Analysis and Commentary

Matching magnets with a market

Analysis and Commentary

A scientific breakthrough is a long way from being a product, as people trying for the first time to commercialise a program of research quickly find out. 

“Any investor who works with an early-stage deep tech university… spinout will tell you the same thing,” shares Dr Richard Parsons, CEO and founder of Kite Magnetics, shares. 

“Every academic comes to them first and foremost and says ‘I’ve got 1,001 applications for this, it’s a brilliant, magic material.’ And they will say ‘That’s fantastic, but we only need one.’”

He credits the CSIRO On Prime pre-accelerator program – which returned this year after ceasing in 2020 – with encouraging him to into the necessary but unfamiliar task of talking to as many potential customers as possible.

Parsons – who we spoke to recently about his company’s recent $1.85 million seed round – left his lecturer/researcher job at Monash University this year to run Kite, which is developing propulsion systems for electric aircraft based on novel nanocrystalline magnetic core materials.

The founder believes that retaining a diversity of companies in and around manufacturing is important to enabling the next generation of high-tech hardware startups.

“If we didn’t have that, or if that capability was to shrink, we wouldn’t be able to move as quickly as we can,” he says.

“And that’s when it becomes very difficult to compete with some of the international [rivals,] especially those in Asia who do have all this stuff on their doorstep.”  

It’s one example of the importance of maintaining and improving on the economic complexity of the nation, currently at the bottom of OECD. Success breeds success, and there are countless tales of locally-born companies and founders that found their success overseas because the enablers didn’t exist at home.

In this episode of @AuManufacturing Conversations with Brent Balinski, Parsons shares his path from materials engineering researcher to early-stage startup, why he chose the aviation industry, preparing to showcase their first product at the upcoming Avalon Air Show in March, and more.

Episode guide

0:26 – Introduction to Parsons and to Kite, which is building smaller, lighter and more efficient electric propulsion systems for planes.

1: 54 – An engineering family, what drew him to materials science and engineering, and how atmospheric science played a role.

4:43 – What is Aeroperm, what does it do?

5:12 – A description of how it’s made. “A bit like cooking.”

7:30 – Scaling up production from grams, interest from industry, the commercialisation process, and why licencing didn’t make sense.

10:56 – Meeting venture capitalists for the first time, why it didn’t go very well, seeking advice on entrepreneurship, going through CSIRO’s On Prime program, and isolating the use cases that were most likely to lead to commercial success.

12:50 – The mismatch between investors and first-time researcher-entrepreneurs.

13:20 – Why the automotive and drone industries were bad matches, but commercial aviation was the sweet spot.

15:50 – The climate change impact of the aviation industry.

16:43 – The first product they will be making and selling (and to whom.)

17:47 – Showcasing their first product at Avalon Air Show – a full-size electric motor for two-seater training aircraft, plus 2023 milestones.

19:04 – How Parsons expects electric aircraft to progress as an industry over the next few years.

21:55 – Total system efficiency is important when talking about the different options.

24:30 – The manufacturing question.

25:55 – final words.

Further reading




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