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Australian scientists aim to disrupt a billion-dollar industry

LANDING PADS CASE STUDY

Australian scientists aim to disrupt a billion-dollar industry


More than 100 years ago, Einstein predicted the existence of gravitational waves - invisible ripples that occur in space when objects, such as stars, move at high speeds. Scientists worked for decades to detect them, including Professor Daniel Shaddock at Australian National University (ANU) and in 2017 three physicists Rainer Weiss, Kip Thorne and Barry Barish were award the Nobel Prize for the discovery.

In 2014, Daniel and a team of 11 ANU students and postdoctoral researchers founded Liquid Instruments Pty Ltd to commercialise the technology they had developed to measure gravitational waves.

Test and measurement tools used by scientists and engineers are traditionally big, beige boxes and many have been around for over 60 years. On a quest to disrupt this billion-dollar industry, Liquid Instruments developed Moku:Lab, a compact, software-configurable hardware platform that incorporates 12 professional-grade measurement instruments.

To help take Moku:Lab to market, Liquid Instruments received an Accelerating Commercialisation Grant in mid-2016.

“We weren’t sure if the market was ready for this approach, so we used the grant to fund not only the development of Moku:Lab but also a pilot program,” says Shaddock.

The grant allowed Liquid Instruments to transition to a more professional manufacturing base and grow its team. Starting with three employees and six contractors, today Liquid Instruments has 22 Canberra-based staff.

“We’re going up against competitors who have annual revenues of more than $1 billion,” says Shaddock. “The Accelerating Commercialisation Program gave us that extra boost to get our product to the level where we could start selling units and receiving revenue. We started achieving revenue even before the grant finished. So that was a double win for us.”

With less than 1% of the market in Australia, Liquid Instruments always planned to go global. A founding team member had already moved to Silicon Valley so Austrade’s San Francisco Landing Pad was a perfect fit. Going into the program in September 2018, Liquid Instruments wanted to attract a large investor to help fund the next stage of global expansion.

Chief Strategy Officer, Danielle Wuchenich, was based at the San Francisco Landing Pad full-time for three months and Shaddock visited several times. A highlight for Wuchenich was the shared experience with other start-ups, as well as connecting with industry organisations and policymakers, including meeting with Julie Bishop, former Minister for Foreign Affairs.

LiquidInstruments1_MokuLab

During their time at the Landing Pad, Liquid Instruments secured an investment of US$8.2 million, and established a US entity and an office in California’s San Diego.

“We’re keeping the engineering talent and some of the management team in Australia and looking to supercharge our global sales and marketing, which will be led from the US,” says Shaddock.

The business is on track for continued strong growth, achieving revenue in 2017–18 of just over $1 million.

“Moving to another country can be scary, so being able to establish yourself, get a few months under your belt, then branch out to find your own place is a really fantastic model,” says Shaddock.

“I think the Landing Pads program’s link with Accelerating Commercialisation is great because it sends a message to start-ups that these government organisations are here to fund scalable, innovative, revolutionary businesses that can take on the world.”

To discover more about Moku:Lab and Liquid Instruments visit https://www.liquidinstruments.com/