Dr Nick Cutmore and MRead
Dr Nick Cutmore is one of our CSIRO Alumni members and is the Executive Director and Chief Technology Officer of MRead.
- MRead is on a mission to eliminate the threat of landmines through building new detection capabilities for humanitarian demining.
- Technologies that can speed up mine clearance operations have the potential to make a significant impact on global humanitarian de-mining efforts to safeguard war-ravaged communities and support their economic recovery.
- Magnetic Resonance detection has been identified as a hugely beneficial technology to improve landmine detection, however technical barriers have stopped its use. Over decades CSIRO has overcome many of these technical hurdles and has now launched MRead.
- We spoke to Nick about his career journey, forming successful spinoff companies and his passion for translating lab technology into successful, high-impact commercial products.
Technical beginnings gave insights into big picture solutions
Nick joined CSIRO in 1983 as a Research Scientist developing technology for online analysis in the minerals and energy industries. Nick remembers it was a fantastic team of people to work with, including his mentors John Watt and Brian Sowerby.
“The team were renowned for getting technology commercialised and into industry, and we were fortunate enough to be recognised for that with the 1992 Australia Prize. It was an exciting time where we worked closely with industry and helped grow two Australian SMEs into much larger companies through technology commercialisation.”
Nick became a Program Manager in 2001 and remained in that role (under many different titles) for 20 years. His work broadened from mineral processing and mining technologies to also include developments supporting border security.
Nick proudly remembers: “I led a diverse team of scientists and engineers that could deliver on impossible deadlines, create world leading new technologies and work closely with industry partners to create commercial products.”
Navigating the pathway to commercialisation
Nick has always been excited in getting new technology into the hands of industry, and the complex and difficult processes of technology commercialisation.
“The ‘valley of death’ we navigate to translate lab technology into successful commercial products is very real in Australia. Looking for better ways of doing this led us into new territory with the formation of spinoff companies, Chrysos Corporation, NextOre Limited and MRead Limited during 2016-2023. RFC Ambrian worked with CSIRO as a lead investor to found these companies, secured private investment and guided their growth, with significant investment returns back to CSIRO.”
Nick supported Chrysos’ founding team and helped establish its initial manufacturing partnerships. He was immensely pleased to see the company listed on the ASX in 2022 and to be part of the team who received the 2022 Prime Ministers Prize for Innovation.
Nick guided the founding of NextOre in 2017 and he still serves on the Board. He has seen its significant growth supported by CSIRO R&D contracted developments.
In 2023 Nick left CSIRO to join the founding team of MRead as CTO and Executive Director. But he is still very much in contact with his former colleagues at CSIRO.
“I have not only stayed in contact with my old team at CSIRO, but sometimes occupy a hot desk in their facility at Lucas Heights! MRead is contracting current product developments to CSIRO and I’m fortunate to maintain close contact with the technical teams involved. Working with highly talented young scientists is a great motivator for a new spinoff company like MRead.”
Nick reflects on the importance of collaboration.
“In the Australian landscape, CSIRO is unique in having such a breadth of capability in one organisation, and linking into that can create incredible cross-disciplinary science. It’s always a challenge to bring busy scientists together to collaborate effectively, but CSIRO is getting better at creating the networks that enable that to not only occur but be sustained. As an alumnus, I hope to be working with CSIRO teams for many years to come and encourage further technology spinouts from my colleagues at CSIRO.”
The technology behind MRead and its life-saving potential
MRead is commercialising the brilliant magnetic resonance (MR) technology from CSIRO for detecting explosive compounds and drugs.
MRead launched in March 2023, and is currently a small management and science team. Its first product is a hand-held device, similar to a metal detector, for the direct detection of landmines which will be used in humanitarian demining. The product will be trialled at The HALO Trust operations in Cambodia in 2024.
The MR technology, like PhotonAssay technology used in Chrysos, was developed by CSIRO over more than 15 years with CSIRO and industry investment. It is the same technology being used by CSIRO company, NextOre, for bulk mineral ore sorting. MRead uses radio frequency sensors to excite the resonances in nitrogen nuclei and provide a ‘fingerprint’ response that uniquely identifies a compound. This allows explosives to be identified at a distance, for example, landmines buried in soil, or IEDs in a box.
Current landmine clearance is hindered by relying on metal detection that can be confused by metal trash in the soil, resulting in hundreds or even thousands of excavations for the detection of one landmine. With direct detection of explosives using MRead technology, we can massively speed up the clearance process. With more than 100 million landmines in more than 60 countries, and approximately 7,000 fatalities per year, improving current methods is a humanitarian necessity.
Nick explained why he is passionate about working for MRead:
“MRead could deliver game-changing technology in humanitarian demining, and potentially deliver a better outcome for millions of people impacted by the remnants of war. How can we not be excited by that possibility? That’s why I left CSIRO, to help found this company.
We are partnered with a global humanitarian deminer, The HALO Trust, and working with their country teams, mostly trained local villagers, inspires us every single day.”
Nick would like to encourage alumni to get in touch, too.
“MRead is less than a year old, and like most spinouts will go through future capital raisings to fund the staged development and deployment of our technology. If you are interested in joining us in future raisings, then drop us a note!”
Nick’s tips on making the jump from research to spinout
“We scientists get so deeply involved in our technology that it’s sometimes hard to believe that the market wouldn’t immediately want to actually adopt it. But you need to deeply engage with your potential customers to ensure you actually have a market before launching your spinout.
“Having a great team is key to a success in a spinout, and that team needs to include world class scientists and people with deep commercial nous.
“Spinouts often underestimate the cost and time to take innovative technology to commercial products. Having sufficient funding for a runway to key development milestones is essential if you want to avoid the ‘valley of death’”.