Diagnostic tool for infectious and chronic disease detection wins Velocity challenge

A record number of 87 entries from students, staff and alumni were received for the Dragon's Den-style competition

A diagnostic tool that allows low-cost, on-the-spot detection of DNA signatures of infectious and chronic diseases has won the top prize at Auckland University's annual student-run Velocity $100k challenge.

The new technology, Spot Check, is being developed by a team of the university's scientists and business specialists - Nihan Aydemir, Eddie Chan, Associate Professor David Barker, Associate Professor David Barker, Professor David Williams, and Jennifer Barnes.

This year a record number of 87 entries from students, staff and alumni were received for the Dragon's Den-style competition, now in its 14th year. It is run by students in partnership with the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, based at the university of Auckland Business School.

The winning team developed a novel, portable method for molecular diagnostics – a step towards personalised medicine by using techniques to analyse biological markers that can help diagnose and monitor disease and what therapies will work best for individual patients.

Using a new production method, Spot Check will develop DNA sensors that can produce fairly instant results via a hand-held reader. Most existing DNA diagnostic techniques still require samples to be sent to specialised labs for analysis, which delays treatment.

The technology can also be used to detect steroid hormones and even test for bacteria such as E-Coli in water.

The winner's received $25,000 in seed capital and access to the Potential Programme, a new mentoring and support programme hosted at Auckland business growth hub, The Icehouse.

Runner-up was Cat-Trax, a cloud-based online application that could reduce waiting times for cataract surgery by providing a single pathway for the referral and management of patients. The existing system typically involves 20 to 30 pages of handwritten notes and forms per patient. By the age of 70, most people have some degree of visual impairment from cataracts and more than $120 million is spent annually on cataract surgery in New Zealand.

The new ventures category was won by Recovr, a new compression bandage with embedded cooling elements for use in soft tissue injuries such as joint strains, which could save athletes and sports players 20% in recovery time.

A venture with a sustainable solution to the worldwide problem of growing volumes of organic waste in landfills took out the social innovation category. Hexacycle uses farm larvae to process organic waste into three by-products – protein, oil, and frass, that can be supplied to the poultry and aquaculture industries as a nutrient-rich and lower cost feed. The team is seeking seed investment to set up an Auckland facility to scale up the technology for global use.

The university research category was won by Boon, a venture developing self-driving mobile robots to scare birds, weed between the rows, and estimate fruit yields, in vineyards and cherry orchards.

The six students involved in Boon have been adapting robots developed under the multi-purpose orchard robotics project collaboration to automate the harvesting and pollination of kiwifruit and apples. They've added fruit sensing and mechanism control technologies to the self-driving robots and plan to target winegrowers in Australasia, North America and Europe after sorting out IP issues for the robots.

Last year's supreme winner, Tectonus, has secured government research and development funding to further develop its earthquake-proofing technology for buildings and formed an implementation partnership with Kiwi engineering firm, Beca.