There is a startup incubator in inner city Sydney that’s been operating for 17 years — but its activities are so secret most of the ventures that are working there cannot be publicly revealed.
Cicada Innovations, in Australian Technology Park, was established in 2000 to provide long-term support for “deep technology” entrepreneurs. Most of the work that the facility supports has such sensitive intellectual property requirements that even the residents do not even know what each other are doing.
“We are completely industry-agnostic. But what all of our incubatees do have in common is that they are working on technology that can’t easily be replicated – it’s not something you can just whip up in your kitchen at home, or build in your garage,” said Cicada chief executive Petra Andrén.
“Some 70% of the people working at Cicada hold PhDs – we are really one big bunch of super nerds.”
The incubator was originally co-founded by University of Technology Sydney, University of Sydney, UNSW and Australian National University – with the startups able to access specialised equipment from the universities.
The complex high-tech ideas that Cicada incubates require a lot more time to develop than the typical mobile app.
“[Startups] can stay with us for 5, 6 or even 8 years — compared to the year or so many startups stay in accelerators,” Andrén said.
There are currently more than 70 startups under Cicada’s roof, with many unable to reveal their end goals publicly. But here are four that are now willing to show the world what they have to offer.
Marathon Targets is a robotics startup that provides moving robots for soldiers to shoot at. Cicada says that such live-fire training is much more effective than traditional systems with fixed, pop-up and rail-mounted targets. The robots collectively can even simulate enemy manoeuvres that test a soldier’s responsiveness to changing situations.
Cicada chief executive Petra Andrén says that Trimph is “developing glue-like polymers that can stick various parts of the human body – bones, nerves, eyeballs – back together again”. The startup’s technology can mend broken bones and has future potential to regenerate nerves.
The company says that at room temperature Trimph, also the name of the product, is in liquid form and can be injected to target areas. When the substance gets to body temperature, it turns into an elastic gel. The material is then slowly absorbed and broken down by the body.
This startup is aiming to use software to solve a very hardware problem. Radiotherapy machines, used commonly to treat cancer patients, consist of complicated gear taking up a lot of space, so that its effects can be applied to the patient’s body at any angle. Nano-X is developing software that will allow the patient’s body to effectively rotate inside the machine to reduce the size and cost of the equipment.
This technological advance could mean cancer therapy can move out of large hospitals to smaller clinics and require less money, labour and maintenance to operate.
Calumino is an internet of things specialist that uses biothermal heat imaging sensors to monitor people for situations like security, fire detection and smart building monitoring. The startup says this technology can be used to “reduce electricity costs in corporate buildings, increase security and safety, and provide useful occupancy data”.