Cather Simpson’s start-up company Engender Technology shortlisted for the World Cup Tech Challenge
New Zealand tech start-up company named as finalist for World Cup Tech Challenge led by MacDiarmid Institute and Dodd-Walls Centre Principal Investigator, 14 May 2016
Listen to the Cather’s interview with Kim Hill on Saturday Mornings at RadioNZ:
The MacDiarmid Institute and Dodd-Walls Centre congratulated Associate Professor Cather Simpson, a Principal Investigator in both Centres of Research Excellence. Associate Professor Simpson is Director of the Photon Factory at the University of Auckland, where she holds a joint appointment in Chemical Sciences and Physics. Her start-up company Engender Technology joins finalists from all over the world to compete for the 3rd Annual World Cup Tech Challenge. In the World Cup Tech Challenge, emerging technologies compete for a World Cup in Tech title in Silicon Valley. The event, held on 1 June, attracts Silicon Valley VCs, Angels, corporate executives, prospective customers and partners, and bloggers/media representing the global tech scene.
MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology Director Professor Thomas Nann said it was great to see MacDiarmid research again being used for commercial applications in the dairy industry.
“This technology gives dairy farmers a low cost way to control the composition of their herd, and provides much better outcomes than the existing technology.”
He said that Associate Professor Simpson’s work relates to the materials science focus of the MacDiarmid Institute.
“Associate Professor Simpson has developed an entirely new high-tech process to sort sperm into male and female. She does this by manipulating materials to create tiny channels in order to develop an entirely new ‘microfluidic’ device.”
Dodd-Walls Centre Director Professor David Hutchinson said that Associate Professor Simpson’s research also relates to the focus of the Dodd-Walls Centre for Photonic and Quantum Technologies.
“Once she has created these tiny channels, she uses light pulses to sort the sperm and direct them down the appropriate channels.”
Professor Nann said that this was an example of two Centres of Research Excellence (CoREs) each contributing from different angles to enable a researcher to create a totally new technology.
“Associate Professor Simpson’s work in materials science and photonics are quite separate but it is in the coming together of these two aspects of her research, each supported by a different CoRE, that this achievement has been made.”
Professor Hutchinson said that the Dodd-Wall Centre, NZTE and Callaghan Innovation visited Silicon Valley to explore high-tech agriculture earlier this year.
“The idea of entering the World Cup Tech Challenge was sparked through a conversation we had with representatives of the Silicon Valley Forum while visiting tech incubator Plug and Play.”
Associate Professor Simpson said that smart dairy farmers wanted to control the composition of their herd and at the top of their list is the sex of their offspring.
“There’s only one solution currently available for dairy sex selection and it’s expensive and doesn’t work very well, so farmers are frustrated. Engender is using novel microfluidics and laser photonics to sort sperm with X or Y chromosomes using the same physics that NASA uses to propel solar cells in space, but applied to single cells.”
She indicates that the business opportunities are huge. “The AI market for agriculture is US$2.4 billion. Dairy is New Zealand’s biggest export earner and when Engender succeeds, it is projected to raise New Zealand’s GDP by 0.2%”
This doesn’t stop with dairy, either. “We’ve got our eyes on the pork industry next.”
Professor Nann said that New Zealanders could vote for their favourite AgTech start-up and called upon New Zealanders to get behind Associate Professor Simpson and Engender.
Associate Professor Cather Simpson (MacDiarmid Institute & Dodd-Walls Centre)
Professor David Hutchinson (Dodd-Walls Centre)
Vanessa Young (MacDiarmid Institute)