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Driver of Callaghan accelerator services to put pedal to the metal? Peter Kerr Mar 04

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We’ll make the assumption that Callaghan Innovation’s new GM of Accelerator Services isn’t there for the money.

Chris Somogyi’s come relatively unannounced to the crown entity whose role is to accelerate the commercialisation of innovation by NZ firms.

Chris Somogyi

Softly, softly is possibly how the American, recently from Seattle may do things – lie low, get a feeling for the place before making yourself known.

He’s been a venture capitalist, developed concepts into ready-made products and has a strong record in business development. He’s already been to NZ a number of times, so presumably isn’t too rose-tinted glasses about our place.

Given his interesting credentials, and presumably backstory as a biomedical engineer by training, Somogyi hopefully brings some deep connections and contacts into some of the business areas CI’s targeting.

Having been well over a year in the development, CI needs a few runs on the board, needs the accelerator pressed to the floor.

Investing in companies, having an umbrella view of industries and sectors will undoubtedly be a completely different gig to being down and dirty with would-be up-and-coming businesses within the same, and trying to help them scale quickly to significant size.

In other words, fighting in the trenches is completely different to attempting to direct from above.

Which Somogyi will undoubtedly be aware of, and hopefully up for the challenge of being part of.

From Callaghan Innovation’s point of view, they probably have little to lose.

An outsider (of NZ candidates) solves a few of those political/business bias challenges that can arise in such a pivotal, potentially game-changing position.

CI may’ve thrown a double six just found the exact person they need.

Or not.

He’s only been in the GM accelerator services role for a month or so, and Somogyi is probably doing a lot of listening while trying to make sense of the disjointed research, development, commercialisation and funding and investment scene in this country.

Welcome to New Zealand Chris.


Callaghan Innovation taxis to the start(up) of the commercialisation runway Peter Kerr Jul 11

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At last we have something concrete on what Callaghan Innovation may look like.

Here it is folks, CI’s Statement of Intent.

It’s been a long time coming, but, moving forward, what’s the vehicle to be created?

CI has a mission that’s clear, if generic, in its intent (which I much prefer to see described as a purpose as this article describes, but that’s nit-picking).

“To accelerate the commercialisation of innovation by firms in New Zealand”

CI paints a picture of what it wants to look like by the end of 2016 (the vision thing), through providing a list of Top Ten outcomes. (Having attempted to write such forward-looking documents in the past, and discovered the trickiness of mixing past, present and future tenses, I commend this approach).

Under these CI sees its primary roles to be to: Motivate, Connect and Deliver.

‘Motivate’ is a ra, ra to promote an innovation culture, ‘Deliver’ is mostly a realignment of the old IRL to provide research and technical services to support near-to-market innovation by firms.

‘Connect’ is where CI is putting its money on the table – literally and figuratively – designing and implementing a portfolio of tools and programmes under the umbrella of Accelerator Services.

There are four main components (the new stuff) to these Accelerator Services.

  • National Technology Networks – with seven ‘initial thinking’ groups. Part of NTN’s role is to pull together the SETD (science, engineering, technology, design) capability across the NZ Inc system. These initial networks are:
  1. Applied chemistry and biotechnology
  2. Advanced materials
  3. Robotics and automation
  4. Imaging and sensing
  5. Photonics
  6. Digital technologies and software
  7. Data processing and modelling
  • Innovation Agents
  • “Avatar” project – a big new initiative and IT project incorporating social media and cloud-based search techniques , which ‘will enable a dynamic virtual community of firms and service providers to connect with each other and share information and ideas’
  • “Big Projects” – CI “will build, support or adopt strategic consortia of New Zealand firms to pursue these opportunity-driven, mission-focused “Big Projects”

CI recognises its new focus has implications. The more fundamental science and research programmes (of the old IRL) will transit over the next year or so to universities and other CRIs. In turn, CI will not pursue contestable funding which is primarily intended for scientific research.

The old IRL Gracefield site is to become an ‘innovation precinct’, with others in Auckland and Christchurch, though this requires a detailed business case and (more) consultation.

There are 14 HVMS (high value manufacturing sector) businesses that already have tenancies on the Gracefield site, and CI will seek out one to three well-regarded successful high value firms who may be willing to relocate parts of their business there as anchor tenants.

An interesting aside of this innovation precinct initiative is that some of what will become CI’s Research and Technical Services specialists are expected to hold joint appointments between CI and their new employer (which also includes universities and CRIs). It already happens a bit nowadays, but making the American model (academia-government-industry), with its ability to swap and change roles and locales as an explicit desire is a good idea.

Earlier on in the 57 page Statement of Intent CI states that it

‘will have to establish itself as a well-informed “honest broker” in the eyes of both firms and SETD providers nationwide’.

That honest broker role, in a nutshell, is the crux.

To state the obvious, time will tell whether it achieves this objective. CI has been almost a year in gestation and undermined some of the goodwill in however you define innovation, so probably has a bit of ground to make up on this front.

The quality of what CI calls Innovation Agents will also be crucial. These are the go-between/hand-holders for innovating firms, R,S & T providers and funding.

Finding the hard and soft mix in a person with the gravitas, been-there-done-that experience, technical knowledge, willingness to go into bat for an innovating company and non-bureaucraticness (nope, not a word) will be extremely challenging.

CI will also have to live up to one guiding principle (page 9):

  • Do more of what works and “call failure fast” on what doesn’t work

and two particular sentences (on page 24):

“Whenever a marketing initiative is tried, but fails to get much response it will quickly be discontinued, consistent with our “call failure fast” principle. It will be important to analyse why a particular approach did not work so that learning can be applied to alternative strategies.”

Now, government departments in general, and the people within them in particular don’t like to admit failure. Who does?

Whether, because it is a Crown Agent, this fail fast feature of startups can be inculcated in CI, and is publicly revealed,  will be extremely interesting.

But, at least the intention’s there!

P.S.

This Statement of Intent document screams for a diagram or two.

Understanding the relationships between National Technology Networks, Innovation Agents, CI’s Research and Technology Services, Avatar, Big Projects and the rest of its fingers in many pies would be wonderful, and help form a picture of what Callaghan Innovation intends to become.

I look forward to it.


Callaghan Innovation – building the plane while they fly it Peter Kerr Mar 26

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There’s a term that’s particularly loved by IT-oriented start-ups, ‘building the plane while you’re flying it’.

The business case put forward for and by Callaghan Innovation doesn’t use the term.

However, that’s what I interpret from the ‘Purpose of this document’ comment on its fourth page. (It follows an earlier sentence – Callaghan Innovation’s role does not currently exist in the New Zealand innovation system, and it is in effect a “start-up” organisation. [CI’s quotation marks]).

A bit of a pre-amble later, the document goes on to state:

Recognising these uncertainties, the draft business case submitted to Ministers on 13 December 2012 provided a development path with high levels of optionality and choices in the short to medium term, Callaghan Innovation’s investment in new tools and instruments being made in line with progress in this discovery process, and demonstrated results from pilot and service testing.

Now, perhaps unfairly, this can be interpreted as ‘we’re making it up as we go along’.

But, given:

1. The stealth-like, non-consultative manner an originally proposed Advanced Technology Institute (ATI) morphed into an all-singing, all-dancing CI
2. The fact that the CI establishment board chair (Sue Suckling) reported only and directly to minister-of-everything Steven Joyce, and
3. The lack of any (even loose) overseas model on which CI might be seen to be based,

Then there’s very little other conclusion that can be drawn.

I’m sure too that in his private-sector dealings, Steven Joyce would’ve never okayed the setting up of a new business venture before a business plan/case had been developed, but that’s what’s happening with the allocation of $166 million to be spent by CI over the next four years.

For all that, no one is going to be anti CI’s strapline ‘we accelerate commercialisation of New Zealand’s innovation’.

It is just that for all its 65 pages of business case proposal, we’re not that much wiser.

In fact, you have to wonder if recently announced chief executive Dr Mary Quin quite knows what she’s letting herself in for in taking up the new role.

In the absence of an actual nationally integrated science and innovation plan, the danger is that there’s no coherent sense of direction for our country.

At least (with a background as an engineer in materials science), Mary Quin isn’t an academic or professional manager.

Her recent experience in managing the 2,800 person USA support services company NANA Management Services, jointly owned by Alaska’s indigenous Inupiat people will no doubt serve her well in her new role.

From NZ Inc’s point of view, how and to what, she moulds an extremely amorphous Callaghan Innovation will be crucial for our country’s future.

Equally, managing relationships between CI’s chair, minister, stakeholders, researchers and the industry it is supposed to be serving will be no insignificant feat.

So, in welcoming you to the new role Dr Quin, you could do much worse that reviewing the ATI blueprints put forward by the now extinct Industrial Research Ltd.

At least those blueprints provide some idea of how to keep the CI plane in the air.

P.S. As a number of readers pointed out, Dr Michael J Kelly (ex-pat Kiwi now at Cambridge University, and former undergraduate colleague of the late Prof Sir Paul Callaghan) was interviewed by National Radio’s Kathryn Ryan on Nine to Noon on March 13. (CI chair Sue Suckling was also interviewed at the same time). One of Kelly’s main points is that there’s been no debate about how to structure the new organisation……and an inherent danger it becomes a mere broker of technical knowledge. The podcast can be found here.


A solution to our lack of shared purpose around a science-innovation strategy Peter Kerr Mar 05

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OK, now we have Callaghan Innovation gestating its way into life – with no indication of how long the process will take, or even what it is we’re trying to bring to fruition.

At the same time we have the ‘Great New Zealand Science Project’ – a public wish list of all the wonderful things we could research – which a committee of the great and the good are now trying to make sense of.

Meanwhile MBIE is still responsible for allocating some of the research funding too.

What these three initiatives clearly indicate is we actually don’t know what we’re doing, or why, or how.

Now, it seems like long ago (but actual fact it is only 18 months) that the High Value Manufacturing Review, a.k.a ‘Powering Innovation’, came out with its recommendations.

A re-read of this document might be a useful exercise for minister-of-everything Steven Joyce.

Recommendation 1:

Develop a strategic and structured approach for connectivity between research and development providers and the high value manufacturing and services sector

Whether this is going to be fulfilled by CI, who knows? Beyond motherhood and apple pie type statements, the purpose (not a vision, not a mission both of which are meaningless) of Callaghan Innovation is still a mystery.

Rumbles from manufacturers, universities and CRIs about the lack of information, sense of shared direction, or a strategic intent (let’s call it a plan) during the whole CI creation process show a glaring omission from the ‘Powering Innovation’ document – and more than a hint that science minister Steven Joyce is playing free and loose in whatever definition of innovation he’s decided upon.

This brings me to the point – and possibly the only way for NZ Inc to strategically line up its science and innovation.

Among a number of excellent recommendations in ‘Powering Innovation’, was #13.

This also demonstrates, by inference, why our country’s currently on an unknown course to an unknown destination.

Recommendation 13:

Form a Science and Innovation Council, led from a very senior ministerial level in Government, with representatives from the university, public and private research organisations and from industry. Members should represent a wide range of science and technology themes, including the social sciences. The role of the Science and Innovation Council should be to establish a national innovation strategy and advise on science and innovation policy and priorities.

Now I realise that such an S&I Council would force us to actually have a shared plan; and that maybe that’s the last thing Minister Joyce wants.

But, until we, like Denmark, Singapore, Taiwan, Switzerland et al, have such a thing, then the person in the street, researchers or industry will have no sense of being part of a wider (game) plan.

Running around and doing science and innovation ‘stuff’ in the absence of a national plan is doomed to provide middling mediocrity. There will be plenty of peddling by all involved, but nobody will be quite sure who or what it is we’re trying to get over the finish (start) line before anyone else in the world.

What we desperately need is an integrated innovation system from the fundamental science through technology development to commercial exploitation of the results. We also need to ensure this integration includes research and commercialisation carried out by the Health Research Council.

Instead, what we have at the moment is a hodge-podge of barely connected elements, with nothing even remotely looking like a plan in place.

Until we begin to get all our R&D cum innovation cum shared strategy ducks in a row through something like a S&I Council, we have absolutely no show of emulating the exemplar countries that NZ Inc, through government officials, have visited dozens of times in the past 20 years.

Mind you, if we had a simple national science and innovation plan, then there would also be some corresponding accountability.

That’s probably the fly in the ointment!


Callaghan Innovation – wishing it all the best…..but Peter Kerr Jan 25

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I hope I’m wrong about Callaghan Innovation, and for our country’s and industry’s sake that it is a roaring success when it stumbles into life on Feb 1.

But, the portents aren’t good – and as a solution in search of a need, instead of the other way round – we’ll end up with a couple of years of bureaucratic confusion before eventually going for a form of the Advanced Technology Institute as originally proposed by IRL.

In the meantime we’ll have a Callaghan Innovation Agency (CIA), and all the bumbling that’s implied in that.

Why the glass half empty viewpoint?

Among the things that have happened, the common knowledge at IRL and further afield, have been the following happenings.

  • An ATI Establishment Board (before it morphed into CI), whose chair, Sue Suckling, reported only and directly to Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment super minister, Steven Joyce. Not through MBIE (who weren’t involved), only to Joyce
  • A chief science adviser (Sir Peter Gluckman) who hasn’t been able to talk to Joyce
  • An October command that no member of the ATI establishment team or board was to have anything to with the senior management of IRL. (Odd, presumably you’d expect such people to have the best knowledge/overview of requirements to promote high value manufacturing)
  • An as yet non-public business plan; and no idea how any sort of transition/transformation takes place between IRL to Callaghan Innovation
  • A management and governance structure that merely transfers the original ATI establishment team to new positions – let’s call it jobs for the girls and boys…..never, ever a good look
  • Total and utter disregard for transparency, democracy, clarity of (desired) outcome – and the trust that goes with those processes

In short, what we have with Callaghan Innovation is a secret, ill-conceived creation of a model that’s been disproven overseas.

We don’t have anything like Taiwain’s ITRI – which has an extremely strong industry/research group hug and development of science/engineering platforms that will strategically support a future.

Nor Switzerland’s, nor Singapore’s, nor especially Denmark – who’s research institute’s must be wondering how we got so far away from their own model.

Now, Joyce is well-known for forming a point of view and pulling all the levers to achieve an outcome – it’s something you can do in business (more or less).

How much has his notion that ‘innovation’ (and let’s not even begin to try and define it) is a command and control activity intersected with the law of unintended consequences?

Wow, we’ve ended up with ‘tell me exactly what it’s meant to do’ Callaghan Innovation?

CI will be much more hands-on from Joyce’s point of view, but I’m afraid Steven, that’s not how innovation works.

CI as a model is much more sand in the gearbox.

Whether it is because her background’s as an economist, but Sue Suckling’s viewpoint seems to be that inventors/innovators/ideas people have had trouble accessing the IRL (and other university/CRI) brains who could help with their industry challenge. We’ll call it a supply problem.

That’s not the case – anyone with even half and idea can relatively easily, today, get the help and R&D expertise they need.

Providing a 0800 ‘Callaghan Innovation’ number addresses a problem that doesn’t exist. It will simply be another bureaucratic layer of frustration for science and industry.

But, prove me wrong CI – I’ll be happy to admit my error.


If Callaghan Innovation is the answer – remind me again what was the question? Peter Kerr Dec 14

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Well, surely I’m not the only one surprised that what was to be the establishment of an Advanced Technology Institute – or a supercharged IRL – somewhat on the model of Taiwan’s ITRI, is instead going to end up as a revamped Tech NZ.

That certainly hasn’t been communicated in its four month gestation – in fact precious little has been publicly stated….apart from some imaginative words of why and how the moniker Callaghan Innovation came into being.

In fact, communication has been woeful – to say the least.

Now maybe CI is going to be more than a funding vehicle, and move beyond the current Tech NZ role.

Maybe it will address those routes to market, partnering and capital issues that bedevil the turning of an idea into a saleable reality (and success).

Maybe it is what the country needs.

But – if ‘we’ had known CI was going to be an all singing all dancing affair, shouldn’t the process have been a heck of a lot more transparent, in-depth and more question and answering?

After all, this is as equally as big a change as took place 20 years ago when the DSIR and MAFTech was morphed into the CRI model.

That process was carried out over a reasonable timeframe and out in the open.

What we’re going to end up with here is a fait accompli, a model based on a muddle. (As an aside, precisely the type of thing the late Sir Paul Callaghan would have been aghast to have his name associated with).

If the (flawed) thinking was that NZ industry and people with ideas didn’t know what door(s) to go through to get science and tech answers or help – and CI is the result – you have to suspect entirely the wrong problem has been addressed……in secret.

Again, the trouble is we’ve all been kept in the dark, when we don’t have to be – we’re all on the same ship here.

Saying things like we can’t tell you anything until the legislation is in place, is a circular non-argument. That all will be revealed on Feb. 1 is equally invalid.

The approach, the cloak-and-daggerness is totally unwarranted.

So, based on gut-feel as much as anything, I make the following observations.

How will Callaghan Innovation NOT just be another layer of innovation bureaucracy – divorced from both the science/engineering and the market – which is as much a hindrance as a help to those who need it?

Where does this place an ever-improving initiative such as KiwiNet? This is the 18 month old CRI/university commercialisation initiative that self-formed after the disastrous non-creation of the National Network of Commercialisation Centres through the then Ministry of Science & Innovation.

Why would any person with an idea still not go straight to the science or engineering establishment that actually has the capability, rather than going through what will undoubtedly be an officialdom-onerous process through the CI?

Finally, sure (without even attempting to define the hackneyed term) ‘innovation’ needs to be done better in NZ.

But the way CI’s coming into existence, the huge risk is it is change by accident rather than change by design.

And no one is allowed to argue.


Some worrying disquiet around Callaghan Innovation Peter Kerr Dec 06

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From what I gather, it is not only me who has a degree of disquiet about the lengthy and somewhat secretive gestation taking place around Callaghan Innovation (the new moniker for the Advanced Technology Institute).

Because part of the unease is it appears responsibility for establishing C.I. has been abrogated to its Establishment Board, and especially its chair Sue Suckling. Allowing it to run fast and loose with a relatively undefined mandate is not in our best interests.

Therefore, when we have no idea what or how the C.I. is going to look, advertisements for its new CEO have only just been placed and the word is that the outgoing chief executive of Industrial Research (Shaun Coffey) offered to act in a ‘caretaker cum help the new person in’ role – but was turned down – is it any wonder I’m nervous for our science and innovation system.

Some captains of industry, academia and research have expressed opinions around “I hope the minister [Joyce] understands what he’s doing here.”

Now, maybe the Minister’s hands-off approach to C.I’s establishment is legitimate, maybe he is retaining the ability to cut its Feb. 1 recommendations loose if there’s too much political, science and industry grief over its proposals, maybe it is a sign of his fatigue around science and innovation and more closely aligned to thoughts of “what do we do now.” (In that regard too the utter revamping of what was FoRST and MoRST, into the Ministry of Science & Innovation, and now into MBIE, and the subsequent loss of some really capable brains hasn’t helped).

Perhaps too it is the government retaining the ability to appoint an advisory board over and above whatever the C.I. establishment board comes up with.

But as industry opinion increases that they’ll simply be carrying out business as usual (with whoever is their current science and R&D provider), and that C.I. doesn’t appear to be solving the main challenge for NZ Inc – which is that really messy, ugly, difficult part between the idea and the market – such disquiet is better addressed now than later.

Or perhaps I’m just being pessimistic.

Perhaps the Sue Suckling-led C.I. establishment board is going to deliver a proposal that gets all the R&D ducks and drakes, the capital, routes to market, partnership and ‘innovation’ pieces of the puzzle aligned, and cranking.

Because, as the numerous statements and documents around C.I. say, NZ Inc’s science is relatively OK.

It is that iterative, two-way conversation between the market and science that we need to improve.

As already stated in a previous blog, something concrete for us to consider on that front would be really appreciated.

P.S. Riffing on a theme ……one of the deep ironies of the C.I. development (in the loosest sense of the word), is that the A.T.I was originally I.R.L’s brainchild. Its mutation into heaven knows what has all the potential to be a kiwi tragicomedy.

I hope I’m wrong.


Callaghan Innovation – time for a concrete and practical illustration of its intent Peter Kerr Nov 22

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OK, now that we have the naming of the Advanced Technology Institute out of the way, and its genesis to Callaghan Innovation has been carried out, it’s time to move on from the warm fuzzies.

The thinking behind the new name and logo is, let’s call it an ‘interesting explanation’ and let it lie – can be found here.

There’s a statement in the same newsletter number two, that the name of the organisation shouldn’t turn into an abbreviation or set of initials….wishful hoping I’m afraid. CI or C.I. it will become once first named in any story.

There’s also,

“our thinking definitely veered towards the new organisation being first and foremost an attitude, an approach, a new conversation and activity, rather than a fixed position or a building.”

Well, if that means practically showing or discussing what that means – fire ahead.

Because it is easy enough to talk around the edges as the CI’s underpinning operating principles demonstrate:

  • Open and consistent processes
  • Focus on significant economic value-add
  • Firm and industry focused
  • Effectiveness through collaboration
  • “Access not ownership” of specialist science, engineering, design and technology services”

As we speak there’s a business case being developed, which will be about “doing more” (the newsletter’s quotation marks), and, we’re reassured, not about an exercise in moving the deckchairs.

All of which will be of little comfort you suspect to the R&D community, private research providers, and numerous consultants involved in commercialisation (let alone private industry).

This also includes the fledgling KiwiNet, the CRI and universities created group/hug commercialisation entity which came into being as the would-be Ministry of Science & Innovation National Network of Commercialisation Centres initiative failed to arrive.

This current CI fuzziness is even more reason for it to come out with some specific and practical illustration(s) of how it is going to work.

I would suggest that the CI needs a type of ‘stress testing’ before it, nominally, comes into being on 1 Feb. 2013.

Because the danger for it, and the country, is that CI becomes a proposal with little support if presented as a fait accompli.

And given that there’s precious few working days left between now and Feb. 1, creating and building stakeholder engagement, rather than policy development, is THE crucial element.

Or, to put it another way, and something I’m sure the late Sir Paul Callaghan would’ve endorsed – give us something concrete we can actually chip away at….or endorse.

Quickly.


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