative social technology, particularly in the area of health and wellbeing );

• Click World (a novel technique that allows construction of 3D models using image sequences acquired by low-cost handheld digital cameras);

• Team E-water (simple and easily deployed water monitoring systems which leverage data from remote sensors and existing low-cost manual low-cost testing technology).

Social winners were: • Thought-Wired (an innovative system that integrates state of the art brain-computer interface technology, home automation and assistive equipment to provide people with severe physical disabilities with the means to communicate and control their environment safely and independently);

• The V-Clinic (a virtual psychological and life enhancement therapy clinic that will expand over time to becoming a consultative community of specialists in a broad range of both health and academic fields);

• Team Isability (developing an indoor navigation system that will increase the accessibility needs of blind and partially sighted individuals, as well as sighted customers, using Bluetooth devices);

• Sea-RecoValue (focusing on recovering valuable compounds from seafood wastes while promoting environmental sustainability through converting seafood wastes into compost);

• Green Bean (takes a wasteful product - coffee grounds - and relocates it to give it a second use that not only benefits the natural environment, but farmers in New Zealand and underdeveloped countries);

• The Translator (a translating device that converts sign languages made by deaf or mute individuals into readable words);

• The Crisis Toolbox (an application that provides all the information needed when in a natural calamity, giving peace of mind and information to users as well as relief to friends and family);

• BlackBoard (a Social Network for the purposes of study, with content user generated and students able to cross the boundaries of schools and demographics);

• OneBuzz (a system that pulls together disparate datasets including satellite imagery, text messages and government health, climate and GIS datasets to identify areas that are most at risk of malarial mosquito infestation);

• Schools Trade NZ (a trading site to provide support to all schools in New Zealand to trade, exchange or donate / lend valuable resources amongst each other).

Of the individual prizes, V-Card (reducing membership cards to one smartphone application) won the Computer Science award; Sunclean (as above) the Engineering award; and Home Support Services (using teams of specialised people to care for elderly people on a day-to-day basis in their own homes) the Property award.

Other winners of the UniService award, alongside Scleratrans, were Da Vinci (an algorithm to calibrate the estimated queue length to optimise traffic signals), Garden Tech, Click World and IntelliEye (driver behaviour monitoring focusing on drivers’ eyes – open, closed or diverted – to detect drivers’ level of alertness).

Entries for Spark’s $100K Challenge close on August 8, with the challenge qualifiers’ ceremony scheduled for August 19.