28 August, 2017
MacDiarmid Principal Investigator Dr Carla Meledandri runs a busy chemistry lab at the University of Otago, specialising in nanoscale materials. Back in 2011 she and her collaborator, Dr Don Schwass from the Faculty of Dentistry, had an inkling her research could lend itself to potential commercial applications using nanosilver for dentistry. After being awarded an Otago Innovation Proof of Concept Award of $50,000, Dr Meledandri was able to embark on developing a series of products.
Drs Meledandri and Schwass embarked on a world tour visiting dental companies and discussing their technologies. “Our ’market survey’ of dental companies around the world, particularly in the US, helped us understand their needs. We also learned a lot about the regulatory processes in other countries, and this information was essential in focusing our research in the right direction.”
The next step was getting her work in front of investors and to this end MacDiarmid Board Chair and angel investor Dr Ray Thomson supported her to pitch to angel investors at Pitch on a Peak in Queenstown. Having met and talked with angel investors, and learning that investors required further information, Dr Meledandri then teamed up with University of Otago Professor of Periodontics and Dental Implantology Warrick Duncan to create animal model studies.
While the animal studies were taking place, her team also began designing a product that could be classified as a medical (rather than therapeutic) device. Dr Meledandri says this was the point at which investors became interested.
Dr Meledandri says she decided she needed more business skills and resources before she could further develop her ideas. “The MacDiarmid supported me on a Get Funded course in 2016, and TEC funded me for an Entrepreneurship Workshop. Both of these courses helped me begin to think like a businessperson. The next step for us will be to put a recent PhD graduate into a company and the MacDiarmid Internship Programme will help us do this.”
Dr Meledandri says being nominated by the MacDiarmid Institute for the KiwiNet Awards in 2016 helped her further refine her pitch and put her in front of investors and business media. She was joint winner of the Norman F. B. Barry Foundation Emerging Innovator Award. Dr Meledandri also won a 2016 MBIE Smart Ideas grant for this work.