From idea to impact: How early stage research can become a game changing product

10 November 2021 | Read time: 6 minutes

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How does cutting edge research become a new product or service that can benefit New Zealand and the planet?

The Science for Technological Innovation (SfTI) National Science Challenge supports researchers whose ideas have the potential to deliver impact for Aotearoa and our economy. However, taking experimental and early stage science to market is a long and complex journey. Having a brilliant cutting edge idea is only the first step along a challenging and uncertain path toward impact.

SfTI director, Professor Sally Davenport says: “We recognise that funding is just one small piece of the picture for scientific research to solve real life problems. SfTI is just one part of a network of players in the pathway from early stage research to delivering a commercial product or service for public access: this is why we focus not just on funding but facilitating the right connections and offering professional development opportunities to give SfTI researchers the skills they need outside, as well as inside the lab through our Capacity Development Programme.”

The vision for commercial success

A retinal scan in progress. Image from Toku Eyes.


SfTI Seed Fund researcher and founder of successful medtech startup Toku Eyes, Dr Ehsan Vaghefi, has received support from SfTI’s Commercialisation Development Manager, Enrico Tronchin and has undertaken several SfTI funded professional development opportunities. He values the rounded support offered by SfTI and emphasises the importance of this support in achieving research commercial success:

“As a researcher either you have it in you to talk to investors, or you bring someone in who can do that for you. SfTI explains: you need a lawyer, an accountant and professional regulatory advice, and ask if they can introduce you to people who can help you,’” said Dr Vaghefi.

(left to right): SfTI’s Commercialisation Development Manager, Enrico Tronchin and Dr Ehsan Vaghefi

“Just giving people money, although that’s great, will not do a researcher’s idea a full service. SfTI is not like any other funder, they are offering a more rounded support. Researchers just want to be researchers, and it makes a real difference when funders like SfTI help by saying; ‘we can see where your vision is going and we want to help you get there”, said Dr Vaghefi.  

Seeing commercialisation as part of the research 

New Zealand’s innovation network, Kiwinet, recently released a report which outlines the challenges of transforming scientific research into marketable products. One of the main barriers identified was the perception that researchers had that commercialisation was time and resource that should be directed into the science itself.  

“In an academic environment, where publication of academic articles is a traditional measure of success, devoting time to commercial outcomes can sometimes be sidelined,” said Enrico Tronchin, SfTI’s Commercialisation Manager. 

“We understand our researchers want to focus on being a researcher, so SfTI looks for opportunities to make commercialisation activities more accessible and user friendly. Rather than activities which take time away from science.Commercialisation is about using intellectual capital to elevate science to where it can solve problems that impact on the social, environmental and financial health of the nation,” said Enrico Tronchin. 

As a SfTI funded researcher we can support you on your commercialisation pathway by:

Connecting you with our Commercialisation Task Force

SfTI can connect you with a member of our Commercialisation task force. Our Commercialisation Manager, Enrico Tronchin, can identify a qualified individual who can join a research team to bring specific commercialisation knowledge to the project for weeks or even months.

Having a commercial expert embedded in an early stage research team, means an opportunity to shape or pivot a project by grounding it in a deeper understanding of the real world problem the research seeks to solve.

Mentorship and coaching to find the next step or more funding

SfTI offers mentoring support to help you look to the long term future and commercial opportunities:
“Our researchers are focussed on early stage cutting edge science, they need people to be thinking about the pathway to commercialisation. Every single idea needs a community of support around it which changes as required to tailor that pathway,” said Enrico Tronchin, SfTI’s Commercialisation Manager.

Professional Development opportunities to grow your commercialisation skills

SfTI’s Capacity Development Programme is available to all currently funded SfTI researchers. We offer you support and training opportunities to help you take your science to the next level. This includes collaboration and communication, leadership skills and networking opportunities, with a focus on commercialisation. Recent Capacity Development Programme opportunities include:

Rewa Ake – A Customer Discovery Workshop Series

In partnership with Kiwinet, SfTI offered this workshop series in August and September 2021. It was aimed at researchers who are considering or engaged with developing an idea to market-readiness and who want to get more out of their industry engagement.

This workshop series followed on from the successful pre-accelerator programme offered in 2020, Rewa.

Patent-searching workshop series

We have recently run a patent-searching workshop to help researchers understand more about patents and how to access information about them.

You can find out more about SfTI’s Capacity Development programme and our offerings here.