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How long will it take for the Wynyard Precinct to hit its straps? Peter Kerr Mar 11

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Well, let’s see how Auckland’s new Innovation Precinct, Wynyard Precinct (it appears to have at least a couple of names) get’s up and going.

It has been one of those long time in coming projects – and now we’ll see if the deliberate talk of setting up an innovation hub to attempt to be a baby Silicon Valley can be pulled off.

Making it a digital and ICT concentration of goodness may work, but then it may not.

I don’t know enough of the psychology, come physical location, come proximinity to university relationships to guage this one yet.

That, and whether the office/laboratory rent will be in the right comfort zone for budding entrepreneurs, who, even though they’d like to be situated around other smart people, may prefer the rock-bottom payments due when operating out of garage.

With (well at least according to this NZ Herald story) hotbeds of innovation already taking place in Albany, Takapuna, Henderson, Parnell, East Tamaki and further south around Auckland Airport, how and where Wynyard fits in will be interesting over the next few years.

Wynyard’s got some solid operators, with a track record in start-ups through having The Icehouse and Auckland’s BizDojo as people to meet, greet and settle potential new firms. There’s nothing like a bit of experience and competence to help fledgling founders.

How Ateed (the Auckland development agency) and Callaghan Innovation bring the FoodBowl into the mix will be another challenge.

The Manukau-based Food Innovation Centre has had considerable investment put into it by central government.

While these ventures always take a long time (if ever) to pay themselves back, the FoodBowl’s been very much in that territory apparently.

But, that’s not to belittle Wynyard. Onwards, and hopefully upwards.

Mind you, given that it will take at least a couple of years for anything meaningful to happen, by then we’ll have forgotten what the original purpose of Wynyard was anyway.


Opportunity lost? – a case study, Dr Werner Komposi Peter Kerr Feb 11

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By guest blogger: Mike Doig

Dr. Ingr Werner Komposi came to New Zealand about 12 years ago to take up employment at one of our universities. He was educated in Germany and while there divided his time between appointments in academia and industry.

Dr Komposi is married with two children, and the family has settled down well. They enjoy skiing and fishing, and appreciate New Zealand’s quiet and unspoiled natural environment.

Dr Komposi is a talented mechanical engineer who has specialised in the design of small diesel engines. He believes the diesel engine has unrealised potential and has a vision of designing an engine which could become a standard power plant in light aircraft.

He has prospered at his university. He has been promoted to associate professor, has published profusely, and was awarded an ‘A’ grade in the recent PBRF round.

He is a keen supporter of postgraduate research, and has supervised as many as six PhD students at the same time. Because of this he has been relieved of undergraduate teaching duties.

In 2008 Dr Komposi was awarded the Silver Medal for Innovation from the International Diesel Technology Association.

The university has been generous in its financial support of Dr Komposi’s research team. Dr Komposi has been able to attend numerous scientific and engineering conferences overseas, and this has enabled him to visit his family on a regular basis. His parents are now rather elderly.

He has not been able to obtain funding for his research from firms in New Zealand, nor from government sources.

However, as a result of his forays overseas, he has entered into a partnership arrangement with a large engineering concern in Korea, which has agreed to fund some of his work. It is thought that this arrangement grants certain intellectual property rights to the Koreans, but the university has no record of this.

Of his PhD students, all but two have found positions in overseas engineering companies.

One of the two others has taken up a post-doctoral fellowship in the university, and the other has entered the priesthood.

An MBA student at the same university became interested in the work of Dr Komposi and took as the subject of his final year project ‘A study of the feasibility of manufacturing diesel engines in New Zealand’.

It was a fine piece of work which earned the student an A+ grade. His finding was that while it would be technically possible to make diesels here, it would be hopelessly uneconomic and no sane firm or investor would be interested. Nearly all the most intricate componentry would have to be imported.

The MBA dissertation was embargoed for two years because it contained sensitive commercial information given by local engineering firms.

It has now been lodged in the university library but to date it has not been accessed, either in hard copy or online.

A seminar was organised by the university recently to celebrate the work of its most prominent researchers. Dr Komposi gave a stunning presentation of his diesel engine work, and two of his students gave a live demonstration of the latest design, which was surprisingly quiet.

A journalist in the audience was moved to ask how much support the work had received from the New Zealand taxpayer, and when a return might be expected.

Dr Komposi firstly replied that he didn’t keep very accurate records, but thought costs by now must be well over $1 million.

In considering the second part of the question, he first observed that the question wasn’t a very valid one.

‘Knowledge moves forward in unpredictable ways, and on a global scale’, he said. ‘We all benefit from the work of others.’

Dr Komposi and his family have now returned to Germany, where his elder son has enrolled at the University of Tubingen.


Chipping in for multicore champion – let’s get parallel programming Peter Kerr Feb 04

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 You’ve got to admire someone who has a vision, almost as much as someone who is prepared to use the word vision.

So here’s a plug for Nicolas Erdody, founder of Open Parallel, and more importantly the organiser of Multicore World Conference 2014.

Erdody’s well aware that computer hardware power – where many cores (essentially single computers) can be placed on a single chip – has advanced beyond the IT industry’s ability to program for such beasts.

In this light, he’s put together for a third consecutive year a two-day conference at Auckland’s AUT on 25 and 26 February that brings together many global experts on dealing with this challenge.

Naturally Erdody’s keen to get as many attendees to the world-class event as possible (just under $1000 for full attendance, including a conference dinner on the Tuesday night).

Equally he wants NZ Inc to wake up to the realisation that there’s a real opportunity for our collective psyche and IT infrastructure to ride the just-beginning wave of programming possibilities that exist around multicore coding.

Erdody’s passionate that a concentrated effort of NZ government, commercial interest, engineering and developers’ communities, R&D and academia could provide programming solutions for multicore.

Given that multicore’s parallel coding requirements are weightless, location agnostic, and an increasing problem needing to be solved, Erdody’s dead right about the opportunity.

Rounding up the collective cats to bring it to fruition, even in a country as only two degrees of separation connected as New Zealand has been an ongoing challenge for the Oamaru (yes, you read that right), former Uruguayan businessman.

However he must be doing something right. After two years staging the event in Wellington, for the third conference Erdody has pulled Auckland’s AUT (Auckland University of Technology) onboard as one of the sponsors, along with well-known open source software promoters Catalyst IT, SKA Organisation (from the UK) Cray Inc, NesI, NZOSS, MBIE, ThinkAgency, Scoop Media and NVIDIA.

There are more than 20 speakers at MCW2014, with over two-thirds of them from overseas.

Erdody would love to see as many IT managers, CTOs and CIOs, engineers and developers as possible at what is cutting edge thinking – and what is sure to be an inside look at where computing is heading in the immediate and not-to-distant future.

In a sense (though Erdody’s too polite to say this), anyone connected with the IT industry at even a slightly senior level would be a fool not to be there – if not for the speaker quality, then for the informal conversations which alone can often be worth the price of admission.

Additionally, on February 27 & 28, Erdody’s helped organise in association with AUT’s Dr. Andrew Ensor and Prof. Sergei Gulyaev a Square Kilometer Array (Computing for SKA) Workshop – the global initiative, using radio telescopes based in South Africa, Australia and New Zealand to better map the universe.  (New Zealand is a full member of the 10 country SKA Organisation, which is a cornerstone sponsor of MCW2014).

(Incidentially, Open Parallel is the only New Zealand company that leads a work package of, admittedly a small part of a huge international effort, the design phase of the SKA. Open Parallel’s contribution to the SKA isn’t funded by the NZ government, and, as a result, Erdody would appreciate international sponsorship or donors for the effort).

Finally, and getting back to the ‘vision thing’ (as accidentally coined by George Bush), Erdody deserves recognition for hammering away at an opportunity for New Zealand.

Our country could position itself as a centre of excellence and make lots of money by solving multicore programming problems for others.

Who is up for the discussion, the challenge and the prospect?

(In particular, government-type advisers looking for the next big thing, are you listening?)


KiwiNet and the sell of commercialisation Peter Kerr Nov 26

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There’s always something to learn at commercialisation workshops.

KiwiNet, the group-hug of university and CRI commercialisation units held a Wellington-based forum around understanding customers.

So, here’s couple of interesting bits and pieces from the day – of which I was only able to attend some of, so this is in no way representative.

KiwiNet chair Ruth Richardson, also sits on the KiwiNet Pre-Seed Accelerator Fund (PSAF) investment committee that evaluates ideas put forward by its members – before such ideas are put forward to MBIE.

She gave some investment criteria tips for the ±30 attendees.

  • The ‘sell’ usually comes in your answers to the question and answers, not in the initial presentation
  • Show your enthusiasm
  • Bring your principal investigator if you can
  • Bringing a representative from the business partner can work very well
  • External expert advice can add substantial value
  • Demonstrate value right along the supply chain
  • If you’re unsure, try a project review
  • Listen to the committee and address the concerns
  • It’s OK to fail

Magritek CEO Andrew Coy (risking, he reckons the wrath of his work colleagues) considers that the drivers of a successful academic scientist and commercialiser (who could be a scientist) are different.

Difference/orientation between an academic scientist and a commercial scientist

Science Commercial
Ideas Execution
Best Good enough
Right Successful
Thorough Fast
Publish Secret
Individual Team
Funding Investment and return
Wide ranging Focus
Happy PBRF Happy customer

Coy commented that sometimes universities get very tied up in trying to value intellectual property, before any money has been made from a possible venture.

“Share in the future value, not today’s costs,” he says.

He gave the example of Stanford University. The university owns any IP that comes from its scientists while they’re working there – but the university then licences it back to the inventor for a dollar. They then have a huge incentive to make the technology worth something.

Finally, Coy says rather than attempting to tie up any intellectual property in patents and the like, “the best IP is about making it work in reality,” he says.

“You want something that is hard to do, and you have to do lots of little things right to achieve it.”


You’ve got to kiss a lot of frogs – or, how to spot a good idea Peter Kerr Sep 17

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Engineer, entrepreneur, venture capitalist, and raconteur Neville Jordan reckons he needs to kiss about 99 frogs before he’ll find an idea worth investing in.

Speaking as the IPENZ 2013 William Pickering Fellow at a Wellington lecture (part of the body’s national tour), Jordan told about 300 people it takes much research, talking to overseas people, and being introduced to a lot of ideas to find one business/startup that will potentially turn into a handsome prince (to extend the analogy; though he didn’t use this term himself).

Neville Jordan


The Sept. 12 presentation by Jordan, executive chairman of private equity investor Endeavour Capital, was on the topic, ‘How an engineer spots new technology and creates a billion dollar business.’

From his Petone beginnings, including trying to make an atomic bomb (but, as a 13 year old, wasn’t able to source uranium at his local pharmacy!), Jordan briefly outlined how the pharmacist later skewed his interest towards electronics.

Years later he pioneered the use of microwave technologies in New Zealand, floated MAS Tech on the NASDAQ, came away from a subsequent buyout of that company by larger American interests, and with a war chest of funds set up vehicles to invest in other good Kiwi ideas.

Hence the kissing many frogs correlation.

Having been successful with some investments, and less so with others (“it’s not failure, it’s a lack of success” he said in reply to a question), Jordan pondered where some of the next ‘Big Things’ may be coming from.

As an investor, he’s mindful that some technologies can pull society apart.

“How do we impact on the social fabric so we create better societies, and not cripple it in the process,” he posited?

Without giving specific answers, Jordan speculated that advances will be made in:

A fusion of electronics and healthcare (including and around)

  • Chronic pain relief
  • Hearing
  •  Blindness

A rise of new computational abilities

  • Nano-level circuits
  • Neural/cognitive systems

3D printing at home

He also gave huge credence to new education entities which are set to greatly disrupt university (including New Zealand) and other providers’ offerings.

These include Laureate Universities (which have just received $200m in funding from the World Bank, and the Khan Academy (which has over 3,500 courses on offer).

Many people have heard of MOOCs (massive online open course) which currently have three million students in 220 courses.

Jordan says education that is accessible through and because of the internet will profoundly change society – though he, like others cannot possibly envisage what that will be.


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.


Key’s causing of capital introspection is probably good for us Peter Kerr May 28

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As much as Prime Minister John Key has attempted to water down his ‘Wellington is dying’ aside, at the very least it has provided a good opportunity for some capital introspection.

One thing Key might be doing is confusing busyness with business – and on that count with its larger population and vastly improved motorway network, well Auckland’s way ahead.

But looking under the bonnet of commerce, while Wellington can always do better, here’s a few facts John.

(Disclaimer: some of these are pretty hair-splitting in nature, but nevertheless!)

  • Wellington has the most NZ companies in the Deloitte Asia Fast 500 (Wellington 17, Auckland 16)
  • In 2012 Wellington had four new additions to the TIN 100 (Wedgelock, Fraser Engineering, Xero, Catalyst), versus Auckland with three and Christchurch two (Source; TIN 100)
  • Companies based in Wellington generate as much revenue as the entire South Island and have a slightly better revenue per population than Auckland (Source; TIN 100)
  • In 2012 the Wellington region ranked first in the country for business growth (Source: BERL Regional Rankings 2012)
  • Information media and telecommunications was the largest industry in Wellington in 2012, accounting for 9.9% of total GDP. The second largest industry was public administration and safety (9.5%) followed by financial and insurance services (7.6%). (Source: Infometrics, Wellington Region annual economic profile)
  • In 2011/12 the Wellington food and beverage sector grew at almost twice the national rate (growth of 4.2% compared with national growth of 2.1%). (Source: Infometrics, Wellington Region annual economic profile)
  • In 2011/12 Wellington’s screen and digital output grew by 2.2% compared with national growth of 1.2% (Source: Infometrics, Wellington Region annual economic profile)
  • Wellington outperforms all regions on GDP per employee, showing significantly higher output per employee – at $78,719 compared with a weighted average of $64,898. (Source: Infometrics, Wellington Region annual economic profile)
  • In 2012 the Wellington region ranked 4th in the country for resident population growth (Source: BERL Regional Rankings 2012)

And finally – Lonely Planet Best in Travel – 4th best destination worldwide

The main point is, supported by facts, that Wellington’s alive and kicking.

We, as in Wellingtonians and non-Aucklanders should be careful to avoid too much navel-gazing and taking to heart of John Key’s off-the-cuff comments.

We want Auckland to be doing well of course.

We also want the rest of the country to be doing well.

It isn’t an either/or argument. It is an also.

If John Key really wanted to make a useful aside, it would be around the likes of ‘this is what we should be concentrating on to create more wealth for our country’.

But that would mean committing to a course of action; and that as we all know is not a modus operandi for any sort of political party in New Zealand.


Problemsourcing initiative gets the academic once-over Peter Kerr Apr 24

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Open innovation and crowdsourcing are two relatively recent ways of finding solutions to (often) technical challenges experienced by companies.

There’s particular issues which need resolving when using the power of the crowd; along with the hope that someone has a usable answer.

Victoria (University) Business School in Wellington has, in the academic way that adheres to such publications’ rules, identified many of the pros and cons of open innovation and crowd sourcing in a hot-off-the-press paper recently published in ‘Technology Innovation Management Review’, see here.

Sally Davenport, Stephen Cummings, Urs Daellenbach and Charles Campbell have turned open innovation and crowd sourcing on its head with their paper and exploration; ‘Problemsourcing: Local Open Innovation for R&D Organizations’.

They’ve coined the term ‘problemsourcing’ – and given the rigour with which peer review is maintained – you have to presume they’re first.

“Problemsourcing is akin to crowdsourcing in reverse in that the open call initiator, not the crowd, holds the problem-solving capabilities, and the crowd-members offer not solutions but promising problems that would create substantial value if solved.”

The paper uses (the late) Industrial Research Ltd’s 2009 initiative ‘What’s Your Problem New Zealand’ as the model around which its authors explore problemsolving as a new open innovation practice – and in particular how the WYPNZ? competition for $1 million of research spending addresses eight key issues.
• Project delays
• Solution quality
• Ambiguous liability
• Temporary relationship
• Professional challenge
• Identity clash
• Exploitation and reputation effects
• Losers disenfranchised

The writers conclude that the success of WYPNZ? at this stage is measured primarily by the range of high-quality problems that were proposed as well as the sheer number of companies (in a small country) that, by submitting problems, indicated an interest in participating in such a process.

They point out: “With crowdsourcing, innovative activity is distributed somewhere in the crowd, but with problemsourcing, it remains firmly within the boundaries of the R&D organization, which we propose mitigates many of the risks and pitfalls associated with typical crowdsourcing initiatives.”

IRL ensured that its selected challenge had a fit with its own science and research resources, could make a difference to the country (and its economic health) and had a degree of sexiness (sticK, not Victoria Business School’s terminology) that would resonate with the general public and business alike. Resene Paints, and its wish to create a sustainable-base paint was the ultimate winner.

As Callaghan Innovation comes into being (and taking note of BusinessDesk journalist Pattrick Smellie’s recent article suggesting we give CI a chance to find its feet) the Davenport et al paper would be good reading for its people.

WYPNZ? was one of a number of IRL initiatives that lifted science and research beyond the white lab coat concept.

It spurred some companies which had never thought of R&D as a part of their business, to reconsider. It also brought (as the paper points out) many, many more partnering research opportunities IRL’s way.

WYPNZ? also dovetailed strongly, as you’d expect being its instigator, with IRL’s strengths.

But most of all it was fun.

And that’s an ‘f’ word we should allow ourselves, along with another one – failure.


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.


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.


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