A Murdoch University sustainable agriculture researcher and entrepreneur has won the inaugural Woodside STEM excellence award at the 40Under40 ceremony.
Dr Sofie De Meyer was presented with the prestigious WA Business News award last night for transforming her academic research into a commercial business, MALDI-ID, in just three years. She was also named as one of the 40under40 winners.
The technology developed for Dr De Meyer’s business helps farmers improve legume crops and decrease fertiliser use, making farming more profitable and sustainable.
“Our products empower farmers to make their farming more sustainable and efficient, and this is what I’m most proud of,” Dr De Meyer said.
“My success is underpinned by my attitude of never giving up, which gave me the willingness to ‘swim against the stream’ of academia and commercialise my research.”
Minimising fertiliser use
The technology developed by Dr De Meyer rapidly identifies bacteria that fix nitrogen living in legumes, as well as other bacteria, fungi, yeasts and even insects. This helps farmers to buy the right inoculants at the right time for their legumes, improving their yields while maximising natural nitrogen fixation in the soil, helping to minimise the use of environmentally-damaging fertilisers.
Growing from a research concept in 2014/15, Dr De Meyer has worked tirelessly to refine and improve the bacterial identification technology and develop her business skills.
Her flagship product RHIZO-ID has four major distributors in agriculture nationwide and she is now preparing to launch the product to the international soybean farming industry. Related products will further develop the business into new markets such as food safety, brewing, biosecurity and eventually medical applications.
The road to success hasn’t always been easy for Belgium-born Dr De Meyer. She has faced challenges as a female in a male dominated industry. In 2018, she was spurred to investigate other markets after the national drought severely impacted the Australian farming industry.
“The investigations led to the development of two different products, reducing our reliance on a single market and making MALDI-ID more robust,” she said. “The products will rapidly identify types of bacteria in clinical diagnostics, environmental samples and food.
Taking my work into the real world has demanded persistence in the face of a number of challenges. To achieve things and make a difference you need to continually strive for better.
As the winner of the Woodside STEM Excellence Award, Dr De Meyer will receive mentoring for her business from a member of the Woodside leadership team.
The award is the latest in a string of accolades for Dr De Meyer. She has also won a Young Tall Poppy Award, a Science and Innovation Award for Young People in Agriculture and she has been a finalist in the WA Innovator of the Year awards.Murdoch University alumni Renee Wingfield also received a 40under40 award. As the founder and director of the Fliptease company, she has been able make, perform, direct and design many spectacle-based performances, including circus and cabaret.