SciBlogs

Archive September 2011

Internet games follow the numbers and money Peter Kerr Sep 29

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CerebralFix, as some might say contradictorily, makes digital games -for smart phones, other peoples’ websites, Facebook, its own website.

Its CEO Ben Delleca, speaking at the Rutherford Innovation Showcase’s Digital Content Forum in Wellington on Friday 23 Sept., says the company’s looking to leverage opportunities in the digital space; even bringing up a new word, ‘digitainment’.

And another ‘transmedia’ taking entertainment experiences and stretching them across digital spaces.
The example he gave was of a television show during its off season.

Now that billions of internet connected screens exist, consumers can have much more frequent access to new content.

“Digital distribution gives multiple pathways to market; you can sell across the globe at a touch of a button,” Delleca says.

“New Zealand has world class creative talent matched by an innovative spirit. In dealing with other global companies, given the modern age and how much more connected we are, it is as if we’re only two kilometers down the road.”

But, given the number of games coming onto the market from thousands of developers the question is how to stand out through the noise.

Delleca’s gone for strategic partnering, looking for deals with internationally recognised properties and other networks.

To this end, Cerebal Fix has developed its ‘Crystalink’ puzzle game for Miniclip – a free web and iPhone site that attracts 67 million unique visitors a month. Seventeen million of these visitors bought some form of product in addition to the free games.

It also developed a Dirty Dancing Crystalink game for Lionsgate’s Facebook page. This has 11 million friends, 93% of whom are women.

“New Zealand will have to pond the world to make these deals work,” says Delleca. “The overseas partners are willing and ready to deal. Understand the statistics, and see the opportunities.”

To that end, Delleca must be doing something right. In spite of the Christchurch earthquakes severely disrupting the games company’s development, in two and a half years it has gone from four people to 70.

In a world in which the games industry is now bigger than movies, CerebralFix, which recently become publicly listed, is obviously doing some pretty good street pounding!


Go digital for dollars — content forum spruiks Kiwi capability Peter Kerr Sep 27

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The main message from the Rutherford Innovation Showcase Digital Content Forum was that some weightless exports have a fair bit of profit margin attached.

The Wellington event on Friday Sept. 23 also heard that, apparently, we (the royal ‘we’ as in New Zealanders) are pretty good at creating some of this digital content.

Weta Digital and Sidhe were probably the best known, partly because some of the others such as games maker Cerebal Fix look to partner up with filmmaker/content distributor Lionsgate.

In fact, the idea of choosing a good partner, someone to help someone from a tiny corner of the southwest Pacific promote their product to the world, was another main point of the day long event timed to coincide with the Rugby World Cup. (Indeed, Sidhe, which has over 100 people in its team, showed off its new rugby game).

Cerebal Fix has linked up with the Facebook Dirty Dancing page with a special version of its ‘Crystalink’ puzzle game.

Why?

This Facebook page has 11 million friends, with up to 15,000 joining each day. Of these, 93% are women, 5% men and 2% some other sex.

As Cerebal Fix’s CEO Ben Delleca says, “understand the statistics, see the numbers.”

Intel’s Chris Tobias told the 250 attendees to not forget that PC’s still have a major role in the digital world, in spite of the huge growth in smart phones and tablet computers.

In the past 10 years, its chips have become twice as efficient, using half the amount of power, while having 32 times as much performance. Many people will have both an extremely powerful PC and a mobile computing device is the way Intel’s seeing the future – naturally with their chips in both!

And if there seems to be an endless supply of YouTube, it’s because there is. As YT’s global communications executive Annie Baxter (a Kiwi based in California) pointed out, there’s 48 hours of new material uploaded to the site every minute!

Hopefully there will be some clever new content ideas that come to the fore as a result of the event.

Can’t do any harm – and as always, new ideas will come from the knowledge intersection between people.


Agriculture’s ‘failure’ the place to view its next 20 years of success — conference Peter Kerr Sep 22

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One of the great ironies of the New Zealand economy is that in spite of Knowledge Waves and transformations and biotechnology and any other number of next big things, the powerhouse and backbone has continued to be agriculture and horticulture.

For industries that have been described as ‘sunset’ the fact they’ve increased their percentage economic contribution over the past 20-30 years shows they are anything but.

There’s also a good economic argument that ‘innovation’ (no matter how you describe it), is best done by building on the back of something you’re already good at.

Which is part of the logic, presentations and discussion behind the NZ Institute of Agricultural and Horticultural Science’s Forum in Wellington’s Te Papa on Tuesday October 4? (See here for more details).

Given the spectacular ‘failure’ of agriculture and horticulture over the past 20 years, NZIAHS president Jon Hickford says it’s worth looking forward 20 years and asking ourselves the questions “where so and how so?”

And, in spite of many peoples’ notions, ‘we need to show that the strength of our science really is in agriculture and horticulture,’ says Hickford. ‘It’s not lowbrow science at all, and we need to highlight that we’re world leaders at this.’

Federated Farmers vice-president Dr William Rolleston is one of the speakers.

Rolleston (a medical doctor) wears many hats as well as being a farmer, and is head of South Pacific Sera, as well as being chair of the Ministry of Science and Innovation’s Innovation Board (which has been pretty anonymous since being set up earlier this year, though the suspicion is this isn’t his fault). His perspective on farmer priorities in ag and hort research spending promises to be a highlight of the event.

There is also a political forum, with the four main parties debating some set questions, with the discussion being moderated by Dominion Post agricultural journalist, Jon Morgan.

Involving politicians is apt, since one of the desired outcomes is to raise the profile of the primary industries within the cabinet rankings — currently number 11.

David Carter (Nat), Damien O’Connor (Labour), Kevin Hague (Green) and Don Nicholson (ACT) have all been given three set questions, as well as taking part in an open discussion.

1. What ranking do you think the Minister of Agriculture should have in Cabinet and why?
2. What are New Zealand’s priorities in growing earnings from agriculture and horticulture and can we sustain a first world economy on the back of these sectors?
3. What is your party’s view with respect to the employment of experienced scientists within the policy development sections of Government Departments and Ministries?

Hickford says that from a pragmatic point of view, New Zealand’s economy can best grow and diversify from its existing strengths.

‘In spite of the financing of a whole lot of fancy gadgets, in 20 years time we’re still going to be eating,’ Hickford says.

‘If we’re producing the best, safest, most nutritious and enjoyable food for wealthy people, we’ll still be making money.’

sticK agrees. Innovation from within the country’s core strength will continue to be a feature of our economic and environmental landscape for decades to come.

Of course, it would do a tremendous amount of good if the country, NZ Inc, actually named the nation’s key comparative advantage — namely the ability to convert sunlight, soil and fresh air into wonderful protein products through our pastoral method. Such a branding exercise would completely change New Zealand’s ‘offer’ to the world.

However, owning our story is another argument and discussion — for now simply raising the profile of agriculture and horticulture can be considered a desirable outcome of the conference.

Hickford and his cohorts deserve all support they can muster.


Algae conversion partnership precursor to bigger things? Peter Kerr Sep 20

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Presumably Texas-based Shell Oil subsidiary CRI Catalyst Company has run its eye pretty carefully over the plethora of algae-oriented biofuel projects around the world. Investorshub lists over 30 on its website

Earlier this year Shell also announced it was getting out of algae oil production (see here).

So, the recent announcement by Marlborough-based Aquaflow Bionomic Corp. that it has signed a major agreement with CRI has to rate as somewhat of a coup.

Aquaflow uses wild algae to help clean up water, and, once it is broken apart, produce a ‘green crude’ – the precursor to black crude pumped out of the ground, but without the millions of years of heat and pressure involved in the conversion process.

CRI has a catalyst and process technology to convert this green crude to hydrocarbon fuels and blend stocks – typically in a few hours. It uses what it calls an Integrated Hydropyrolysis and Hydroconversion (IH2) technology which it says cost-effectively converts biomass directly into renewable gasoline, jetfuel and diesel.

Director Nick Gerritsen says unlike most other algae to oil projects, Aquaflow uses the algae that naturally exist in an area, localized for the environment they have developed in, as the clean-up mechanism for the water. Gerritsen is also a great believer in the water-restorative ability from harvesting algae – essentially many bangs for buck from the methodology. The company has been trialing its algae technology in the Blenheim Municipal Wasterwater plant (among a number of projects).

Gerritsen says the vast majority of other companies are focused on the lipid oil yield of algae, which generally means they are selecting species to that end, or breeding genetically modified species for the same.

“They’re trying to cultivate mono-cultures or a small number of species,” he says. “We believe that all this is both expensive, hard to scale and has significant technical risk.”

Under Aquaflow, the company’s embracing algae species that change over regions, whose interactions are very sophisticated. “They also have the capacity to deal with a large number of variables to maintain viable populations,” says Gerritsen.

“Our approach means intrinsic alignment with localised conditions. In any situation where there is water and nutrients, you get algae, and nature grows if for us for free.”

Algae-polluted water is a major global environmental challenge, and in the USA alone is estimated to have cost US$4.3 billion annually says Gerritsen. By removing the algae Aquaflow’s process can also help clean up water he says.

The company’s also completed a three year chemistry programme and knows what compounds it can produce using its own proprietary catalysis process.

Aquaflow has been actively seeking partners for its process (invitation to do so are made on its website). As a relatively small Kiwi company, collaborating with aligned companies with deeper pockets makes perfect sense.

Gerritsen’s use of the term optionalities (according to Wiktionary – The value of additional optional investment opportunities available only after having made an initial investment), is one way Aquaflow is protecting its intellectual property.

He describes the company’s Algae Leverage as understanding how to optimize the growth dynamics, harvesting as it happens, nutrients, water and the multi-uses of the end products as key components of what it brings to the table. (Aquaflow also has projects and relationships with UOP Honeywell among others). The end result of the algae production can be from fertiliser to bioenergy feedstocks.

“We can configure our offer to where the market is,” Gerritsen says. “Effectively, our toolkit has lots of different sized spanners.”

Gerritsen says one project that Aquaflow is looking to partner in, has a potential payback of less than a year, where the ‘fuel’ is a byproduct of the scheme’s overall value.

However, the company gets much further down its stated goal of producing clean water and clean energy in its relationship with CRI Catalyst – though there’s many in the race to achieve the same outcome.
CRI is building a small algae-based demonstration in Chicago, and looking to build a much bigger, $100s million, project in the near future. Aquaflow plans to lead on a series of projects already in its pipeline — leveraging its algae capability says Gerritsen.

Unlike a number of companies seeking to plug into waste streams from fossil industrial production — Aquaflow is targeting the fossil fuel source itself.

“We believe that this will maximize value across the entire business transaction — from biomass right through to end use of the renewable fuels,” says Gerritsen. “It is exciting to have the opportunity to help lead the charge on this.”


Nice irony to showcasing Wellington businesses in the Beehive Peter Kerr Sep 15

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Having a showcase of cool Wellington businesses in the Beehive is a nicely ironic way to demonstrate the capital is about more than politics.

Quite who Wellington City Council Business Innovation Growth (BIG) launch yesterday is meant to appeal to is less clear. (Check out a prospectus of the businesses present here).

While the fascinating mix of more than 70 companies, from a wealth of computer/internet/software companies (let’s just call them the digital creative sector) to Tuatahi Racing Axes and Saws, Industrial Research to Calvert Plastics showed off their wares and brains, you’d have to suspect they wouldn’t have done much business.

Hopefully they realised that before they took what would’ve been a whole day off to stand in front of a general political bureaucracy and people like sticK.

In theory the event was to show how important business is to Wellington and how business-friendly Wellington is.

As WCC councilor and Economy Portfolio leader Jo Coughlan says, “we don’t think enough people know Wellington’s business story.” “We have an entrepreneurial, high performing business sector.”

Though mayor Celia Wade-Brown made a point of welcoming the Lower Hutt and Upper Hutt mayors, and many of the companies present came from outside the WCC boundaries, there didn’t feel to be enough emphasis on the wider region – i.e. pulling in the Wairarapa and Kapiti districts as well.

A minor point in the scheme of things perhaps, but Wellington is more, has to be seen and act as more than just the capital/harbour area.

But, anything that shows the success and hardwork required to turn ideas into income is fine by sticK.

We need to increasingly talk up the innovation game. Some initiatives won’t succeed, we’ll just call it experience.

But some of the companies featured at the Beehive will grow – maybe BIG will have been their big beginning.


Surely it’s not MSI’s job to bankroll a Kiwi Landing Pad in San Francisco? Peter Kerr Sep 06

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Now the idea of a ‘Kiwi Landing Pad’ (KLP) in San Francisco may or may not be a good idea.

The need for relatively small Kiwi companies to have a place to call home in the USA from which to attempt to sell their wares, can perhaps be justified on an economic argument, and most definitely on an emotional one.

What’s harder to fathom is why the Ministry of Science and Innovation has fronted up with US$300,000 to set up a hub in the southern part of San Francisco in what is known as the Market district. Cloud accounting company Xero is one of the first tenants for the KLP, which has been initiated by TradeMe founder Sam Morgan. It has also been supported by Sir Stephen Tindall.

Sure, MSI is (ever so slowly) figuring out its role. Getting the ‘I’ part of its name up to speed seems to be taking forever, and it’s a pity present Minister Wayne Mapp is quitting politics at the coming elections — the caretaker nature of his ministerial overview can’t help drive what is needed from the innovation point of view.

In MSI’s statement of intent, it lists (and puts in a diagram) one of its strategic partners as being NZ Trade & Enterprise.

Which is the point, actually.

Surely it is NZTE’s role to fund/partner this type of initiative?

NZTE has an office an hour or two down the road in Los Angeles, but of even more relevance, San Francisco is the location of one of its key ‘Beachhead’ programmes.

Wouldn’t the KLP be a graphic example of a Beachhead — one located in the famed Silicon Valley? Isn’t this the sort of project that sits much more comfortably in NZTE’s camp?

For New Zealand’s sake, we have to hope this isn’t some kind of turf war that’s going on between MSI and all-comers. The fact that MSI has the biggest budget allocation doesn’t mean it should be carrying out a multitude of roles.

There’s been no mention of such a change in government departmental responsibilities — and there’s certainly nothing indicated in MSI’s statement of intent (under whatever broad way you want to define innovation), that says underwriting relatively wealthy Kiwis’ USA real-estate plays is part of its core mission.

And while we’re in a ‘What are you up to MSI’ mode, the following observations?

The ministry’s invited a dozen or so stakeholders and strategic thinkers to Wellington for a stakeholder engagement exercise on 12/13 Sept.

How many people accept the invitation to the exercise will be interesting, but perhaps MSI needs to ask itself some other questions first.

• How many of these extremely busy people (the great and the good across industry and science) are prepared or able to set aside the two days asked for?
• What is the role of MSI’s Innovation Board?
• What is the role of MSI’s Science Board?
• What is the role of MSI’s senior management team?

The last question’s perhaps a bit unfair, as its senior management team hasn’t long been in their roles. But, wouldn’t heading out to ask some of the questions the engagement exercise would probably do so, be a perfect reason for them to get out around New Zealand and see what’s needed at the coalface?


A quick marathon to conceive good ideas — ‘Start-up weekend’ Peter Kerr Sep 01

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‘Start-up weekend’, planned for 4-6 November at the BizDojo in Wellington is one of those web-oriented events that Wellington seems to be particularly good at pulling off.

The idea is to mix people, ideas, skills and resources, and see if new businesses can’t be conceived.

Startup Weekend is an international movement based in Seattle that has held events in over 100 cities worldwide, including Auckland. International backing comes from The Kauffman Foundation, Microsoft, Amazon, Elance, and others.

Dave Moskovitz, chairman of WebFund is heading the organizing committee to bring the event to Wellington. CreativeHQ, Unlimited Potential, and BizDojo are all actively involved in planning and resourcing the event. Microsoft and Manawatu’s Bio-Commerce Centre are also providing financial sponsorship, with other organizations like iWantMyName, AngelHQ, 90seconds.tv, NZTE, and Grow Wellington providing assistance.

‘Start-up weekend will be a 54 hour non-stop marathon,’ Moskovitz says.

‘We plan on having 100 people at the Biz Dojo. They’ll start pitching and teams will form around these. They’ll execute the idea as far as they can in 54 hours. At the end, 6pm on Sunday, the teams will present to the judging panel, with prizes for the best teams who have gone the furthest with their ideas.’

‘The idea is to tie together and have a more seamless path from idea to company,’ he says. ‘I’m hoping that some of the participants will be motivated to take their businesses further by entering WebFund’s HyperStart programme. (see separate sticK blog here). HyperStart is like a six-week long Startup Weekend with committed investment available to companies that can perform.

Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown (a former software programmer as it happens) will open the weekend. Mike DelPrete, the President of Agora Games in New York, the company behind Guitar Hero and Call of Duty, is making a trip to Wellington specifically to participate in Startup Weekend.

‘It’s all about job growth, the weightless economy the digital creative sector,’ he says.

‘But ultimately, its all about generating world class companies to got from Wellington to the world.’

Participation in the weekend is open to all — though spots are filling fast. Those interested should enter here wellington.startupweekend.org ….now.


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