Appointee keen to build relationships
Exploring opportunities in Maori business and economic activities and securing international funding for research are strong interest areas for Waikato University's new director of research and innovation, Dr Bret Morris.
Morris will work with the Waikato business community and university researchers to grow the institution's research and development income and help business find solutions.
Most recently enterprise director at Otago University, Morris has a PhD in virology and molecular biology from the University of East Anglia and has worked with the investment promotion arm of NZ Trade and Enterprise, HortResearch (now Plant and Food), the former DSIR and European biotechnology companies.
He said he was attracted to the job because Waikato University has a young, dynamic profile with "great strengths in important areas".
"Waikato always looked like a university that cared about the community and the environment and those are important features. Its graduates quite often look like that."
He and his team are still deciding what their first target sectors and industries will be but he indicated new value-adding industries, and the public good and environment sectors, will get attention, along with traditional economic export sectors such as dairying and Fonterra.
"I'm very keen to explore opportunities in Maori-related business and activities . . . to see some treaty investments turned to higher economic value.
"I'm not saying there's anything wrong with farming, forestry and fishing but really we want a more skilled workforce in those areas . . . so how can we employ people in laboratories or high level manufacturing activities or the like?
"It's something to have a discussion around but none of these can be done overnight."
Morris said on behalf of the university he wants to build relationships.
"Those relationships will be at multiple levels but a lot of this won't be rah, rah, high profile PR scenarios - it will be quiet.
"The great thing about a university is that you have all this talent right across different groups and faculties.
"Let's say I was to promote a large pharmaceutical business. You might think this company is all about research on drugs. The irony to me is that these companies always have glamorous collections of artwork in their foyers, just the same as the big accountancy companies.
"To me the ultimate contract might be a professor of fine arts advising them on what pieces of work to buy.
"The great thing is a university has all this sort of stuff to offer and the unexpected is what is quite exciting."
Another example of the unexpected that can turn up in a university-business relationship was Otago University's visit to the aluminium smelter at Tiwai Point, Morris said.
"We went to them to discuss . . . [our] work around energy efficiency and the like because they are a tremendous electricity user. We came out of those meetings hearing that their needs were more related to health and safety on the work site."
Just as important as business relationships in Morris' job will be what he calls "internal clients". They are the university's academics and researchers.
"There is no point making promises to an external organisation when there isn't the [internal] willingness to do that work in that area.
Morris said his priority was to build relationships.
- © Fairfax NZ News