NZ innovation network recommended by expert

KASHKA TUNSTALL
Last updated 08:37 18/07/2013
Waikato Innovation Park
BRUCE MERCER/Fairfax NZ

GROWTH HUB: Waikato Innovation Park, the ag-biotech business growth hub, is home to more than 50 businesses.

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The head of one of the United Kingdom's biggest innovation networks is pushing for New Zealand's fledgling innovation growth industry to set up its own network.

Paul Wright, chief executive of UK Kingdom Science Park Association (UKSPA), toured the country last month, meeting with innovation centres, academics and government departments working within the innovation growth sector.

UKSPA has been operating for nearly 20 years, facilitating development and creation of science parks, research and technology parks, innovation centres and incubators.

Wright's trip was funded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

He has since written a report making recommendations to the government, and to industry, on ways to kick start and co-ordinate New Zealand's innovation ecosystem.

Wright is advocating that New Zealand establishes its own innovation growth association, using UKSPA as a template, to draw incubators, parks and innovation centres together to pool experience and further growth.

Waikato Innovation Park is the only science park in the country, though Wellington regional economic development agency Grow Wellington has signalled plans to set up its own.

New Zealand Trade and Enterprise funds eight business incubators nationally and the Economic Development Agencies of New Zealand supports 46 member agencies across the country.

Wright said the establishment of a small, independent, low-cost association would add value to the industry.

"The virtual joining up of existing assets, CRI (Crown Research Institute) research facilities and expertise and engagement of government and the private sector should go some way to creating a focused and accessible innovation ecosystem where the members drive the agenda, and will help accelerate growth of firms in New Zealand," Wright said.

The government should fund the set-up, but beyond that it should be self-supporting through sponsorship, membership subscription and pro-bono contributions.

But a "vertical silo" approach by organisations in the innovation ecosystem had local players more interested in competing, rather than collaborating, he said.

"Each organisation is performing the functions for which it has been established, but some do not necessarily see themselves as part of a wider innovation web."

Waikato Innovation Park's Peter Maxwell echoed the sentiment, saying the industry needed a shift in attitude to collaborate and grow.

"We see a lot of competitiveness but the majority of companies are not competing head to head, especially in hi-tech, high growth and export markets.

"It's better to work together, to partner together. "

Maxwell, who organised Wright's tour, is hoping an association will be up and running within 12 months.

The case had not been made for one before because New Zealand's innovation system was still developing, he said.

But with a critical mass of incubators and innovation centres finding their footing and getting into gear, he believed it was time to band together to push the agenda.

"The value isn't in the hard, it is in the soft . . . in the networking, the support and how do we measure that?"

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Wright said he would consider returning to New Zealand to spearhead establishing an association, should the plan gain traction with industry stakeholders and attract funding.

- Waikato

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