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Massey innovators showcased in the 2023 KiwiNet Awards

31 August 2023

Massey University is showcasing its entrepreneurial talent with an outstanding five out of eighteen finalists in the 11th annual KiwiNet Research Commercialisation Awards.

The awards celebrate the scientific discoveries being successfully commercialised within New Zealand’s Universities, Crown Research Institutes, and their impact on Aotearoa and beyond. This year, the KiwiNet Awards recognise eighteen finalists across six categories, whose passion and energy see them transforming their research into innovative new technologies and businesses.


Massey has a record five outstanding finalists across four award categories: Massey students Lucy Grunfeld and Sophie Burling are both finalists in the Momentum Student Entrepreneur category. Riddet Institute Director, Distinguished Professor Harjinder Singh is a finalist in the BNZ Researcher Entrepreneur category. A ground-breaking treatment for Strawberry Birthmarks, developed by researchers at Gillies McIndoe Research Institute and Massey Ventures and licensed to AFT Pharmaceuticals, is a finalist in the PwC Breakthrough Project category. Finally, Massey Venture’s Commercialisation Manger, Dr Sean Mackay, is a finalist in the Simpson Grierson Commercialisation Professional category.


“Making the KiwiNet finals is an achievement on its own” says Massey Ventures’ Commercialisation Manager, Dr Dan Carlisle, “but having five finalists, is truly an outstanding outcome. It really speaks to the quality of the research going on at Massey University and the dedication of researchers and students to see their technologies make an impact on the world.”


KiwiNet Awards winners for 2023 will be announced at an evening reception on 28th September in Auckland.


More information on the finalists below:

Lucy Grunfeld - Supporting breast cancer surgery recovery

Momentum Student Entrepreneur Finalist

Lucy Grunfeld, Supporting breast cancer surgery recovery, Momentum Student Entrepreneur Finalist

Lucy Grunfeld

Like most outstanding innovations, Lucy’s came from a heartfelt desire to alleviate a loved one’s distress.


In 2016, Lucy’s godmother underwent a breast cancer procedure. This significant event deeply impacted her journey as an Industrial Designer and would later inspire her to pursue entrepreneurship to make a difference in the lives of others.


Witnessing the challenges her godmother faced during her breast cancer journey, Lucy was particularly struck by the emotional and physical discomfort of the post-operative bra her godmother was required to wear for a whole year after her procedure. Her godmother described it as “ugly and uncomfortable” and “making her feel terrible during a time when she needed comfort and support the most”.


This provided the impetus for Bra+ve (Bra Positive), a post-operative bra to alleviate the physical discomfort and emotional distress experienced by women recovering from breast cancer surgery. 


Bra+ve is crafted using sustainable, antimicrobial materials using innovative 3D knit technology. The addition of magnetic fasteners enhances independence and makes it easier to use, especially for those with limited hand mobility. The unique cross-over shape allows each cup size to be controlled separately, accommodating uneven breast tissue post-surgery.


Bra+ve shows strong commercial potential through its extensive engagement with the target market and medical professionals. Through surveys, interviews, and focus groups, this project connected with over 140 patients, eight healthcare specialists and four lingerie designers and ensured that the postoperative bra met the specific needs of its users, built up a community around the product and answered a unique market need.

New Zealand has one of the highest breast cancer incidences worldwide, and currently post operative bras are imported from overseas suppliers, which can cause long wait times; the country will benefit from a product designed by a local foundation.

Lucy is a finalist in the Momentum Student Entrepreneur category that recognises a highly motivated New Zealand tertiary student who has made significant progress developing an idea that can change the world.

Sophie Burling - Transforming drug discovery for neuromuscular disorders

Momentum Student Entrepreneur Finalist

Sophie Burling, Transforming drug discovery for neuromuscular disorders, Momentum Student Entrepreneur Finalist

Sophie Burling

Sophie is currently completing a PhD in Biochemistry at Massey University, specialising in tissue engineering stem cell-derived models of neuromuscular disease for use in diagnostics and drug discovery. Her undergraduate background is in cell biology, genetics, and business law. In 2022, Sophie spent six months at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology based between the Langer and Tsai labs as a visiting Fulbright scholar, working to generate multicellular stem cell-derived brain and gut-brain axis models for investigating Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

Brace yourself, there’s more. Sophie is also Research Lead at Project Geminae. Project Geminae proposes “the continued development of a microfluidic “organ chip” drug- discovery platform that emulates the human motor system of healthy and diseased people.”

Currently, Neuromuscular Disorders (NMDs) are debilitating, complex diseases that lack effective treatment options. NMDs are among the most physically devastating in their clinical presentation, placing immeasurable emotional and financial burdens on families and the healthcare system. NZ has the world’s highest incidence rate, and it is increasing. Most people die within three years of diagnosis, and current therapies only extend life expectancy by 1-6 months.

Not only is the disorder a considerable challenge, but so is the testing of novel drugs that could treat this disorder: first testing on a cell culture and then switching to clinical trial takes upwards of 10 - 15 years from phase 1 to market. Project Geminae aims to drastically reduce that time by introducing deep tech that emulates the entire human body, completely transforming the drug discovery process.

But it’s not just Sophie’s project that is incredibly ambitious and exciting; it’s also her entrepreneurial journey. Sophie has wholeheartedly embraced the entrepreneurial spirit of driving research to commercialisation and continuously supporting people - whether they be other disruptors and groundbreakers or the patients themselves. Sophie is the chair of the Manawatū Momentum Investment Committee – and is inspirational in her vision, drive and humanity.


Sophie is a finalist in the Momentum Student Entrepreneur category that recognises a highly motivated New Zealand tertiary student who has made significant progress developing an idea that can change the world.

Distinguished Professor Harjinder Singh - Esteemed food scientist and icon of research entrepreneurship

BNZ Researcher Entrepreneur Finalist

Distinguished Professor Harjinder Singh, Esteemed food scientist and icon of research entrepreneurship, BNZ Researcher Entrepreneur Finalist

Distinguished Professor Harjinder Singh

The inventor behind many of Massey University’s largest commercial deals, and a 2012 Prime Minister’s Science Prize recipient, Distinguished Professor Harjinder Singh has built an extensive track record as a world-renowned food scientist and researcher-entrepreneur.


Across his distinguished career, Harjinder has worked with many of the world’s global food giants, including Danone, Fonterra, Pepsico, Goodman Fielder, and Nestlé. His early research on milk proteins led to patented innovations, which were commercialised by Fonterra Co-operative Limited. His invention of a patented encapsulation technology for fish oils became the basis for the Riddet Institute’s spin-out company, Speirs Nutritionals Limited.


Harjinder was a key inventor behind the FERRI-PRO technology, acquired by Nestlé in 2018 to fight global iron deficiency. This remains Massey University’s single biggest deal - both in terms of commercial impact and societal benefits. The first FERRI-PRO product was recently launched in Pakistan where 1-in-2 children are iron deficient.


With an impressive 25 patents to his name, 8 of which have been commercialised, and several new projects in the pipeline, Harjinder also gives much back to the next generation of researcher entrepreneurs. With a growing entrepreneurial culture around commercialisation, he is excited by the life-changing opportunities for the young scientists he gets to train and mentor.

Harjinder is a finalist in the BNZ Researcher Entrepreneur category that recognises a researcher who consistently delivers real world impact from their research.

Dr Sean Mackay - Breaking the commercialisation professional mould 

Simpson Grierson Commercialisation Professional Finalist

Dr Sean Mackay, Breaking the commercialisation professional mould, Simpson Grierson Commercialisation Professional Finalist

Dr Sean Mackay

Dr Sean Mackay represents a new generation of commercialisation professional, blending his roles as a scientist, inventor, commercialisation manager, and founder. Starting out as an inventor of several deep-tech opportunities, Sean now works for Massey Ventures in a tailor-made Senior Commercialisation Manager role that unleashes his unique skillsets.


He is responsible for a pipeline of commercial opportunities at Massey University, including many where he acts as a principal investigator, inventor, and/or founder. In under three years, Sean has helped raise around $3M and supported four spinouts (one where he was a founding inventor) and two licenses (one with Sean as a named inventor). These include: Ampersand Technologies, Retrabac Therapeutics, Nanophage Technologies, Captivate Technology and Strawberry Birthmarks. He is also responsible for facilitating the University’s first Iwi investment, generating a healthy pipeline of commercial opportunities, and supporting the introduction of a flexible benefit-share model for founders and a new Student IP policy.


Sean has actively sought new opportunities to advance his skills, such as participating in KiwiNet’s Emerging Innovator Programme, and moulding his career to suit his strengths, creating the best outcomes for his organisation and team. He is leading the way for a new generation of researcher entrepreneurs and commercialisation professionals.

Sean is a finalist in the Simpson Grierson Commercialisation Professional category that recognises individuals with a significant impact on the commercialisation of publicly funded research.

Strawberry Birthmarks - A game-changing treatment for infants 

PwC Breakthrough Project

Strawberry Birthmarks, A game-changing treatment for infants, PwC Breakthrough Project Finalist

Strawberry Birthmarks affect 1-in-10 children globally

Strawberry birthmarks are benign vascular tumours that affect 1-in-10 children. 15% of cases require treatment during infancy to stop disfigurement, or the threat to bodily function and sometimes life. Due to potential drug-related side-effects, up to 85% of infants are left untreated and may become disfigured for life.


Researchers at Gillies McIndoe Research Institute and Massey Ventures are developing a topical treatment for strawberry birthmarks that will be more accessible, allowing treatment of more affected children whilst also reducing drug-related side effects. Massey Ventures led the commercialisation of the treatment in a niche market worth an estimated $750M annually in the US, Europe, and China alone.


In 2022, Massey Ventures announced an agreement with NZ-based AFT Pharmaceuticals and the Gillies McIndoe Research Institute to license the IP, with plans to launch the treatment in over 100 countries. AFT Pharmaceuticals will be responsible for the preclinical and clinical development and global regulatory and commercialisation of the product.


It took just six weeks for the team to arrive at a mutually beneficial deal, after leveraging the networks and funding available via PSAF and the KiwiNet Emerging Innovator Programme to rapidly de-risk the project and progress to investor readiness. The agreement is a prime example of a home-grown technology retaining its IP in New Zealand and creating significant potential export value, all while providing a life-changing medical treatment.


As the first pharmaceutical deal in Massey Ventures’ history, the agreement with Gillies McIndoe Research Institute and AFT Pharmaceuticals has now unlocked significant networks, skills, resources, and global reach, to unleash a life-changing drug with global potential

The Strawberry Birthmarks project is a finalist in the PwC Breakthrough Project category that recognises projects demonstrating best practice in commercialisation of publicly funded research.

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