In a building that is on the $20 bill, the latest generation of Australian venture capitalists are one floor above the pioneers, Allen & Buckeridge.
Anne-Marie Birkill, Michelle Deaker and Paul Kelly are gathered in a small room in the red brick building on Sydney’s Bulletin Place that is more silicon alley than valley.
Still, their $40-million fund may prove to be revolutionary, changing the lives of billions of people.
The three general partners of OneVentures are backing Hatchtech, a company whose genesis was the University of Melbourne, that has successfully completed early clinical trials for a single-application head-lice treatment.
Smart Sparrow, a company whose origins were in a PhD thesis at the University of New South Wales, is also being backed by OneVentures. Smart Sparrow is a tutoring platform that gives real-time student feedback.
OneVentures has also invested in Peak 3, a Brisbane-based start-up that monitors, measures and manages diesel particulates at underground mines. Peak 3 is working with metropolitan authorities to examine how its technology can monitor bus emissions.
OneVentures led a $15 million investment in Vaxxas, which came out of the University of Queensland. Vaxxas is developing patches that may mean there is no more need for needles to deliver vaccinations. The technology is being developed with funding by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
“At OneVentures, all of us are highly motivated to make a difference, to invest in new technologies for the greater good,” says Deaker.
The “greater good” is almost never mentioned in finance, let alone aspired to. OneVentures is unabashed in articulating such sentiments.
An end to reliance on minerals
The firm’s three partners also see themselves as pivotal in supporting current and future entrepreneurs, those that may ensure Australia doesn’t rely on digging minerals out of the ground for its economic growth and wealth.
“If Australia does not become an innovation engine that can commercialise such ventures, we’re going to become has-beens,” predicts Kelly. “Innovators and their supporters must be prepared to move fast, be agile. We embrace people who share these views and think about their technology in a global context.”
Kelly is a medical doctor with a doctorate. Trained as an endocrinologist, Kelly was on the teaching staff of Sydney’s St Vincent’s hospital in the 1990s.
In 1997 he quit this secure job to devote himself fulltime to a start-up he co-founded, Gemini Genomics. In 2000 the company raised US$100 million on the NASDAQ in an initial public offering. It was sold for US$250 million a year later and Kelly could have stopped working.
Instead he started two companies, Agamatrix, which produces consumer medical devices and now has an iPhone application. Kelly also co-founded Mears Corporation, a semi-conductor research and development company.