The startup sector is turning heads at the top end of town with the $106 billion UniSuper fund announcing a $75 million investment in Uniseed, Australia’s longest running early-stage commercialisation fund.
The move will give UniSuper exposure to a suite of Uniseed startup ventures, many of which have gone on to successful IPOs and buyouts.
Established in 2020, Uniseed is owned by the University of Melbourne, University of Queensland, University of Sydney, University of New South Wales and the CSIRO. The group provides seed funding for research and technology developed by the partners, all of which are major research organisations in their own right, creating about half of all patents in Australia.
“UniSuper has always championed Australia’s thinkers, creators and investigators (and) Uniseed is at the forefront of new start-ups and technologies,” says UniSuper’s chief investment officer John Pearce.
“This is an excellent opportunity for UniSuper to actively participate in the development and commercialisation of research and technology that will shape the future. We look forward to seeing this investment blossom and grow over time.”
Uniseed is chaired by David Miles, a former chairman of Innovation Australia, and it counts former South Australian chief scientist Leanna Reid as a director.
Companies that it has helped kickstart include Spinifex, a neuropathic pain treatment developer which was acquired by Swiss pharmaceutical group Novartis International for US$200 million (AUD$267 million) in 2015.
More recently, Uniseed sold power-monitoring start-up Aurtra to France’s Schneider Electric, while TenasiTech, which developed an additive to make plastics more durable, has been bought by Canadian thermoplastics supplier RTP Co.
The investment by UniSuper, and the superannuation industry more broadly, has been welcomed by Uniseed partner Stoic Venture Capital Fund which specialises in backing university-based startups.
Stoic chairman Guy Hedley says the investment will provide critical support to drive the commercialisation of university research and bolster the Australian start-up sector.
“A key problem for start-ups is that they often confront a ‘valley of death’ where fundraising becomes difficult before they reach significant milestones,” says Hedley.
“This significant partnership will provide certainty for growing start-ups by ensuring the provision of follow-on funding. Resolving these uncertainties increases the value of startups, making later rounds of finance more attractive.”
Uniseed CEO Peter Devine sees UniSuper’s investment bolstering the engagement between super funds and Australia’s growing innovation and startup sector.
“Members of super funds are looking at more sustainable technologies and that is making super funds look at these opportunities,” says Devine.
“Arguably everything we invest in fits into that ESG space and we’re seeing a lot of research into clean tech and sustainable options because that’s what researchers are working on now. Fifteen years ago, there was a lot of biotech and now it would be 50-50 between biotech and sustainability.”
Devine says the support of UniSuper, along with Uniseed’s existing partnership with Stoic, will go a long way to benefiting the Australian startup community.
“UniSuper is one of Australia’s largest and most respected and innovative super funds, and the capital at its disposal will go a long way to ensuring we can seize opportunities presented by the brilliant minds at Australia’s top research organisations,” says Devine.
“This is a further step Uniseed is taking to facilitate commercialisation of Australian research. Today’s emergent startups are tomorrow’s tech and health giants, and with funding from UniSuper we are able to get in at the very early stages of these journeys.”
UniSuper’s $75 million investment in Uniseed will go towards existing projects and new ventures in the fields of biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, quantum computing and green energy.
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