Kiwi firms need to get on front foot: Quin

KASHKA TUNSTALL
Last updated 17:43 24/07/2013

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New Zealand businesses need to become more proactive in attracting capital for product development, Callaghan Innovation chief executive Mary Quin says.  

The head of the Government's innovation entity spoke at the national economic development forum hosted by Economic Development Agencies New Zealand in Hamilton today. 

There she tackled questions about the Government's role in building up the innovation industry and said Kiwi businesses need to become more motivated to take risks and be ambitious, without relying on government funding as a safety net. 

More than 160 people from government agencies, business facilitation organisations, local government bodies and economic development agencies registered for the two-day conference. Quin has spent her career in the private sector, working overseas with big corporations like Xerox and Eastman Kodak. 

More recently she served as president for Alaskan firm Nana Management Services, doubling revenues to $200 million over a seven-year period. 

She took up her appointment with Callaghan at the beginning of May.

She said since returning to New Zealand, she has observed that Kiwi businesses had more of an expectation that the Government should fund R&D and product development than businesses in markets like the United States had. 

"Their expectation is that you go out and you raise the equity capital to fund your product development," she said.  

"Here, there's a bit more expectation that there is a government grant to take cost of that risk of product development, as opposed to the private sector raising funds through private equity firms, venture capital firms and angel investment."

She said the Government's responsibility was to create and enable social, legal and governmental infrastructure that made it possible for entrepreneurs to exploit, develop and launch new products into the global market.

"I think we've certainly got potential to invest more in being willing to take risks, and be more ambitious in taking risks in the private sector, and not expect government R&D grants are going to get us all the way to the market place," she said. 

Callaghan Innovation is only six months old, setting up in February to replace Crown entity Industrial Research. 

Earlier this month, Callaghan released a statement of intent, putting forward strategies for accelerating commercialisation of New Zealand innovation. 

It received backlash in the industry because it failed to recognise economic development agencies as key domestic partners in building up New Zealand's innovation ecosystem.  

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Quin offered a humble apology to conference attendees today, calling the omission accidental and a "total screw up".  

"We just blew it and if you forgive us for that, we'll make it ... clear in future documents," she said. 

Under Quin's direction, the organisation has decided to end its use of contestable funding, saying it created too many barriers by seeing Callaghan compete against the kinds of organisations it wanted to partner with.

"[They] are not comfortable sharing with us what they are doing, because in a sense that is their competitive advantage."

Callaghan will also shift focus from fundamental research to near-to-market research, Quin said. 

- Waikato Times

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