Thought Leader: Innovation needs bold execution

We live in an era where discovery is the new currency and the success with which nations can foster the climate for innovation will determine their future prosperity. This is an exciting dynamic for small but competitive nation, and much rests on our capacity to commercialise the ideas, schemes and dreams of our brightest and best. Ambition to succeed in forging an innovative economy is one thing, but the acid is now on to lift our ability to execute that goal. We cannot be content with the status quo.
The Kiwi Innovation Network (KiwiNet) was launched last month to increase the scale, connectivity and economic impact of science and technology commercialisation in New Zealand through an unprecedented level of national collaboration between universities and Crown Research Institutes and their innovation partners.
KiwiNet will act as hub for commercialisation activities for its member organisations, currently six universities and three Crown Research Institutes, as well as participants in the wider national innovation system, as they work to create commercial opportunities from science and technology research.
The sheer breadth and depth of the founding partners, which include WaikatoLink, Plant & Food Research, Otago Innovation, Lincoln University, AUT Enterprises, AgResearch, University of Canterbury, Industrial Research and Viclink, constitutes genuinely national network. From this platform, KiwiNet will reach deeply into the innovation systems and into New Zealand’s major industry sectors.
KiwiNet members encompass the large proportion of New Zealand’s science capability with total combined research expenditure of more than $500 million and they generate wealth of discoveries.
These innovations need to get close to their markets as quickly as possible. Through KiwiNet we can capture, develop and transfer these valuable intellectual property assets from universities and CRIs, along with other work from research institutions and commercial organisations, to provide competitive advantage for industry.
KiwiNet’s collaborative commercialisation model enables members to share resources, networks, best practice, IP and experience to create more commercially viable IP and start-ups from research based ventures. Early visibility allows IP to be combined, if appropriate, and duplication of effort to be avoided.
Collaboration, networks and early visibility to investors and industry who understand the potential of these research opportunities also dramatically increases the chance of success for ventures.
CRIs and universities can better support industry sectors by working together. The trust and transparency so essential to success can only be built by working in collaborative way and it is this best practice that we want to bring to bear in the new environment. KiwiNet provides the essential ingredients of success; strong governance, rigorous investment screening and decision making, well-structured project guidance and monitoring, and the ability to excite and harness investor appetite.
KiwiNet members have demonstrated the ability to execute at the early stage of commercialisation. ZyGEM, Magritek, ArcActive, eco-n, SuperGel, HTS-110, Geosense, General Cable Superconductors and Endace are all good examples of companies formed and in-market products from research commercialised from universities or CRIs.
We want many more of these successes. KiwiNet’s exciting commercialisation firepower will allow us to deploy resource into science and investor facing activities, while continuing to innovate in commercialisation regimes.
KiwiNet also acts as an innovation shop front for investors and industry. We expect our strong commercialisation track record to attract fresh interest from two important quarters; the investors who are on the hunt for propositions of commercial promise, and other entities with ideas who will want to test them under our regime.
We cannot preach the virtues of innovation, yet remain hide-bound in our structural thinking and cramped in our ambition for this initiative. KiwiNet members feel heavy responsibility to collectively push the boundaries in the search for better and smarter ways to commercially leverage the substantial, but latent and untapped pool of New Zealand’s intellectual property.
As country we must get moving to create the positive economic shifts we need. One way we can do this is to get really bold about executing an agenda of collaborative and national commercialisation and innovation. KiwiNet is very practical and crucial push for smart commercialisation. We can produce far greater benefits when we work together than we can when we operate single-handedly. Collaboration not competition is the key to get the outcomes we seek as country. M

Duncan Mackintosh is chief executive of WaikatoLink, founding member of KiwiNet.

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