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Start-ups in Canberra area set to benefit from sale of high tech company

Wednesday, 12 February 2014 | By Gavin Lower

Start-ups in the Canberra region could be in line for a funding boost after a high-tech company set up by the Australian National University and University of NSW was sold for $76 million.


Lithicon AS, which provides imaging technology for rocks and oil and gas, was sold to US-based FEI Company.


ANU received $11 million from the sale, with a portion of the funds earmarked for the university’s venture capital arm, ANU Connect Ventures.


Professor Michael Cardew-Hall, ANU’s pro-vice chancellor of innovation and advancement, told StartupSmart Connect Ventures had a mandate to invest in start-ups in the Canberra region.


He said other funds from the sale would go to other parts of the university to allow it to expand its business activities.


The sale of Lithicon AS, which was originally known as Digitalcore and established in 2009, was a good example of what could be achieved with the right combination of entrepreneurial academics, good technology and good intellectual property, Cardew-Hall says.


“We wanted to get to a point to sell it,” he says.


He says he believes ANU has the right model for setting up businesses and then developing them to the point they can be sold.


“You incubate in the university as much as you can so you have a strong IP position … and then set up externally when the time’s right.”


He says companies in the US and Europe are looking to Australia to acquire companies with unique IP.


“They do see Australian as a place where we do have that.”


Cardew-Hall says protecting IP and keeping it “clean” is a key issue for businesses and universities.


He says clean IP identifies ownership and who contributed to the IP.


“The issue with universities, particularly with collaborative research, is getting a clean IP position can be challenging.”


Lithicon developed an advanced computational approach to rapidly solving fluid behaviour in oil reservoirs.


The technology produces digital 3D images and simulations of fluids in rock samples, giving companies crucial information to help them work out the best way to extract oil and gas.