Meet local grant winners pinning Canberra firmly on the innovation map

Ever wondered how plants get the nutrients they need? Technically, they harvest them.

Associate Professor Caitlin Byrt co-founded biotechnology startup Membrane Transporter Engineers (MTE) with Dr Annamaria De Rosa and Dr Samantha McGaughey in early 2021.

Inspired by membrane separation systems in plants, their technology design allows specific resources to be separated, or harvested, and drawn from liquid waste.

“Clean water alone can be isolated from wastewater using current technology, but any nutrients, metals and minerals are lost in the process,” Caitlin says.

“Ammonium, borate, phosphorus, potassium, sodium… Our technology design not only recovers them, it generates clean water as a byproduct.

“This could be applied to any industry that produces wastewater with valuable resources hidden within, including agriculture, aquaculture, mining, manufacturing and more.”

MTE’s technology received an Innovation Connect grant in 2021. Canberra Innovation Network (CBRIN) administers the program on behalf of the ACT Government twice each year, with grants being awarded to early stage innovators to support the development and growth of great local ideas.

Caitlin and her team used the funds to further advance their technology, moving the design closer to ‘real-world’ use.

They have since received more than $1 million from the Australian National University (ANU) and CSIRO to develop a prototype, and $2.79 million in industry funding to tailor solutions for metal and mineral separation.

Belinda Newham presenting at workshop
Alongside grant recipient Decision Revolution, Belinda Newham is also founder of Women in Strategic Decision Making (WiSDM), working to support and grow the number of women in decision-making roles. Photo: CBRIN.

After spending more than a decade helping federal ministers make and communicate complex decisions, Belinda Newham began to unearth the same challenges over and over again. In response, she founded social enterprise Decision Revolution.

Belinda says decision making drives every action, personal or professional, yet most people have never formally learnt how to make informed and effective decisions.

“Most companies consider data to be the single most important factor to consider when making a decision,” she says.

“While data technology is a blessing, it can also be a challenge to make sense of and implement in useful ways, especially without becoming overwhelmed or losing sight of the real people it represents.

“Up to 90 per cent of Australian business leaders have given up on making a decision because it got too hard. To tackle those statistics, I teach the underlying techniques and skills needed to make the right decisions across all aspects of life.”

Belinda was awarded a grant in the most recent Innovation Connect round. She plans to ensure Decision Revolution suits large-scale training, but explains that it’s not all about the money.

“We’ve seen a lot of uptake in online coaching and training since the pandemic, but there’s still a big gap for decision-making training,” she says.

“I want to take what I’ve learnt working one-on-one and turn it into an accessible online platform. This will allow bigger groups of decision makers to combine regular training sessions with self study.

“Being a startup entrepreneur can be very isolating. For me, the real value in organisations like CBRIN is their ability to connect you with people who truly understand and support your vision.”

The bi-annual ICON Grant round is open for applications until 5 pm on 11 September. Book a last minute online group intro meeting to find out more.

Article written by Morgan Kenyon for Riotact.