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Maybe it’s a missing part of New Zealand’s innovation ecosystem, maybe not.

Given our country’s small size, intense regional parochialism, and what are generally considered to be pretty thinly spread commercialisation skills, the about to emerge National Network of Commercialisation Centres is probably a good idea.

In the scheme of things too, its allocated $11m over four years is chicken feed.

Who knows – my crystal ball’s as murky as anyone else’s in this regard, but the intent of the NNCCs, currently a work in development, seeks to address some of the flaws recognised in turning good ideas into income.

Relatively behind the scenes, the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology (but let’s call it the Ministry of Science and Innovation as it morphs into that), has been driving a ‘what should it look like/do’ process for the NNCCs.

To give MSI credit, it also recognises the development of 2 – 4 of these centres is an evolutionary process, and needs to build on existing structures and expertise.

It has been specifically aimed at university and CRI commercialisation units, putting what could be virtual, could be bricks and mortar or could be a bit of both, entities into place by May of next year.

In effect the NNCCs will take over MSIs investment and management of its pre-seed funds (presently $5.3m) – picking projects with promise, funded through robust investment management processes.

The commercialisation units within the CRIs and universities will remain responsible for carrying out the commercialisation work itself.

This will include undertaking market validation and establishing freedom to operate, before moving them further down the commercialisatoin pipeline. This could be, perhaps to establish a start-up company to sell the product, perhaps to licensing (among many options really).

The NNCC ‘driver’, Suse Reynolds, says a key role of the centres is to ” collaborate with more purpose.” The purpose of the centres is to “build New Zealand’s commercialisation capability so that research organisations and businesses better identify and exploit market opportunities and distribution channels for products and services generated from publically funded research,” she says.

“We want to leverage our expertise, while acknowledging that there’s no right answer to commercialisation,” she says. “The fact of the matter is, every project and deal is different.”

As well as managing MSIs pre-seed funds, the centres’ aim is to improve commercialisation processes and capability, and facilitate local networks and more effective collaboration.

The networking’s quite extensive, including:
• Local researchers
• Local firms carrying out significant R&D
• Regional university and CRI research and commercialisation offices
• Local incubators, angel networks, high-net-worth investors, venture capital companies and the NZVIF
• Local innovation sector consultants
• Local NZTE, MSI offices and their agents

The centres are to also link with domestic and international innovation specialists, including early-stage investors and the KEA (overseas kiwis) movement.

Another function is to develop a national database or repository of commercialisation opportunities, projects and IP – such that a wealthy overseas person could have a single point of contact to ‘check things out’ (sticK’s interpretation).

Reynolds’ noted that the NNCC process will initially be a ‘push’ process, which over time (hopefully not too much) will increasingly find itself getting a ‘pull’ from investors, businesses and entrepreneurs.

There’s also some underlying tensions as MSI goes about the process of putting NNCCs in place.

A Request for Proposals process is by definition a contestable one. Quite rightly, MSI is looking for the people who can commercialise best. What makes this process a bit different is that MSI recognises that if there’s to be a step change in the effectiveness of commercialisation of great NZ ideas, then applicants will need to understand each other’s processes and project pipelines, and collaborate more effectively.

So MSI is encouraging RfP applicants to talk to each other and understand each other’s proposals.

However, MSI wants the current commercialisation practitioners’ best ideas, and, heaven forbid, is even expecting them to work together.

Brave new world stuff!

As Reynolds’ says, “we want the right kind of people involved, building trust. That takes time and patience.”
“But it is about believing in each other, helping each other to be flash.”

Requests for Proposals are due at the end of January.