Deep tech incubator Cicada Innovations unveils its very first Tech23 cohort

Deep tech incubator Cicada Innovations unveils its very first Tech23 cohort

Cicada Innovations CEO Sally-Ann Williams.

From breaking down plastic with enzymes to using machine learning to help the blind navigate new environments, an innovative cohort of 23 Australian companies have been selected to showcase their products and services at Cicada x Tech23 – one of nation’s longest-running deep tech conferences.

Having acquired custodianship of the event earlier this year, Sydney-based Cicada Innovations is a 21-year-old incubator that has supported more than 330 companies that have collectively raised more than $1.7 billion in funding.

Pivoting away from offering prizes to the best pitches, this year’s cohort at Tech23 will instead appear in a series of inspirational talks and in-depth panel discussions highlighting their approaches to solving some of the world’s biggest problems.

Companies included in this year’s line-up include biotech Samsara Eco, a Sydney-based startup that uses plastic-eating enzymes to infinitely recycle waste. In November 2022, the company raised $54 million in a Series A, and more recently secured a partnership with lululemon to create the world’s first infinitely recycled textiles.

Another startup in the cohort is Ampol-backed hydrogen company Endua, which two weeks ago secured $7.5 million in a pre-series funding round backed by CSIRO’s Main Sequence, 77 Partners and the Queensland Investment Corporation (QIC), among others.

The company is developing renewables-based hydrogen power units that could be used at mines, farms and residential communities that are not connected to the grid.

So far, Endua has managed to create modular hydrogen power banks that can drive power loads of up to 100kW in a single module, which is enough to supply energy for a water pump, farm shed or standalone telecom infrastructure.

Meanwhile, Australian biotech companies ULUU and Kelpy are both using seaweed to replace plastics with compostable bio-packaging. Having raised $8 million in late 2022, Perth-based ULUU believes its solution can replace many of the plastics currently used today, while Startmate-backed Kelpy is focused on disrupting single-use plastics.

Over the last 14 years, Tech 23 has highlighted more than 300 deep tech companies.

Previous winners include semi-conductor developer Morse Micro (2018), 3D bioprinting company Inventia (2018), farming Software as a Service (SaaS) platform Regrow (2017) and HR tech giant Culture Amp (2009).

“Deep technologies are remarkable breakthroughs in science and engineering, with the potential to have a far-reaching impact on big, seemingly intractable, issues in the world. Deep tech ventures, like the 23 companies at Tech23, are finding commercial applications for these innovations,” Cicada Innovations CEO Sally-Ann Williams said.

“These ventures often utilise or develop innovations in fields such as AI, biotech, robotics, quantum, and it’s rare for these innovations to have applications in one sector alone, such as aerospace or medicine. 

“For example, we might see space technologies used to monitor agricultural conditions or provide healthcare solutions, or an AI technology might be applied both to the monitoring of a patient and as a smart cities’ solution. At Cicada x Tech23, we want to spark this meaningful conversation and ask questions that urge us all to dream big, imagine new holistic approaches and think in systems, not silos.”

Meet the Cicada x Tech23 cohort:  

Ending waste

  • ElectraLith is building a direct lithium extraction system using renewable nanomaterials and ionic superconductivity, to help the global goal of scaling lithium production by 20x by 2024.
  • Kelpy manufactures affordable seaweed bioplastic pellets with the potential to replace all single-use plastic products, starting with premium products such as cosmetic packaging, designer eyewear, medical equipment, and food packaging.
  • Samsara Eco has developed an enzyme-based technology that breaks down plastic, creating infinite recycling that eliminates dependence on fossil fuels to produce new plastics and chemicals, and could potentially eliminate plastic pollution globally.
  • Xefco is harnessing the unique properties of plasma to create a highly efficient, water-free solution for textile dyeing and finishing, with the potential to eliminate up to 20 percent of the world’s water pollution and 2.5 percent of the world’s carbon emissions.

Rebuilt environments

  • ARIA Research has developed a non-invasive tech that delivers vision through sound for the 338 million blind people globally, using artificial intelligence and machine vision to translate the visual world into 3-dimensional surround-sound, giving blind users bat-like perception.
  • Dovetail Electric Aviation has developed an electric-powered propulsion system that integrates into existing legacy commuter aircraft to drastically reduce aircraft emissions to practically zero, while reducing operations costs for operators.
  • Endua has developed a modular hydrogen power bank that stores large amounts of renewable energy for longer periods of time, allowing for faster transition to a 100 percent reliable renewable energy grid, while lowering overall emissions. 
  • Kapture has developed carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology that can be retrofitted to the 120 million commercial diesel generators and billions of residential generators releasing harmful toxic chemicals into the atmosphere, capturing these CO2 emissions before they are emitted into the atmosphere.
  • Rux Energy has developed advanced materials that double the density and halve the cost of hydrogen storage - problems which had been preventing decarbonisation of the heavy mobility, marine and aerospace industries responsible for half of the world’s emissions.

Shifting the mindset in medicine

  • Atomic Oncology has developed a technology that predicts whether radiotherapy will be successful for any solid cancer, allowing for tailored therapy and precision medicine that is appropriate for that specific patient.
  • Eikonic R&D has developed a proprietary novel chemical compound capable of protecting against preventable oral diseases such as gum and tooth decay, that affect over half the world’s population and can lead to disabilities and death.
  • Evolve Food has developed a cost-effective natural fermentation process that reduces the sugar content in vegetables and fruits, making the food and drink we consume healthier, and lowering the alcohol content of wine.
  • Native Secrets manufactures skincare products using Australian native plants and traditional Indigenous knowledge, to preserve the medicinal knowledge of Aboriginal Elders for future generations.
  • Neurode is developing a headband that can image the human brain in a real world setting, providing precision mental health care and personalised treatments for disorders such as ADHD. 

Co-designing with nature

  • Hemideina’s sound processing and miniature wireless technology device aims to overcome barriers to cochlear implant treatment adoption via a simpler, more comfortable and discreet design, giving people with sensorineural hearing loss a second chance at hearing. 
  • LLEAF has developed a technology that engineers natural sunlight at a low cost, to enable local protected cropping facilities to supply a rich variety of edible plants with the highest possible nutritional value, in an environmentally and financially sustainable way. 
  • Me& has developed a technology that replicates lactation outside the human body, transforming raw nutrients into the diverse and complex bioactive molecules found in human milk, and allowing vulnerable, premature babies access to the many benefits of human breast milk.
  • Rainstick has adopted ancient First Nations wisdom to technology that triggers seeds, plants and fungi to produce at faster and greater volumes, with the aim of solving the global food crisis. 
  • ULUU is developing ocean-derived materials that are naturally plastic and home compostable, ending reliance on fossil fuel plastics and creating a plastic-free world.

Reimagining time

  • Analog Quantum Circuits (AQC) has developed a technology that shrinks the footprint of the critical components needed to build large-scale quantum computers by a factor of 1 million times, helping produce smaller and more efficient quantum computers, with a predicted market of $86B by 2040.
  • Millibeam has developed chipsets that reduce the total-cost-of-ownership of mmWave 5G/6G networks by 10x, through an order of magnitude increase in energy efficiency and radio-link range, allowing for very high-speed and high-throughput wireless connectivity. 
  • Pending AI uses chemistry-based machine learning solutions to treat diseases and design, manufacture, and test new pharmaceutical drugs, to speed up early-stage drug-discovery projects and discover novel compounds.
  • Syenta is building an electrochemical 3D printer for scalable and efficient electronics fabrication to help with teaching and research, boost our economy, and speed up how fast we make new technology.

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