In 2022, the export value of wine traded by New Zealand within the international market stood at around 1.9 billion New Zealand dollars. Like all industries, there are areas where efficiencies can be made, particularly for the winemakers. This is where new Kiwi start-up eNZyma (formerly Enzyme Biosensors) enters the chat.
Meet the founders Associate Professor Wayne Patrick, Dr Lee Tejada and Dr Matthew Nicholson. They are one of the start-ups taking part in our three-month Sprout 2023 Accelerator in the Cohort X intake.
eNZyma takes the power of enzymes and turns it into a handy on-the-go test for winemakers to test for nitrogen levels in wine. Wayne is an enzymologist from Victoria University and provides a tremendous driving force for the team. Lee brings technical capability with an equal dosing of tenacity and optimism. Matthew is Senior Commercialisation Manager at Wellington UniVentures – the University’s technology transfer office and he rounds out the expertise of the team with his commercial expertise.
The original genesis, like many great ideas, came over a glass of wine. Wayne was discussing with a winemaker friend about the challenges in the wine industry.
“They said they really need to be able to test for nitrogen compounds, it being a key decision for them in the winemaking process and current methods of testing are time-consuming and expensive,” said Matthew.
Wayne hatched the idea of creating a product based on the use of enzymes. Enzymes are specific for a particular compound, when they find that compound they’ll change it in some way, for example, leading to a colour change.
“This really is a stepping stone into much bigger things and other opportunities through this science,” said Matthew.
“Our big aspiration is to have multiple products that help winemakers, growers, and more to give them the power and control over what's happening on their property. What we’ve created here for the winemakers is a tool that they can use to get results immediately so they can make decisions on the spot. We see this as a stepping stone into the larger food and beverage industries,” said Lee.
The biggest initial challenge was finding the right enzymes to work with. Not all enzymes work in wine samples due to acidity and they have to be stable enough to create the final product, in this case, a tablet.
With a prototype in hand the productisation phase is next, but taking that leap has been their most challenging step yet.
“I think we got stuck in the cycle of refinement for a while. We knew from our research that it was something winemakers wanted and field testing showed it has potential to be commercialised, so it’s just taking that next step,” said Lee.
“While you don’t want to launch a product to market too soon, there comes a point you just have to do it. Refinement and tweaks can always follow,” said Matthew.
The team's next steps in taking the business forward are raising funds and putting their product out in the market.
Reflecting on their journey so far, the team said there are some things they would have done differently if they had to start over.
“Not being so obsessive over the designs for prototypes would have meant we would be further along in the process than we are now. If the customers want it, just do it. At the end of the day they are the ones using the product, not us, which is why we’ve taken a lot of direction and feedback from winemakers in our journey,” said Lee.
When discussing feelings of doubt or fear in their journey, Matthew had the perfect analogy that helps drive them.
“Think of mountain bikers in the forest. If they only look at the trees, they’re going to the tree. You have to see and look for the path through the trees. There will always be doubts, everyone has them, this is a high-risk business being an entrepreneur, but the doubts will stop you if you let them. You have to focus on finding the path.”