Supporting Emerging Innovators

Published Apr 8, 2024

Wellington UniVentures seeks out Victoria University of Wellington early career scientists interested in commercialisation, and helps them grow their entrepreneurial skills and transform their innovations into new businesses. 

One of the ways we do this is by nominating them for KiwiNet's Emerging Innovator programme, which provides targeted support to scientists from the public research community who want to develop their commercialisation expertise and become the future innovators of New Zealand. 

Meet the latest round of amazing Victoria University of Wellington researchers who are benefitting from the accelerated entrepreneurial development and support through the Emerging Innovator Programme:

Newton Chan 

Buildings may be about to get a whole lot more blobby thanks to our newest KiwiNet Emerging Innovators, Newton Chan, who is currently studying at Victoria University of Wellington’s Faculty of Architecture and Design Innovation

Liquid architecture, or blobitecture, is a form of architecture in which buildings have organic, amoeba-like shapes. It’s an expensive technique that currently requires highly specialised skills and machinery. Newton has developed a new way to crease metal sheets that would make the art and architectural form cheaper and simpler to build, making it much more accessible.

Newton is already collaborating with industry through an active Tier 1 KiwiNet project. He’s hoping to use the programme to do further market analysis, expand his network and grow his entrepreneurial skills.

"It's exciting to think how this technology can extend the design possibilities for the engineering, architecture and design spaces," says Newton. 

Newton was nominated by Wellington UniVentures Senior Commercialisation Manager Roger Zemp, who sees potential in Newton’s idea and his future as an research entrepreneur.

Roger says, “Newton is very enthusiastic about his work and as a very pragmatic person blends a multitude of technical skills as well as entrepreneurial aspects into a sweet spot. I see the exceptional potential he brings into the mix to make this invention come to life."


Ruohao (Sam) Sun 

Despite being around for over a century, the art of animation is more manual than you might think. Adding colour to line art drawings remains a process that’s largely done by hand and can be mundane.

A new project by Sam Sun, who studies Computer Science at Victoria University of Wellington, is looking to make life easier for animators. Novel line art colourisation technology, invented by Sam’s supervisor Dr Fanglue Zhang, uses AI to speed up the colourisation process, freeing up artists’ time by up to 50% so they can do more creative work.

Sam is now keen to spin-out a business based on this technology, with support from Wellington UniVentures and Dr Zhang. To help him develop the skills he needs, Wellington UniVentures is supporting Sam through KiwiNet’s Emerging Innovators programme.

Wellington UniVentures’ Senior Commercialisation Manager, Ela Romanowska, was excited to nominate Sam for the programme given his natural entrepreneurial zeal.

Ela says, “Sam has a genuine entrepreneurial streak in him. During his studies, he set up a campus catering company and a furniture delivery service for students, amongst other business ventures. I am delighted that he is so eager to use that experience, together with his technical knowledge of how 2D-LAC works, to spin out a company and hopefully successfully commercialise it. Dr Fanglue Zhang, the inventor of the technology, and I, believe that the Emerging Innovator programme will help him realise that goal."

This would be Sam’s first venture into deep tech commercialisation, and he’s equally excited to get started with the programme.

He says, “I hope to meet some new friends through the programme, thereby expanding my network and learning from each other. I hope the Emerging Innovator programme will broaden my horizons, enhance my business thinking, and plant a seed for future entrepreneurship.”


Dr Nathaniel Davis 

For solar energy to become a truly game changing source of power, solar cells need to be more efficient and easier to fabricate than they are today.

Senior Lecturer Dr Nathaniel Davis from Victoria University of Wellington’s School of Chemistry and Physical Sciences is looking for a solution to this problem. He’s working on a novel type of solar cell made from perovskite materials with improved capability of harnessing the energy of photons through an effect called singlet fission. These materials have the potential to be drastically cheaper and more efficient compared to traditional silicone solar cells.

The commercial opportunity for perovskite single fission materials is potentially huge, but it’s still in its early stages. Nate will be working with Wellington UniVentures and experts from KiwiNet, through the programme, to identify a path to market, the appropriate user base and addressing key pain points to accelerate this technology. He’ll also be looking at companies in this field to identify licensing or collaboration opportunities.

Nate says, “While previously my career has focused heavily on scientific research, the Emerging Innovator programme allows me to dip my toes into the commercialisation world. This mentor driven programme based on research out of my lab puts me in the best place to not only commercialise this current project but sets me up with the skills for a future at the interface of science and commercialisation.

Wellington UniVentures’ Senior Commercialisation Manager Roger Zemp Freeman is excited about the technology and sees real potential for Nate to grow a successful business based on this research.

Roger adds, “Nate has an exceptional track record and a doers mindset that position him exceptionally well to succeed as an entrepreneur in the very turbulent photovoltaics domain. Witnessing his enthusiasm for his work I have absolutely no doubt he will change the way we think about solar powered renewable energy."


Congratulations to all our Emerging Innovators! We look forward to supporting them on their commercialisation journeys. If you're a Victoria University of Wellington researcher interested in finding out more about the programme, get in touch with our commercialisation team