UTP’s Own Shark Tank

(The Star, 29 July 2018)

IT’S something like Shark Tank on TV. Fantastic ideas fielded by R&D owners to hungry investors who bid competitively for a share of the spoils.

“Same spirit but different style,” says Muhammad Syazwan Amarjit Abdullah, senior director of UTP’s Technology Transfer Office which oversees the Innovation Pitching Event.

“This year we tightened the range of pitches to the most viable projects making our event highly attractive to investors.

“Our format is now more a showcase to invited venture capitalists, industry captains, technology incubators and accelerators based on their interest and nature of business.

“Each research team leader will pitch their idea to potential investors and collaborators. They are free to ask questions discreetly instead of in an open forum with an audience.” 

For the first time, it will be a closed-door affair. Innovation pitching is a highlight of ESTCON 2018, UTP’s biennial world engineering, science and technology congress of 10 conferences to be held next month in Kuala Lumpur. This year’s theme is Science, Technology & Humanities: Reinventing The Future.

The pitching sessions of 2014 and 2016 were attended by venture capitalists, government agencies and industry representatives. Typically, decisions were not like the on-the-spot drama seen on the popular TV show. The process could actually take a long period before ending up with an agreement between all parties involved.

This year, UTP is working with Platcom Ventures Sdn Bhd, the national technology commercialisation platform of Malaysia, which has pre-screened innovations by UTP researchers. They have shortlisted the top 15 most viable projects and identified the investors most hungry for these particular innovations. Among them are government incubator agencies, venture capitalists and industry representatives.

“This helps us zoom in on the right kind of investor or collaborator, instead of matchmaking randomly,” says Syazwan. “They already have a genuine interest. It would be fabulous to have a bidding war as this would really encourage our researchers and students.”

Among this year’s pitches will be innovations in the fields of construction, oil and gas, information technology, sustainable energy and agriculture. Some have already been patented. In all 15 pitches, the lead investigators and project owners are academics. The innovations not shortlisted for the pitching session will be showcased at the ESTCON 2018 exhibition hall.

Feedback from previous years has been valuable. Potential investors have said some technologies were just not ready, and some needed more testing and validation. Some investors wanted more market research to be done.

“All this has helped our researchers make their projects more market-ready, and on par with peers and competitors,” says Syazwan.

Typically, new technologies emerging from universities are at their infancy and need support for product development which includes prototyping, market validation and more, to actually be ready for commercialisation. These need funding too.

“Some of our pitches seek collaborators, not strictly investors, who can jointly develop a product or technology for market readiness,” says Syazwan. “The important thing is to get things moving because technology can get overtaken and be outdated very quickly. Our researchers also pitch their projects at several other platforms besides ESTCON. Some projects are pitched several times before an interested party comes along.”

UTP’s Technology Transfer Office, established in 2016, bridges the gap between researchers and the market. It enables consultation, testing, and matches industry partners for the university and its various research departments.

“Our role is to translate and effectively exploit all research outcomes and scientific breakthroughs into cutting edge innovation that would have impact in the sustainability of technologies as well as creating new technologies for businesses in industries and communities,” says Syazwan.

“Globally, universities have evolved. The aim is market penetration; the game is sustainability in every way.”

Worldwide, innovation pitching is thought to be crucial to a researcher’s journey to commercialisation. It exposes scientists to the real world of investors who mostly abhor being part of research and development and hope to get their hands on a ready product that can fly off the shelves immediately.

“Market readiness is a key element of any innovation,” says Syazwan.

UTP’s students are also exposed to activities which are very similar to a pitching exercise throughout their studies. They bring a presentation of their projects to impress and convince their peers, judges of various events such as the Science, Engineering & Design Exhibition (SEDEX). Students are given guidance and support by the Technopreneurship Development Centre (TDeC) which focuses on inculcating and nurturing technopreneurial skills preparing them for their own start-ups and other business endeavours.

In the global context, enterprise is a major engine of economic growth and wealth creation. Building entrepreneurship into education is a positive and necessary response to the increasingly complex world we live in.

“Our kids need to be equipped with entrepreneurial competencies which include business acumen, problem solving, critical thinking as well as ownership,” says Syazwan.

“Our idea of entrepreneurship is to develop students into well-rounded people with a competitive edge for the future.”

To meet UTP scientists and explore a range of innovations, applications and solutions for all industries, visit the ESTCON 2018 exhibition hall.  Sign up at estcon.utp.edu.my.

 

Some Pitches of 2018

Integrated Suspended Growth BioReactor (i-SGBR)

Inventor: Prof Dr Shamsul Rahman M Kutty

A low cost, small footprint sewage treatment centre that is easy to build and so highly self-sufficient that it does not need to be connected to a centralised sewage system. Best used in remote locations like offshore platforms, highway stops, small islands and eco-tourism centres. It can also be used in small factories whose process wastewater contains organic biological waste but not heavy metals.

 

TherecoBLOCK

Inventor: Assoc Prof Dr Bashar S Mohamed

A green, low-cost, super strong building material made of rubbercrete promises high noise reduction and impact absorption, but low thermal conductivity.

 

Green Urea

Inventor: Prof Dr Noorhana Yahya

Nanotechnology applied to ammonia (a byproduct of the oil and gas industry) and urea manufacturing makes both the product and the process cleaner, greener, more efficient and so versatile that bespoke versions can be created for different crops and farming geographies. Overcomes traditional problems of leaching and volatility.

 

Some Pitches of Previous Years

Power Generating Window

Inventor: Prof Dr Norani Muti Mohamed

A dye solar cell makes windows convert light into electricity. Now collaborating with SIRIM on product development, to be market-ready in 2020. Interested partners and collaborators for commercialisation welcomed.

 

Hollow Fibre Membrane Prediction Programme

Inventors: Prof Dr Azmi Mohamad Shariff and Assoc Prof Dr Lau Kok Keong

Software developed for the oil and gas industry for a membrane that does separation of carbon dioxide on the platform as oil is processed. This software has already been commercialised with Process VU Sdn Bhd. Now in use in Malaysia and Thailand.

 

Nano Composite Heat Sink

Inventor: Prof Dr Faiz Ahmad

A substrate that transfers heat from LED lights to the atmosphere to keep the appliance cool. Signed licensing agreement in 2017 with Nano Malaysia Berhad which is in negotiation with a manufacturer.