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Breathing life into biotech

In the latest in BlueNotes' series on the Passion and Science of Giving, The Verde Foundation director Jefferson Harcourt, also the founder of Grey Innovation, explains to BlueNotes senior production editor Shane White what Verde is about, what the group hopes to change and how the venture fits into the emerging entrepreneurial philanthropy realm.

Verde is an Australian-based promotional charity co-founded by Grey Innovation and Terra Rossa Capital in 2014.The group aims to fund significant biotech projects that otherwise would miss out.

"Many potentially life-saving innovations often become trapped in what we call the ‘valley of death’."
Jefferson Harcourt, Verde Foundation director

White: Jefferson, thanks for joining us. Can you tell us a bit about the Verde Foundation, its purpose and its aims?

Harcourt: At Verde we hope to identify revolutionary, transformational emerging products andtechnologies.

The foundation focuses on device-related technologies with the potential to become gamechangers in the healthcare market but are too early in their development to engage productively with private investors or industry.

The foundation brings scientific innovators together with philanthropic funding and experienced product developers who can quickly move revolutionary, and in some cases life-saving, advances to the market where they can deliver the full range of their potential benefits to Australia and to society in general.

Implicit in our mission is a strong alignment with Australia's not for profit research organisations to assist them in delivering their mandated benefits to society.

White: Why do you believe this kind of thing is so important?

Harcourt: Many potentially life-saving innovations often become trapped in what we call the 'valley of death' - the funding void between the later stages of research. It's before the point investors perceive risk to be low enough and return high enough to propel such innovations to the market.

The foundation has been created to bridge that gap by assisting with development, from laboratory validation through to successful proof of concept and validation of clinical application.

White: Can you explain more about the funding for the organisation?

Harcourt: All of our funding comes from donors whose gifts are designated specifically for us. We focus on donations, grants and community-business support. The model has been created to allow strategic support to be provided from multiple sectors comprising individuals, philanthropic trusts and foundations, individual families, government departments and businesses.

Our strategy is managed via the Verde Foundation's Board and is an ongoing exercise which allows for constant evaluation and continual adjustment to support the Foundation's ongoing funding goals.

White: Governance is always particularly important in philanthropic ventures. Can you tell us more about the board?

Harcourt: The board is comprised of experienced and passionate professionals who have all donated their time and efforts to serve the mission and aims of the foundation. They have, between them, amassed decades of experience in business, the not for profit and philanthropic sectors.

The board includes key people from leading medical device development companies in Australia, they've come together to help build a better way for new technology to get to the people who need it.

White: Who does the due diligence on any innovations seen as potentially worth supporting?

Harcourt: All applications for funding are taken through a rigorous assessment process. The main criteria by which technologies are assessed include what and where is the societal need for this technology, what is the issue being addressed, what is the science/research behind it, that kind of thing.

White: How is what Verde does different from other philanthropic efforts in the sector?

Harcourt: There is very limited philanthropy dedicated to this phase of the development cycle for medical devices. Proposals funded by the other foundations are predominantly research projects assessed by peer scientists in the framework of a traditional grant application process. These projects are conducted by investigators in the earliest stages of the innovation cycle.

Innovations targeted by Verde will have progressed further along the development cycle and will already show promise of commercial applications and significant, tangible societal impact. The foundation will actively encourage bringing researchers, engineers and product developers together.

White: Are there models around for what Verde is doing as a not-for-profit in Australia, creating a program like this?

Harcourt: No. To our knowledge the foundation is the first to focus solely on translating scientific innovation into economic, health and societal improvement in this manner.

White: What kind of experience does Verde have in the innovation and product development sector?

Harcourt: The foundation's board, as well as its experts and advisers, includes years of experience in health, medical device development, investment, translational science and regulatory affairs.

Verde builds on the combined resources of Terra Rossa Capital, Grey Innovation, Planet Innovation, Hydrix and others who have invested in early stage technologies and many years' experience in growing innovative business. Together, the parties contributing to the establishment of the foundation have commercialised over 500 products and helped to establish over 100 companies.

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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