Ritchie Technology showcases power of university-industry collaboration

Empowering regional business leaders is a key focus of La Trobe University, with the ultimate goal to foster university-industry collaboration in regional Victoria.

One way La Trobe University, in partnership with the Australian National University and the Fraunhofer Institute for Experimental Software Engineering, champions sustained organisational leadership and change is through initiatives like Triggering Innovation Leadership Transformation (TILT) i5.0+.

Part of a program of works funded by the Australian Government’s Strategic University Reform Fund (SURF), TILT i5.0+ aims to provide practical support to tilt regional manufacturers towards a system of personal and organisational growth. It is a peer-to-peer, action-learning growth program centred around innovation and increasing i5.0+ capability.

This year City of Greater Bendigo participants, drawn from a pool of local leaders and companies, were selected upon certain criteria including a desire to challenge themselves and fellow peers, openness to learn and preparedness to scale their business.

Victorian start-up company, Ritchie Technology (Rtec) ticked all the boxes and entered the program.

Rtec’s mission is to eliminate plastic pollution through innovative and cost-effective plastic recycling. The limitations of traditional mechanical recycling were seen as an opportunity, rather than roadblock, for Rtec – and led to the development of Rtec Melter technology.

With this new solution, everyday farm plastics including baling twine and fertiliser bags, that would otherwise have been sent to landfill or even burned, can be melted down and transformed into products such as park benches, fence posts and shipping pallets.

Rtec Founder, Managing Director and Principal Innovator, Dr William Ritchie, a graduate of our 2019-2020 La Trobe Accelerator Program, wanted to explore the next steps for Rtec.

He maintains “the Accelerator Program was highly beneficial for where we were at that stage” but TILT focusses on the next level of business and is more like an advancement program.

“Given the benefit that I got out of the Accelerator Program… (enrolling) was a no brainer."

He shared the benefits of the program format, specifically the emphasis placed on analysing current operations and strategy, in order to understand future potential.

“So, just breaking (the business) down into simple elements and reconstructing it,” said Dr Ritchie.

TILT i5.0+ – specifically the SURF-funded program – aims to foster industry-university research collaboration, focused on research and development. A perfect fit for Rtec.

Rtec is an Industry Partner collaborator with La Trobe University, having received a $145,000 Circular Economy Markets Fund grant from the Victorian Government through Sustainability Victoria. Notification of the grant’s success was timely, coming midway through Dr Ritchie’s participation in the TILT i5.0+ program.

The grant and partnership with La Trobe have enabled Rtec to dig deeper into key elements of the recycling process for the agricultural sector. For example, the University’s research capabilities allow the business to focus in on what materials can be used, and how many times plastic can be broken down. Deputy Head of the Engineering at La Trobe, Professor Dr Ing Kong is working closely with Rtec to study which materials can be recycled safely.

Reflecting on his business’ relationship with La Trobe, Dr Ritchie was emphatic that its support guided Rtec through those unknown early-stage business ideas.

“I got in touch with La Trobe, that is where I went to university. So, I know how the university system works and the capabilities they have. I just asked them for help (saying) ‘we have a potential research and development thing here, we need to turn it into a business’."

“(Since then) it's gone from strength to strength.”

On top of the expertise and guidance of TILT i5.0+ program facilitators, Dr Ritchie also found being surrounded by other business leaders from his local area valuable.

“I received access to these people who had already done a lot of what I have to do. Their insights, their take on everything was highly valuable. It was a great little group.”

TILT i5.0+ enabled Dr Ritchie to explore his company’s capabilities, enhance his business mindset and learn from other business leaders.

“It is definitely worthwhile, at any stage (of business). It addresses one of the fundamental deficits in Australia particularly, which is the interaction of research institutions and that capacity with business.

“That was one of the key takeaways for (my business) – here is an opportunity to really prototype a relationship between industry and research… You’ve got an industry finding, how do you get it into commercialisation and out to the public?” said Dr Ritchie.

To learn more about La Trobe University industry initiatives based in regional Victoria, contact Business Development and Commercialisation Manager, Andrew Quek at a.quek@latrobe.edu.au or call 03 54 44 75 64.

For general industry partnership enquiries, connect with the La Trobe University Industry Engagement team at industry.engagement@latrobe.edu.au