PPB Technology – from beginnings to business

Story by Dr Stephen Trowell.


PPB Technology began developing as an idea when, in the last decade of my thirty year career with the CSIRO, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to lead the team that established and developed a new diagnostic technology, CYBERNOSE®. At its birth, this technology was developed to sniff out security threats. But, from the very beginning, my colleagues and I were also thinking about how the technology could be modified to address unmet diagnostic needs in the food and health sectors.

As we worked on the necessary modifications, creating CYBERTONGUE® for food diagnostics, we were guided by conversations with technical experts working in food and dairy processing companies. These conversations helped us tailor solutions to meet important industry needs. But they also convinced me that, for the technology ever to become a commercial reality, there would need to be a company dedicated to developing, manufacturing and marketing CYBERTONGUE®. We couldn’t find an existing company that could or would take on this job.

Once before in my scientific career, I’d felt the deep satisfaction that comes from taking an idea to a commercial conclusion and I’d also been intensely frustrated when we had been blocked from doing that on other projects. As the oldest, most financially secure and motivated of my team, I felt it was up to me to establish the CYBERTONGUE® company.

So it was that, in 2018, I retired from the CSIRO, founded PPB Technology and licensed the patents and trademarks from the CSIRO. In 2019, I secured an ICON seed grant from the ACT government and rented an office in the CEAT Innovation Hub, which has been the perfect environment for PPB Tech. Also that year, together with former colleagues and a member of my board, we made it onto the ONAccelerate 5 program. PPB Tech won some innovation prizes, which helped to fund us, including a fantastic scholarship from the Stanford Australia Association to undertake the Executive Program for Growing Companies at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business.

What had been more difficult was raising the substantial capital needed to turn our lab prototype into a commercial product. Things started to change when PPB Tech was accepted onto the Griffin Accelerator in September 2020. With a grant followed by our first investment I was able to recruit a former colleague, Dr Felix Weihs, to lead PPB Technology’s science and operations. And, as a direct result of that initial investment and the connections it brought, we secured seed angel investment of over half a million dollars.

Our highest priority is delivering an on-site test that our customers can do themselves. The time frame for this is about twelve months. In the interim, we’re doing off-site tests for large dairy processing customers. I need hardly add that everything is more difficult and slower due to the COVID-19 outbreaks in Eastern Australia, but we are not alone in facing that problem.

Our survival and growth has only been possible because of the support and contributions of a very large number of people and organisations. There are too many to list here, but all have our deepest thanks.

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