Subject: Building a Vibrant Sustainable Future for Tauranga and the Bay of Plenty

Dear TECT

On 1 July, you sought the views of consumers on a proposal that funding of $15 million be provided to the Bay of Plenty Tertiary Education Partnership (TEP) to expand Tertiary Education in Tauranga. I am responding to this request for feedback both as a TECT consumer and as founder of Wharf42, a technology incubator based in Tauranga.

On your website (www.tect.org.nz) you made the following observations:

‘The Bay of Plenty Tertiary Education Partnership is made up of four autonomous institutions; the Bay of Plenty Polytechnic, Waiariki Institute of Technology, Te Whare Wananga o Awanuiarangi, and the University of Waikato. The TECT funding proposed to the Partnership is to fund the expansion of Tertiary Education in Tauranga.

There is a compelling need in the Bay of Plenty region to increase qualification levels, retain youth, attract talent and innovation, and create economic wealth. While tertiary facilities currently exist, they are spread over The Western and Eastern Bay of Plenty locations. New facilities are required to support an increase in research and tertiary education reflecting the region’s competitive advantage, provide pathways through tertiary education from certificates to post graduate qualifications and, attract more young people, particularly Maori, into post-secondary education within the region.

The proposal will roll out in two stages with the first stage construction set to be completed in 2018. The projections are for an additional 2,500 Equivalent Full Time Students (EFTS) by the end of stage 2.

The other funders will be the Bay of Plenty Regional Council (through the Regional Infrastructure Fund), Tauranga City Council (donation of land), and the University of Waikato.

TECT Trustees have recommended that funding of up to $15 million be made available to expand Tertiary Education in Tauranga subject to the Tertiary Education Partnership entering into a funding agreement with TECT that is satisfactory to Trustees. TECT Trustees are seeking Consumer responses to this proposal.’

On behalf of myself and Wharf42, I would like to fully support the recommendation made by the TECT trustees to provide funding of up to $15 million be made available to expand Tertiary Education in Tauranga as envisaged in your previous commentary. I would like however to add a further dimension which I believe provides further support to this recommendation.

Yesterday, the Hon. Steven Joyce announced that WNT Ventures had been accredited by Callaghan Innovation to be one of just three new technology-focused incubators in New Zealand. You can view the Minister’s statement on the Beehive website here.

WNT Ventures is a collaboration between three of the Bay of Plenty’s leading innovation hubs: Wharf42, TiDA and the Newnham Park. Under the terms of the new Technology Incubator strategy, WNT Ventures is tasked with commercialising complex IP generated by publicly-funded New Zealand University and Crown Research Institute research. It is a task which all three innovation hubs are deeply committed to.

The outcome of this unique collaboration is to create a number of significant new technology focused businesses in Tauranga and the wider Bay of Plenty over the coming years. These will create jobs and long term economic growth for the region. WNT Ventures received support from a number of Bay of Plenty and wider central north island agencies for its submission to Callaghan Innovation. The University of Waikato and its commercialisation arm, WaikatoLink, were key endorsers of our application.

Why then is a University so important as a support mechanism to a Technology Incubator? And why is this so significant for TECT’s proposed funding?

Let’s consider their output. They generate graduates, professors, research labs, technology transfer offices and frequently, entrepreneurship programs. Of all of these, I believe that students are the most significant. They provide new and fresh thinking and on graduation can very rapidly contribute to the local start-up community. It explains also why it is so important for the local start-up community to engage very directly with the University, its programs, its staff and its students. It will become a key source of the most important resource that this community requires: people.

Professors and senior research staff also have an important role to play. They are often engaged in research that will result in the creation of innovative and complex IP that needs to be taken to market. New businesses can be wrapped around this IP so a new source of start-ups can join the community.

This is why I believe that the creation of a University campus in Tauranga’s CBD is so important. It not only creates new tertiary education opportunities. It has the ability to help support the entrepreneurial ecosystem that entrepreneurs and innovation partners are already building in the wider Bay of Plenty.

Together with the University of Waikato and other Universities and Crown Research Institutes across New Zealand, WNT Ventures intends to make Tauranga and the region a leading technology hub. The establishment of a campus in Tauranga’s CBD provides an opportunity to both accelerate and grow the innovation sector. This, I believe, will assist Build a Vibrant Sustainable Future for Tauranga and the Bay of Plenty.

The opportunity being offered by the TECT trustees to support the expansion of Tertiary Education in Tauranga is warmly welcomed by myself and Wharf42.

Best regards

Peter Wren-Hilton

You can follow Wharf42 on Twitter at @Wharf42HQ