12 April 2024

Innovative hub inspires female business leaders to break down barriers

| Jen White
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Two people standing in an office.

Michael Weaver and Sheridan Gho from Cenofex Innovations in their iAccelerate office. Photo: University of Wollongong.

The number of women starting businesses through Wollongong University’s iAccelerate hub is well above national and international benchmarks.

iAccelerate, based at the Innovation Campus, provides support to startups and innovative businesses in the Illawarra, South Coast and communities across NSW.

iAccelerate’s impact report for last year shows a steady rise in the number of businesses it supports. The 69 startups and scaleups which came on board in 2023 operate across multiple sectors, including AI, edTech, energy, hardware, health and wellbeing, robotics, social enterprises and tech.

Director Dr Tamantha Stutchbury says iAccelerate continues to buck the industry norm, inspiring female founders to break down barriers, identify as entrepreneurs and invest in themselves.

“Fifty-three per cent of companies had at least one active female founder in 2023, well above the national and international average benchmark of innovation ecosystems,” she said.

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Dr Sheridan Gho is CEO and co-founder of Cenofex Innovations, a biotechnology company creating medical devices to measure and transform the management of lymphoedema, a condition where a build-up of lymph fluid in parts of the body causes swelling.

Dr Gho completed iAccelerate’s pre-accelerator Activate program last year and said iAccelerate was vital to helping her and co-founder Dr Michael Weaver solidify their business.

“We are currently focused on the development of a medical device that will transform the management of lymphoedema,” she said.

“Since joining the program, we have been able to tap into the research excellence at UOW. We have embarked on a pilot research project with the Biomechanics Research Laboratory at UOW to collect our first on-person data this year.

“It has been fantastic to move into a space that is so supportive of the entrepreneurial journey. Everyone here gets it and they are so willing to provide meaningful connections to help you grow yourself, and your business.”

Since starting in 2016, iAccelerate has supported 385 startup businesses, which have generated more than $416.5 million in total revenue and provided work for more than 320 people.

Three people standing in a walkway.

Sheridan Gho, Tamantha Stutchbury and Nathan Larkin at iAccelerate. Photo: University of Wollongong.

Dr Stutchbury said the 2023 impact report highlighted another year of outstanding results.

“The achievements go beyond the figures, with 2023 our most diverse year to date,” she said.

“With the Illawarra’s employment landscape rapidly transforming, our programs for First Nations, regional and female entrepreneurs continue to make iAccelerate a place for anyone in the community with a bright idea to come and explore their potential.”

Another iAccelerate business, Verbotics, was founded by UOW robotics researchers Nathan Larkin and Dr Andrew Short, in 2017. The business aims to revolutionise the way robots are programmed, to make robotic automation accessible for low-volume production.

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Fast-forward six years and the team has rolled out Verbotics software to clients in Australia, New Zealand, North America and Europe, secured private investment, seed investment and last year was awarded an Accelerating Commercialisation grant of $632,000.

Nathan said the company’s biggest milestone last year was selling its 50th licence.

“Twelve months later and we are close to doubling that,” he said.

Verbotics won several industry awards last year, including the Australian Technologies Competition’s Advanced Manufacturing Award and an Endeavour Award for Technology Application, putting the skills fostered at iAccelerate into action.

“iAccelerate and UOW have been the backbone for our transition from academics to founders,” Nathan said.

“The programs have provided us with so many of the skills we now have to run a business, and to take our idea from a research project to a successful product.”

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