Kiwi fusion scientists get $10m to solve global energy question

From the Outset: Daisy Lab by Melissa Grey from DMG Digital Advertising

OpenStar Technologies’ seed investors, led by Outset Ventures, have compared its potential with Rocket Lab.

The following includes excerpts from Will Mace (NBR)

 OpenStar Technologies has emerged from stealth mode after closing a US$6.2 million ($10m) seed round led by Outset Ventures and supported by Icehouse Ventures, Blackbird, Radar, Ngāi Tahu Holdings, K1W1, and Aspire.

Now OpenStar has let the sun shine on its venture, releasing a statement today explaining its not-insignificant mission of harnessing fusion to revolutionise global energy supplies, as led by co-founder and CEO Dr Ratu Mataira – a Robinson Research Institute alumni.

The startup had “quietly” opened the doors at its Ngauranga facility a year ago, and has since recruited 28 “hyper-specialised” staff to build “one of the boldest engineering prototypes New Zealand has seen,” it said today.

By the end of this year, it aims to have used its prototype technology to surpass other researchers “with half the money, in a fifth of the time”.

Outset Ventures partner Angus Blair has called OpenStar “undoubtedly the most ambitious startup to come out of New Zealand”, while Icehouse Ventures’ Robbie Paul put the company in the same world-beating category as Rocket Lab, in terms of commercialising an area typically dominated by governments.

Con-fusion?

Fusion involves the merging of light atomic nuclei – such as the isotopes of hydrogen – to make new, heavier elements and thereby produce the kind of energy we see emerging from the sun and other stars.

Fusion has been a key field of research for years, to help humanity unlock an efficient and effective energy source, and while New Zealand scientists and the Robinson Research Institute have played a huge part over the years, Mataira’s particular approach is giving fresh hope of a breakthrough.

OpenStar’s point of difference to other fusion companies is in the design of its reactor.

Capital intensive

According to the Fusion Industry Association, there are 35 publicly active, privately funded fusion energy companies around the world, OpenStar noted. The ‘leader’ – Commonwealth Fusion Systems – has raised more than US$2 billion, and there are six others that have attracted more than US$200m, the company said.

In an information document alongside today’s announcement, under the heading Impact to New Zealand, OpenStar noted that its strategy was “highly likely to retire risk far quicker and far cheaper than our competitors.

“That being said, in a New Zealand context, the capital intensity of this business is unprecedented in the private sector.

“OpenStar’s seed round was roughly US$6.2m, which is being deployed on an 18-month timeline.

“Looking ahead towards the Series A capital raise and beyond, OpenStar will be deploying hundreds of millions, or possibly billions of dollars of capital throughout this decade. It is OpenStar’s expectation that it will become an international business at some stage on this timescale.

“While many look at the success of Rocket Lab as being the beginning of an NZ space industry, it is actually a wider effect, of which OpenStar is another leap. The New Zealand tech ecosystem is maturing!”

Mataira credited his whakapapa with his single-minded quest for OpenStar. His grandmother, Dame Kāterina Mataira, received her knighthood for her efforts to save te reo Māori from extinction.

“If she could do that, what is the measure of what you can do in a single life? For our generation – for my life – that challenge is climate change and the future of human prosperity,” said Mataira.

“Fusion itself is only a technical solution, but these problems are more than technical. Saving te reo Māori wasn’t done via an app, AI, or government intervention – it was done by people coming together with a sense of responsibility, courage, and hope to protect what was most important to them. That’s OpenStar, and that’s me.”

07 August 2023

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What inspired the creation of Daisy Lab?

“Daisy Lab is probably a product of frustration rather than inspiration. Both Nikki and I (Irina) were frustrated with the status quo in the dairy industry and saw precision fermentation as a better solution.”

What is precision fermentation?

“Precision fermentation involves giving microbes extra genetic instructions to produce desired compounds, such as dairy-identical proteins, in controlled conditions.”

What is Daisy Lab's main focus?

“Our focus is on making dairy-identical proteins without cows using microbes through precision fermentation.”

What were the initial challenges Daisy Lab faced?

“Early on, we faced challenges like securing contracts with universities, finding suitable students, and deciding on the best organisms for our research.”

What backgrounds do the founders of Daisy Lab come from?

“My background is in business consulting and bioinformatics, which, combined with Nikki’s qualifications and expertise in Molecular biology, Microbiology, Nanopore and Illumina sequencing – brings a diverse skill set to Daisy Lab.”

 

What makes developing dairy-identical proteins using microbes challenging?

“The challenges include selecting the right microbes, ensuring the genetic instructions are correctly incorporated, and overcoming protein processing limitations.”

How does Daisy Lab's technology compare to other alternatives in the market?

“While direct comparisons are challenging, we’ve made significant progress in scaling yields and developing a clean fermentation process that simplifies downstream processing.”

How does Daisy Lab ensure product quality and consistency?

“We replicate the same processes to ensure consistency, with our end-to-end processing showing consistent results.”

What is Daisy Lab's strategy for market integration?

“Our strategy involves education, collaboration, and showcasing our products’ environmental and ethical benefits to appeal to consumers and partners.”

How does Daisy Lab plan to scale up and expand its market reach?

“Scaling up is challenging, but we plan to leverage our novel qualities, such as reduced emissions and ethical production, to engage the market effectively.”

What is the anticipated timeline for Daisy Lab's market entry?

“We anticipate market entry through IP partnerships within 18 to 24 months, depending on our development progress and the establishment of a pilot plant.”

How has Outset Ventures supported Daisy Lab?

“Outset Ventures has been instrumental, especially in facilitating the expansion of our lab space, which significantly accelerated our R&D efforts.”

What makes Daisy Lab an attractive investment opportunity?

“Daisy Lab offers solid technology, a proven track record, capital efficiency, and significant market potential in sustainable food production.”

What are Daisy Lab's short-term and long-term objectives?

“In the short term, we’re focusing on product development and fundraising. Long-term, we aim to scale our technology for broader market distribution.”

How does Daisy Lab maintain a competitive edge?

“We maintain our edge by continuously innovating, focusing on capital efficiency, and quickly adapting to market and technological advancements.”

What has been the most rewarding experience for you at Daisy Lab?

“Reflecting on our journey and realizing the significant impact we’ve managed to achieve has been incredibly rewarding for me personally.”

What advice would you offer to aspiring entrepreneurs in tech or sustainability?

“My advice is to pursue your passion for the end goal. This passion will guide you through challenges and help you exceed expectations.”