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Instead of looking at perceived gaps in New Zealand’s innovation ecosystem our engineering professional body’s asked what the country could do with an extra $500 million.

The Institute of Professional Engineers New Zealand has ‘visualised success’ in its latest thought piece and document, ‘Catalysing economic growth – boosting innovation expertise in the private sector’.

“We need to get to a disruptive level of R&D, we need to get the private sector working much better,” says Andrew Cleland, IPENZ chief executive.

While acknowledging changes to improve our productivity and innovation, including the regulatory environment, public sector efficacy, the tax system and infrastructure, these changes alone are insufficient he says.

Two poorly recognised issues need to be addressed:

• The need to boost expertise in our private sector to develop, adapt and adopt new technologies (innovation expertise)
• The need to make the NZ economy more ‘sticky’ to high technology companies so they remain here

Cleland says a transfer of innovation expertise from the government R&D sector and an increase in connectivity would be the best place to put (more) government investment money.

One suggested initiative is a co-fund approach for SME development of new R&D jobs.

“This would encourage companies to grow their innovative capability, and overcome the ‘chunkiness’ problem for SMEs,” he says. Chunkiness in this case is the comparatively large expense that having an R&D expert onboard represents for many smaller companies.

Cleland says the current university and CRI systems that incentivises them to retain staff and reward the publishing of research papers needs to be changed. Instead, such bodies should be rewarded for getting its personnel into the private sector he says.

The education system, and technically-savvy people, need to realise that there is also a career path for clever people to become leaders, shareholders and owners in high-tech companies says Cleland, rather than remaining in a laboratory.

Universities and CRIs would need to be ‘encouraged’ [sticK's quotation marks] to get out and actively chase private sector business owners to carry out more R&D he says.

Business owners are simply too busy running their operations to have time to approach tertiary institutions – therefore the university or CRI has to hunt down the private sector people interested in R&D and innovation Cleland says.

Cleland says the government has been made aware of, and were part of, discussions behind the IPENZ document.

“Our thoughts are given freely,” he says. “We’re trying to stimulate discourse, and hope the ideas are taken seriously and considered. What it mainly highlights is that we need to do something different.”