CSIRO fund backs makers of Wi-Fi chips and quantum computing firmware

The Australian government-backed Main Sequence Ventures has announced the first four companies to receive funding.

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) has announced the first companies to receive funding from its AU$200 million Main Sequence Ventures co-investment fund.

Beneficiaries include Q-Ctrl, a startup led by professor Michael Biercuk from the University of Sydney that is developing the firmware framework for quantum computers to address the issue of error control; Morse Micro, a startup building "next generation" Wi-Fi chips that could allow IoT devices to last for years on a single coin cell battery; Maxwell MRI, a startup that is combining edge deep learning with medical imaging technologies for the early detection of prostate cancer; and Intersective, which delivers "experiential" learning programs through its cloud-based platform.

The CSIRO was unwilling to disclose the amount that was invested in each of the companies, but said it expects the investments will create more than 60 new jobs.

"This is some of the best and most exciting research from the Australian innovation sector, and we look forward to working with them to realise their potential in the commercial market," said Bill Bartee, the venture capitalist and co-founder of Blackbird Ventures who was selected to head up the Main Sequence Ventures fund.

Main Sequence Ventures' partners include Phil Morle, who co-founded the now-closed startup incubator Pollenizer; Mike Zimmerman, formerly from Bondi Ventures and H2 Ventures; Martin Duursma, previously a mentor at CSIRO and the University of Sydney's Incubate program; and Mike Nicholls, resident entrepreneur at Incubate and founder of computer vision company VisiMagic.

The Main Sequence Ventures fund, originally known as the CSIRO Innovation Fund, was launched by the Australian federal government in December last year with the aim of supporting co-investment in new spin-out and startup companies, as well as small to medium enterprises looking to transform publicly-funded research into commercial products, which Australia is considered to be lagging behind in.

CSIRO CEO Larry Marshall said Australia does not lack great ideas, but the value of those ideas are rarely captured domestically.

"Australia's scientists are world leaders, but investing in science-driven innovation is hard -- it needs the horsepower of Australia's national science agency behind it," he said in a statement.

The Australian government had committed AU$70 million to the AU$200 million joint public-private sector fund, alongside AU$30 million of royalties from the CSIRO's Wi-Fi patent portfolio, and an additional AU$100 million from the private sector.

Beau Leese, co-founder of Intersective and former CSIRO head of Strategy and Innovation, said the new investment will allow the company to "double down" on data science research, and expand into international markets such as India, the US, and Vietnam.

The University of Sydney is already a customer of Intersective, using its Practera platform to deliver "experiential education" such as "mentored business simulations that adapt based on real world feedback", Leese said.

"I think successful innovation constantly requires thinking that runs counter to accepted wisdom. Main Sequence Ventures is looking at problems and technologies and teams that don't fit the mould, but may have a shot at breaking it -- very much the mindset we were looking for in an investment partner," Leese added.

"[It] provides businesses with an investor more willing to back deeper R&D and more complex commercial pathways than many standard venture firms.

"While there is nothing wrong with online retail or food delivery apps, there are enormous value opportunities in sectors like education, health, energy and resources that may require a different investment mindset to realise."

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