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For a change, you can’t call this woolly thinking

The wool industry got some interesting ‘innovation things’ happening at the moment.

Firstly, there’s a consortium consisting of the Wool Research Organisation of NZ, industry participants and the Ministry of Science and Innovation, that’s collectively investing $3m a year over the next five years on a range of projects. This is being managed by Wool Industry Research Ltd. (WIRL) and is examining some industry good projects and confidential individual company co-funded wool projects to help move the fibre up the value chain.

But, of more immediate interest is a project, initially kicked off by WRONZ, now managed by WIRL, which commissioned a New York based innovation consultancy to find some new, better paying, markets for wool.

Fahrenheit 212 is to report back in mid-August with four ideas ranging from radical to very different, and parties are being invited to provide an Expression of Interest to be in the room when the ideas are presented.

These ‘new products/new uses’ concepts being explored by F212 strikes sticK as being clever.

As WIRL chairman Graham Brown says, ‘it’s a novel idea, but also risky.’

The risk is that none of the ideas to be presented by F212 will be exciting enough for commercial entities to pick up. Fahrenheit 212’s chief executive is expatriate New Zealander and Timaru-raised Geoff Vuleta, a former worldwide director of Saatchi & Saatchi.

But, nothing ventured, nothing gained.

If the ideas, currently being assessed in conjunction with AgResearch Ltd. as to whether they’re scientifically possible, are deemed worthy of further exploration, then the process WIRL’s put in place becomes really interesting.

Fahrenheit 212 has already had a third of its (potential) finders fee, literally in this case, paid upfront by the consortium.

The final two thirds, to be paid for by the potential business partner(s), is based on F212’s idea being a commercial success.

Which provides a pretty large incentive for F212 to come up with genuinely ‘do-able’ ideas.

Obviously the people wanting to be in the room in mid-August have to sign a non-disclosure agreement, and maintain a strong degree of secrecy about the ideas they’re exposed to.

‘But, once the outside company takes up the idea, we’ll step aside,’ says Brown. ‘However, the consortium may assist in R&D funding around the idea.’

‘They’ll take up the idea and do the rest of the work to take it to market. Fahrenheit 212 will get paid a success fee on that.’

Brown says that at this EOI stage, the consortium’s casting its net as widely as possible, and those wanting to be in the room don’t have to currently be in the wool industry. WIRL’s building its database for the initial high-level briefing, where individual meetings will be arranged for those that are interested in pulling a development proposal together.

Depending on the level of interest, there may be a meeting in both the South and North Island, though at this stage Christchurch appears to be a certainty.

Naturally Brown has to maintain a degree of confidentiality, but describes one of the ideas as being in a brand new space for wool and ‘way out there.’

Another three are variations on current themes, but with a very different marketing and attributes’ focus.

F212’s approach is to look at marketing versatile, part-processed materials rather than simply scoured fibre (as is often currently the way). The end result should hopefully be the adding of significant value to materials that are suitable for supplying into major international brands.

The consortium asked F212 to flesh out, and make more robust some of its original thinking, and Brown says that the process of coming back to present the new wool ideas has probably taken a couple of months longer than originally intended. The small matter of a couple of Christchurch earthquakes hasn’t exactly helped things either.

However, Brown says it’s worth taking the time to get this part of the process right.

From sticK’s POV, the process undertaken by what is often a fractious, infighting industry demonstrates some refreshing thinking.

The industry as a whole will benefit from successfully commercialising a good idea, and spread across the entire industry, coming up with those ideas is relatively cheap.

The company picking up F212’s ideas, progressively pays them as the product achieves defined milestones heading towards the market. F212, who were approached by WIRL have a track record of putting their proverbials on the line, and putting at risk a large part of their recommendations and ideas. Though the company’s fee was much larger than other marketing companies who would’ve been happy to draw up a marketing plan for ideas that WIRL put to them, F212 clearly has skin in the game.

At the same time however, the sometimes thorny issue of intellectual property ownership is avoided; the company who pick up the idea gets it, simple as that.

If nothing else, the whole process will generate a virtuous cycle of greater innovation.

Heck, they’re even in danger of the whole thing being a wild success; lifting coarse wool beyond a commodity status to match its merino cousin.

Can’t happen soon enough really.

(Note: those who are happy to sign a Non Disclosure Agreement are welcome to attend the F212 presentation(s). See www.woolresearch.com for contact details)