Momentum picks up for students

Published Jul 16, 2019

Student entrepreneurs across New Zealand received some welcome news on 8 July when it was announced that the Momentum Programme would receive government funding for the next two years to help students develop their ‘big ideas’ into marketable products or services. 

Created by Auckland UniServices in 2017, Momentum will now expand into a collection of investment committees for tertiary students across New Zealand. The Wellington pilot—hosted by Viclink with the support of KiwiNet and Auckland UniServices—was the first time the programme had been run outside the Auckland Region, so that the logistics associated with running and hosting committees outside of UniServices could be tested. An Otago-based Momentum Committee was the next to launch, holding its first meeting in July 2019. 

“One of the biggest challenges that our young innovators face is trying to find cash for early-stage development of their ideas,” says Emily Sullivan, Viclink’s Student Entrepreneurship Manager. “Since we launched the Wellington committee in 2018, it has already funded four student projects, helping to take their ideas from early concepts through to testing, prototyping or further market development. So we’re delighted to learn that the funding has been approved for the next two years—it means we can help even more young innovators to develop their promising projects.”

In addition to funding, the student-led Wellington committee—which also includes experienced investors and entrepreneurs—provides expert advice and direction to help students commercialise their innovations, getting them to market faster and with a greater chance of success. So far, 14 projects have been presented during the first five meetings, with some start-ups returning multiple times for support at different stages. 

“The support I’ve received from the Committee has been just as valuable as the funding,” says Cynthia Hunefeld, whose company—HerbScience—received $25k from the Momentum fund. She says she approached the Committee twice for advice on her idea— a natural, plant-based product to treat E. coli-induced urinary tract infections (the most common bacterial infection in the world, but one which is becoming increasingly difficult to treat due to antibiotic resistance)—before successfully pitching for the funding. 

She says the Committee’s discussion covered many aspects the commercialisation of the product, including consideration of the nutraceutical and pharmaceutical pathways, and what would be required at each stage. 

“The development of nutraceuticals is a complex area of business, so it was great to be able to talk to people who’d ‘been there, done that’ and learn from their experiences,” says Cynthia, who holds a postgraduate degree in clinical research and is currently studying a Masters in Innovation and Commercialisation at Victoria University of Wellington. 

With antibiotic-resistant bacteria predicted to become one of the leading causes of death by 2050, and with 50 to 60 percent of adult women affected by UTIs at least once in their life, Cynthia says the Committee could see the huge market potential for her product. 

She will use her grant to conduct the laboratory tests she needs to validate the efficacy of her formulation, to ensure it’s completely evidence-based and of the highest quality. She half-jokingly says that receiving the funding has meant she won’t need to sell her car to pay for the testing. With the Committee’s advice in mind, she has chosen a pathway that will see the product on pharmacy shelves sooner to support urinary tract health, and will use the income from that to support the clinical trials necessary to prove its efficacy as a medical treatment. 

Another project to receive funding from Momentum was Viewpoint Medical, a team of two working on developing a portable and contactless vein-viewing instrument. The device is aimed at helping medical professionals locate blood vessels that are not otherwise visible—on people who are having blood taken or an intravenous drip inserted—reducing patient distress and potential infections as a result. 

“The portability and affordability of our device makes it ideal for the hospital environment, as well as for deployment in rural areas and disaster relief,” explains Ben Palmer, who co-invented the tech with fellow former student Georgia Lee. He says the Momentum funding they received will be used to run clinical trials at hospitals in Spain and the Netherlands, to help hospital clinicians find veins on children and babies whose bloodstreams they need to access.

Another former student of the University—and the Victoria Entrepreneur Bootcamp—Adiraj Gupta is also using his Momentum funding to ‘go big’: the entrepreneur and software engineer wants to reimagine the standard for regulation and reporting in the financial industry, by fully automating transactional recording and reporting to regulatory bodies (such as New Zealand’s Financial Markets Authority) using blockchain technology. “Currently, 85 percent of the bottom line cost for New Zealand banks is spent meeting their regulatory requirements every year,” Adiraj explains. 

He says he is testing his product—Crypto Launchpad Fin-Struct—with charity organisations first, as they not only face a myriad of regulatory compliance requirements, but also a lack of transparency around where donations are spent. 

“With Fin-Struct, charities can easily show donors cent-for-cent transactional information on where their money is going, which we expect to lead to increased donations, and better practices from charities.” Adiraj says that the funding will be used to build a minimum viable product which they’ll use to test with charities to measure its impact. 

The most recent student project to receive funding from the Wellington Momentum Committee is Calmingstone, the world's first 3D stress-relief device that combines sound, vibration and light into one interactive calming experience for anyone who experiences panic attacks or anxiety. Co-founders Ramon Telfer and Alex Johnson will use the funding to manufacture market-ready prototype devices they will pitch to distributors, channel partners and investors. Aiming to become a global leader in wellbeing product innovation, the pair say they are grateful for the funding and advice the Momentum Committee has given them to get started.

Emily says that supporting such incredible innovation from our young people is vital to New Zealand’s future. “The diversity of projects we are seeing, their sophistication, and the challenges they are solving is exactly what we expected to see from this generation of entrepreneurs,” she says. “With initiatives like Momentum backing them, they can get started sooner rather than later.” 

To find out if there is a Momentum Committee in your area, check out: https://returnonscience.co.nz/momentum

If you have a project you wish to bring to, or are interested in joining, the Wellington Momentum Committee, please contact Emily Sullivan

Photo Credit: Ben Stewart Photography