Small business innovators funded to solve NSW govt problems


Joseph Brookes
Senior Reporter

The New South Wales Government has announced the recipients of its small business innovation program, awarding $1.5 million in grants to companies that developed solutions for defined government challenges like regional connectivity, water purification and counting koalas.

On Friday, Minister for Science, Innovation and Technology Alister Henskens revealed the recipients of the initial round of the Small Business Innovation and Research program (SBIR), which is modelled on a long-running and successful US approach to supporting pre-commercial innovation.

Established last year, the $24 million program asks New South Wales based small businesses to propose innovative solutions to government challenges, with staged grants on offer as successful pitches move from feasibility studies to proof of concept and potential government procurement.

The challenges relate to regional connectivity, assisting vision impaired passengers to navigate public transport, recycling personal protective equipment, detecting and counting koala populations, and water purification.

Sydney traffic busy lights
The NSW government has awarded the first grants for its SBIR program

Seventeen small businesses will receive up to $100,000 to undertake three-month feasibility studies into their proposed solutions in the first stage of the program.

The proposals include an off-grid satellite system, an AI-voice assistant for transport users with visual impairments, an acoustic sensor to detect koalas, personal protective equipmentmade with bioplastics, and electro-oxidation technology for complete degradation of microplastics in wastewater.

The SBIR program is a key recommendation of the Accelerating Research & Development in NSW Action Plan, which launched in January last year and is based on the findings of an R&D taskforce established in 2019.

“The first phase of this program will back small businesses to develop devices and systems that have the potential to benefit our people, the environment and our economy,” Mr Henskens said.

“We are investing in a range of innovative projects which include drone-surveying technology, navigation systems for people who are vision impaired and advanced filtration systems, all designed to meet specific challenges in NSW.”

The program is running over two years, with 250 local businesses, entrepreneurs and researcher attending expression of interest webinars last year.

Proof-of-concept grants of up to $1 million each will be available to the current cohort of 17 businesses when they complete a successful feasibility study.

A new set of challenges and further feasibility grants will be offered later this year.

The full list of SBIR feasibility study grant recipients has been provided by the New South Wales government:

  1. Connectivity Challenge: to increase the strength and resilience of communications networks in regional and remote areas.
  • Zetifi will undertake a feasibility study to assess the feasibility of the ZetiNet Connectivity Platform – a distributed network of off-grid small cells that can be rapidly deployed on existing power poles or as standalone pods to provide resilient long-range Wi-Fi and radio communications.
  • Innovations for Humanity will undertake a feasibility study to develop a high-performance satellite terminal antenna system prototype which has the potential to be powered without the grid using sustainable power sources.
  • Dandelions will undertake a feasibility study to develop an unpowered air-to-ground vehicle integrated with a communications payload to provide on-demand communication networks in emergency situations.
  1. Hyperlocal Navigation Challenge: to assist passengers with vision impairments to access public transport services.
  • Acerca in partnership with UNSW and Redwood, will undertake a feasibility study to develop an Ultra-Wide Band system which can achieve highly accurate positioning of people and give guidance on routes and navigation.
  • Advanced Navigation will undertake a feasibility study on the deployment of its indoor positioning technology to provide accurate location information within NSW transport hubs for users with vision impairments.
  • AK Research will undertake a feasibility study to develop a location and navigation system using existing technologies such as A-GPS, GNSS and Wi-Fi access points combined with image recognition and augmented reality capabilities.
  • BindiMaps will undertake a feasibility study to develop a highly accurate location and navigation system using an advanced fusion algorithm that will combine data from Simultaneous Localisation and Mapping techniques (using the camera of a smartphone), Bluetooth beacons, and inertial sensors.
  • Chur Networks will undertake a feasibility study to develop a location and navigation system using AI-voice assistant, hybrid positioning algorithm and edge computing with flexible and open data sharing to help users with visual impairments access navigation services.
  1. Koala Count Challenge: to detect and quantify koala populations in NSW for the benefit of Koala preservation.
  • Biodiversity Monitoring Services will undertake a feasibility study to develop a bio-inspired acoustic sensor and processing approach using an event-based spectrum analyser to deliver a low-power, high-efficiency solution for sensing acoustic signals associated with koalas.
  • Ninox Robotics will undertake a feasibility study to develop and integrate improved, specialised thermal cameras into long-range drones to detect koalas over large areas.
  • Ripper Group will undertake a feasibility study to develop comprehensive operation support approaches, methods and resources for state-wide surveys of koala populations.
  • Wize Dynamics will undertake a feasibility study into the development and suitability of artificial intelligence to identify individual koalas from audio recordings.
  1. Personal Protective Equipment Challenge: to reduce waste associated with discarded personal protective equipment (PPE) and sterile wrap.
  • 3rd Axis will undertake a feasibility study to develop a new plastic extrusion technology for the re-processing of decontaminated health waste and manufacturing a polypropylene filament which can be used as a feedstock in 3D printing applications.
  • AusAir will undertake a feasibility study to develop surgical respirators and surgical masks using bioplastics, wool and other sustainable performance materials.
  1. Water Purification Challenge: to reduce microplastic and other contamination due to laundry services in health facilities.
  • Infinite Water will undertake a feasibility study to develop a scalable ceramic membrane filtration system for microplastics removal and recycling of laundry effluent.
  • PEGRAS will undertake a feasibility study to develop a system that uses a modified high-density coagulant for microplastic separation.
  • Separtis will undertake a feasibility study to develop a system using electro-oxidation technology for complete degradation of microplastics in wastewater.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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