When Callaghan Innovation invited responses to its Business Incubator (2014-2017) Expression of Interest (EOI) last December, my mind went back 11 years.

‘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’.

Source: The House of Lords Science and Technology Committee – Fifth Report. It was published in July 2003.

University of Waikato - a great research resource

University of Waikato – a great research resource

I had been invited by the Select Committee to provide evidence on behalf of the UK SME community. At the time, I was founder and Managing Director of HB Internet. I had established the company in 1995 and we were based in London. We employed approximately 20 web developers and had set up an offshore company, HBI Software, in Bangalore in 2001.

The purpose of the Select Committee was to investigate SET (Science, Engineering and Technology) and its role specifically around Science and the regions. My specific brief was to give evidence, based on my experience, of the different issues that the SME business community had with access to publicly-funded research.

Eleven years on and I recognised that a number of the issues I had addressed back in 2003 were pertinent in New Zealand today. They remain so. It was one of the reasons Wharf42 responded to Callaghan Innovation’s EOI last December.

Since then of course, things have moved rapidly. We formed a formal collaboration with the TiDA and Newnham Park Innovation hubs in the Bay of Plenty and WNT Ventures was formed. In July, Minister Steven Joyce announced that WNT Ventures had been selected as one of the three new tech-focused incubators.

So is that it? Is that the end of our vision?

From our perspective, it is only the start. There remain significant challenges. Not least SME access to publicly-funded research.

What the past few months have confirmed for me is the breadth and depth of significant research being undertaken by New Zealand’s universities and crown research institutes. It is considerable. Ask most Kiwi businesses however what potential joint research and IP collaboration opportunities might exist and you will draw a blank. Zip. Just like 11 years ago back in the UK.

Much of my immediate focus then is on working with university research teams to help address this knowledge gap. This focus will complement the work of WNT Ventures, Astrolab and Powerhouse Ventures as the three tech-focused incubators begin to commercialise some of the great taxpayer-funded IP that these institutions have generated.

It reflects also the bigger picture. Providing the information and the channels necessary to allow the wider business community to access this IP. Only then can New Zealand truly begin to accelerate its transformation as a globally competitive, innovative and high value technology-led economy.

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