‘Business still experiences difficulties of access to universities. As Mr Wren-Hilton noted, one of the difficulties facing SMEs is knowing how to find out from universities and colleges what R&D is being pursued and who specialises in what innovation’.

On Monday, my Twitter feed was filled by tweets from the China Buiness Summit in Auckland. It sounded like a great event. Unfortunately the closest I got was a quick 60 minute lunch with a few delegates at….well you guessed it, lunchtime. I left that Twitter feed to do the rest.

The House of Lords in session

The House of Lords in session

As I flicked through these, I was interested in a couple of quite specific observations.

Minister Steven Joyce talked about encouraging a platform relationship to share the resources of China’s science, innovation and research system. Been there, done that. Five years ago, I signed an MOU with East China Normal University in Shanghai. The Minister was present. He also said, ” NZ has a maturing relationship with China, moved beyond what we can sell”. I then read an unrelated, but highly relevant tweet from Tenby Powell from the recent PwC – NZ gig: ‘The big challenge is developing a platform for central government, local government & business to collaborate for regional growth’. It all took me back 13 years.

In 2002, I was invited by the House of Lords Science & Technology Select Committee to provide evidence on behalf of the UK SME community. The italised excerpt at the top of this post was taken from Hansard. You can find an online version of the Hansard Report here.

At the time, I was founder and Managing Director of HB Internet. Jacqui and I had established the company back in 1995. We employed 20+ web developers and had set up an offshore development company, HBI Software, in Bangalore.

The purpose of the Select Committee was to investigate SET (Science, Engineering and Technology) and its role specifically around Science and the regions. There was quite a bit of reference to the role of RDAs (Regional Development Associations) and BusinessLink (now abolished). My specific brief was to give evidence, based on my experience, of the different challenges that the SME business community had with access to publicly-funded R&D.

Today, I am in a very privileged positon. As a co-founder of WNT Ventures, I can, through our Executive Management team, access New Zealand Universities and Crown Research Institutes to identify complex IP and potential emerging commercialisation opportunities. For SMEs however, it is a very different challenge. Assimilating just which Universities and Crown Research Institutes focus on which specific areas of research and development is anything but straightforward. It requires quite a trawl of websites and other online resources to begin to scope out the answer.

I am not sure just where the recommendations of the Select Committee ended up. I know that I proposed the build of a national portal (I think then the word was still ‘website’) which would identify different areas of publicly-funded research expertise. Providing SMEs with the ability to access this research was one part of the goal.

Much is said by politicians here of the importance of New Zealand’s SME sector to the growth of our national economy. My advice to the Lords 13 years ago is just as relevant for New Zealand’s SME sector, today. Improving our SME’s ability to connect and engage with our University and CRI research sector is a really important component in assisting the commercialisation of public sector funded research. It should be on the politicians’ agenda.