AUSTRALIA'S Universities are hungry for a slice of the highly lucrative startup pie. With so much talent crammed into a few university buildings, they'd be mad to waste all the research and development on education alone. The research conducted in the confines of a university lab has the power to reach so many, and that's exactly why projects like Flinders Partners exist.

Flinders Partners was established by Adelaide's Flinders University to act as an in-house accelerator charged with the mission of transforming important research into marketable products. Their tagline says it all: "We Commercialise Innovation" and universities like Flinders have tapped into their latent pool which can bring both big and small ideas to life.

The Flinders Partners program is already attracting a lot of interest from investors wanting to place a bet on an idea with concepts that have already been proven. To date, Flinders Partners has generated $48 million in value, created 52 jobs, and grown six spin-off companies to make their homes in South Australia.

David Vincent (pictured), the man behind one of Flinders Partners' project, Prep'd, let Business News Australia in on a few secrets about the world of university entrepreneurship and even let us have a taste of the brand-new sports drink being developed in conjunction with the university and corporate sector.

How does Flinders Partners operate within the university?

Flinders partners is a wholly owned subsidiary of the university and they're a dedicated commercialisation arm, so when a new piece of research or technology or intellectual property comes out of the university then we're the first ones charged with trying to turn it into commercial products and services. Whether that's by a licence deal to a big pharma company for a new drug or whether its partnering with another company to bring a consumer product to market, it's about finding the partnerships, the pathway and the funding to bring it to a market that cares about it.

How does Flinders Partners go about attracting funding, especially government grants? Is it much different to how a traditional startup might go about securing capital?

Because we sit within a university environment, we have the ability to pull in a range of different innovation and commercialisation grants. The state government grant we recently received from TechInSA, which is fantastic, is one example of that where we'll look to identify a funding pathway for a project. Typically research that comes out of a university has a gap between some research and where it needs to be to either gain further investors or certainly to launch to market. Ability to access those sorts of grants helps us bridge that gap.

In terms of Prep'd what do you foresee the market going to be for this drink because it's a bit different to Gatorade. Will it be mainly marketed toward elite athletes?

It won't be exclusively elite athletes but that's definitely where its unique benefits probably resonate especially strongly because of the performance advantages you can get when you're better hydrated. Our initial focus will be targeted more to endurance sport enthusiasts so there's a lot of people in the population still who participate in marathons and triathlons and endurance cycling so that'll be our initial focus, but absolutely it's a completely different drink to every other sports drink on the market.

So how do you go about trying to compete with Coke and Pepsi with their Gatorade and Powerade, how do you market something like this?

The first thing that we were thinking about and, our position in the market is, it's ultimately a complement to your existing hydration regime which may include those products. The idea is that the unique resistant starch in Prep'd primes the large intestine to absorb fluid where usually it barely absorbs fluid at all, so it's kind of something where, before you exert and then afterwards, it supercharges the hydration effectiveness of everything else you drink. The other side is we are focused more on endurance sport enthusiasts rather than the larger mass market which might be consuming it as a convenience product or as something with their lunch.

Have you had feedback from people who tried it?

It's a good question and one that had a very different answer from when we did a trial with the Adelaide Crows a few years ago. That was really just a proof of concept in terms of the flavouring of the formulation which wasn't particularly great so it's really come a long way. The feedback we've had has been resoundingly positive so we've done taste tests with over 70 people who are considered to be in that target market now and have a lot more planned. Out of that we've had about 85 per cent who've left their contact details and find out about the drink when it's commercially available.

Where did the research behind the product come from?

The scientific background behind the resistance starch that's come out of a Flinders University-led project in collaboration with Yale and another Indian based research team. Essentially it's 20 years of research which is trying to solve a problem of dehydration in a lot of developing countries. This is caused by diseases like cholera and rotavirus and a lot of children are affected and lose upwards of 10 litres of fluid a day which is caused by diarrhoea, so ultimately there's a lot of fatalities from that level of dehydration. The research team worked out that this particular starch is resistant to digestion, so it reaches the large intestine and drives fluid absorption there. We took all that, over 20 years of research, and adapted it to a sports setting and fluid loss needs for elite athletes.

Are there plans to explore the medical benefits of the same technology?

Flinders Partners will pursue that directly. We'll usually partner, or more likely licence the technology, with a large partner whereas as a consumer sports hydration system Prep'd doesn't have that same regulatory red tape to overcome.

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Business News Australia

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