PERKii® is a probiotic drink that delivers health benefits through tiny natural beads (microgels). The microgel technology is based on a patented process developed by Professor Bhesh Bhandari from The University of Queensland in 2005. He was able to create the natural microgel capsules out of alginate, which comes from seaweed.
Commercialising the invention
Professor Bhandari developed a commercialisation plan in 2006, under the guidance of Cameron Turner who has a product development role at Uniquest, the commercialisation arm of University of Queensland.
"We knew what the technology could do and that it had the potential to create significant disruption across multiple sectors, from the food industry to animal health and pharmaceuticals," Cameron explains. "We needed to figure out where we could add the most value and develop an execution plan which validated that."
The initial business plan was to license its technology to a large beverage manufacturer. But after spending years talking to established companies and developing ideas for many potential products, Cameron found that companies didn’t want to take on the risk of a new product. They wanted someone else to prove it worked first.
"Established companies are interested in solving existing problems with existing products," Cameron says. "Getting them to take on new technology that solves a problem they don’t have, is near impossible. We created a world-first probiotic drink and while they could see the technology was breakthrough they weren’t interested."
Cameron believes there is a common reason why research discoveries don’t get commercialised. "The world is only interested in ideas and technology when they equate to products and sales. The ability to execute and create value is a very important lesson."
When the team decided they would have to take a finished product directly to market, they created PERKii® Pty Ltd. They also received trade mark protection for their brand.
"The evidence suggests that big companies will always be disrupted by innovative start-ups like PERKii®," Cameron says. "Taking technology to market in a dedicated start-up with a single focus of commercialising a particular technology can be much more effective than licensing."
Cameron says that was the most challenging part of the commercialisation journey. "We spent five years trying to licence the technology and in the end, we’re taking the finished product to market ourselves, it’s much riskier." He believes it’s worth it. "If you have something transformational, you have to take it to market yourself."
In Australia, PERKii® has been launched nationally in Woolworth's petrol stations and at a number of cafes and restaurants around the country. With patents already granted in Australia, New Zealand, Japan, South Korea and the United States, the company is filing with the European Union and looking to take PERKii® into China and the USA.
Cameron has some words of wisdom to those working in research commercialisation. "It’s important to help the researcher get things as advanced as they can possibly be, otherwise it’s very hard to get a company to licence the technology and understand its applications," he said.
He also says that once the research is complete or a discovery is made, it’s just the beginning. "It’s naive to think that research is an end in itself," he said. "It’s... the end of the beginning, and when the real challenge begins".