Synchron founder claims Paul Shetler Disruptor Award

Stuart Mason

Synchron founding director Professor Nicholas Opie has been awarded the Paul Shetler Disruptor of the Year Award at the InnovationAus 2023 Awards for Excellence for his pioneering work in neural interfaces.

The InnovationAus 2023 Awards for Excellence were presented on Wednesday night at a black-tie gala dinner at the Hordern Pavilion in Sydney.

The Paul Shetler Disruptor of the Year Award was presented on the night by SunDrive Solar strategic advisor and McKinsey & Co strategic adviser Wyatt Roy. Mr Roy was also the assistant minister for innovation in the Turnbull government and the former executive director of the Tech Council of Australia.

Synchron founding director Professor Nicholas Opie

The Paul Shetler Disruptor of the Year Award celebrates individuals who have made a major impact in their sector, demonstrating vision for what is possible in their areas of expertise.

It is named in honour of inaugural Digital Transformation Office chief executive Paul Shetler, who was hand-picked for the role by then-Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in 2015. An archetypal disruptor, Mr Shetler proved ultimately too disruptive and innovative for the public sector to deal with.

He passed away suddenly in 2020, and the award is a way to remember him and honour his contribution to the tech sector.

Professor Opie is a trailblazer in the use of neural interfaces to help people with medical conditions gain independence through the use of digital technologies. His innovative work typifies the power of disruption that the Paul Shetler award aims to honour.

“I’m very shocked, surprised and absolutely honoured to be recognised by my peers with the Paul Shetler Award,” Professor Opie said.

“I really enjoyed the work I do and I’m just glad that other people think there’s value to it as well.”

Professor Opie won the award for his work helping people with severe paralysis to use digital technologies with their minds, a process known as neural interfaces. He is the founding director of Synchron and also the Head of Vascular Bonic Laboratory at the University of Melbourne.

Once seen as science fiction, the Australian made technology is now changing lives.

“It’s science facts now,” Professor Opie said.

“We’re making little devices that are implanted through blood vessels to help people with paralysis control computers and hopefully wheelchairs and exoskeletons.

“It allow them to communicate as they did before their injury, accident or disease, and hopefully, get them get them living as they were before.”

Professor Opie has successfully taken two medical devices from concept through to clinical trials and the market. These include a bionic eye which helps blind people see, and the Stentrode brain-computer interface which gives communications and independence to those with paralysis. This technology helps people with severe paralysis to control computers and other devices with their minds.

He founded deep tech startup Synchron in Melbourne in 2012, and has since grown it to a team of 70 people in Australia and the US. The company has raised more than $200 million, including from Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos.

The company has successfully completed Australia-based clinical trials and an ongoing FDA-approved US trial which has demonstrated its effectiveness in helping those with severe paralysis.

Professor Opie dedicated his award to the people taking part in his early stage trials.

“We believe this will have a huge benefit going on. And really they’re the unsung heroes of it,” he said.

The other nominees for the award were AMSL Aero co-founder and chief executive and Vertiia investor Andrew Moore and Tethix co-founder and Financial Data and Technology Association regional council chair Mathew Mytka.

“There’s so many incredible minds out there and the opportunities for myself and for them are just continuing to grow,” Professor Opie said.

The InnovationAus 2023 Awards for Excellence are proudly supported by Investment NSW, AusIndustry, Australian Computer Society, Technology Council of Australia, Agile Digital, CSIRO, TechnologyOne, IP Australia, METS Ignited and Q-CTRL.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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