A year on from winning the University of Auckland's Dragon's Den-style business competition, a wine industry start-up's "grenade" is already in commercial trials with a major Hawke's Bay winery.

Wine Grenade, a micro-oxygenation tool that removes the cost and complexity associated with maturing wine, won the Spark $100k Challenge in 2014 and has now been named as a finalist in the New Zealand Innovators Awards.

Winemakers can drop the device into their wine to mimic the maturation process that usually happens within oak barrels, making it cheaper and quicker to get the product to market.

It was created by five students studying the Master of Commercialisation and Entrepreneurship (MCE) degree and is quickly moving from concept to reality.

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CEO Hamish Elmslie, Jonathan Boswell, Philip Cockrell, Jorg Kampschreur and Mike Moore teamed up last year to identify possible commercial pathways for a piece of technology developed by Plant and Food Research.

"We were told that, if the technology could be used to deliver a very precise amount of gas in a very precise way, we might be able to design an application in the micro-oxygenation of wines," says Elsmlie.

During the MCE programme, the team explored market validation, technical validation, intellectual property protection and ascertained the market was big enough to justify developing a product.

"A lot of unknowns were present throughout the course, and even today, but one of the strengths of the MCE is that it gives you the tools and the confidence to dive into the marketplace and challenge some of those unknowns in order to progress the business," says Elmslie.

Wine Grenade won the 2014 Spark $100k Challenge, with the team receiving $25,000 cash and six months residency at Kiwi business incubator The Icehouse.
So what does a 'wine grenade' look like?

"I can't give too much away at the moment," Elmslie says. "But we've developed a prototype and we're undertaking our first set of commercial product trials. We've given it to a world-renowned Hawke's Bay wine maker who is currently using it to treat 11,000 litres of merlot and 11,000 litres of pinot noir. Initial results look pretty promising."
When the first 10-week trial is complete, the results will be used to develop further trials in Bordeaux in France, and California in the US.

Wine Grenade is among more than 110 start-up ventures the Spark programme has helped launch since it began in 2003, including wireless power technology firm PowerbyProxi, online retailer Fishpond and human body analysis company I Measure U.

In total, these ventures have attracted $200 million in investment, created more than 400 jobs and are selling products and services in more than 35 countries.

The University of Auckland was identified as one of the world's top five "emerging leaders in entrepreneurship" by the MIT Skoltech Initiative, a two-year study to find the world's best university-based entrepreneurial ecosystems outside the innovation hubs of MIT, Stanford and Cambridge.

The report said the Spark programme was "the beating heart of entrepreneurship at the university", and labelled the university as an emerging international centre of excellence in innovation.

The competition is open to the university's staff and students, and Spark CEO Angad Nayyar says this year's contestants are among the strongest the competition has even seen.

"It's one of the most exciting rounds we've ever had - the quality is very, very good," he said.

This year's 15 finalists include a medical device to help kids with breathing problems, technology to earthquake-proof buildings, protein-rich flour made from crickets, a device to prevent surfer's ear and a water leak detection system for farmers.

Like Wine Grenade, this year's winner will receive $25,000 cash and six months incubation at The Icehouse. The winner will be announced in a grand final ceremony at the University of Auckland on Thursday October 22.