Health & Wellbeing

More biotech start-ups needed to house ambitious scientists


Published Feb 15, 2023

Wellington UniVentures is supporting more biotech start-ups in Aotearoa New Zealand.

The company is a subsidiary of Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington, responsible for creating new enterprises from research undertaken at the capital city university. Its Health & Wellbeing team is dedicated to bringing life sciences research out of laboratories and into the world, where they can have an impact. Its recent spinouts include Rekover Therapeutics, Wellumio, Avalia, Rekover and Ferranova.

Dr Matt Nicholson is a molecular biologist-turned-Senior Commercialisation Manager at Wellington UniVentures. He describes his job as a bridge-builder between researchers and partners in commercialisation, including industry, key collaborators, investors, and funders.

Matt was motivated to join Wellington UniVentures after moving to New Zealand as a young post-doc eager to continue researching – but was quickly disillusioned by the lack of meaningful opportunities for scientists he found here.

“The lack of biotech companies in New Zealand means that scientists who want to stay in research basically have two options, Crown Research Institutes, or academia. At the moment, so many of our early career researchers are being lost to science because there aren’t enough professional opportunities for them outside academia,” Matt says.

Matt, along with his team at Wellington UniVentures, is working to change that. His vision is to create new companies that can grow and give scientists alternative career opportunities.

Matt sees new ventures born from university research as a kind of halfway house for scientists. “It’s exciting, cutting-edge science done by scruffy scientists, but it’s driven by commercial outcomes – it’s in no way inferior to pure academic research,” he says, “It’s just different.”

It’s no secret that New Zealand’s economy is crying out for more biotech companies to solve the most pressing issues in agriculture, environment, and a world-leading health research and innovation system is core to the government’s health research strategy.

Start-ups also contribute to a thriving economy that can attract and retain high skills, high wage jobs. An entrepreneurial spirit on campus helps align researchers’ interests with real world problems.

Currently, Matt is working on two exciting projects, including supporting Professor Emily Parker’s lab to bring a natural insecticide to market and working with Professor Wayne Patrick’s group to commercialise a new bioassay that will allow winemakers to monitor nitrogen levels in real-time.

This article was first published on the Life Sciences Summit website: