The Kiwi innovation space is starting to look awfully crowded


Is it just me, or is the innovation/commercialisation space looking awfully crowded and confused these days?

Sure, we like to think we’re (NZ Inc) inventive and entrepreneurial.

But there seem to be more entities out there offering innovation (and I shudder to use the term) advice, funding and connections than there are companies with good ideas.

Wearing my taxpayer’s hat, I have no problem when private money puts their proverbial on the line and takes a punt on a startup or early stage company being the next big market success.

Therefore the angel investor community, private equity companies and even family, friends and fools are to be admired and encouraged.

But the plethora of government, university and regionally financed organisations servicing our entrepreneurs is started to look very overlapping, rather uncoordinated; and the lack of transactions by some players needs to be questioned.

A cursory list includes (I’m not sure if I should apologise for accidentally missing some!):

NZVIF

Callaghan Innovation

MBIE (well, parts of it)

KiwiNet (and the individual university commercialisation units that are part of it)

Icehouse

SODA

BBC

CreativeHQ

powerHouse

Sparkbox

In fact this blog was inspired by the recent announcement that there is to be a merger between Wellington-based Kerasi Ltd, and powerHouse – though Kerasi’s website states it is a powerHouse partner so decide for yourself who the kingpin.

powerHouse has also recently announced a merger with Dunedin incubator Upstart.

Then there’s a new body I’d never heard of – Innovation Council NZ.

Again, one of its main sponsors is government via Callaghan Innovation.

All in all, I’m afraid it means that there is quite a bit of overhead costs to be paid for by someone (us) as all and sundry scramble around looking for something to invest in.

In other words, there’s lots of pedaling by a lot of people, but without the sense of urgency that having your own money invested brings to the game.

There will be a lot of meetings though, and any number of bureaucratic hoops to jump through to make sure that ‘value’ is being delivered to the taxpayer.

And then, by the time that someone higher up that government food chain ponders the question of whether flinging a whole lot of money at innovation, and seeing what sticks, actually does work, it’ll be time for another change of policy.

But by then minister of everything Steven Joyce will probably have ditched the science and innovation part of his portfolio!

Posted in Angel investment, contract writer, Entrepreneur, high tech, Innovation, SciBlogs, Science policy, start-up, technology, writer for hire | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

Re-arranging science funding’s deck chairs


Well, I guess you can’t have too many science funding bodies…

An alert colleague pointed out a GETS call for applications for – Capability in Independent Research Organisations Funding. (GETS Reference: 41196)

This fund is aimed at non-Crown Research Institutes,

“which hold significant research capabilities supporting national outcomes in areas of government priority.”

This will appeal to organisations such as the Cawthron Institute, HERA (Heavy Engineering Research Association), Opus Research and other independent researchers. (You can see a full list here at IRANZ, the Independent Research Associations of NZ).

The major surprise is that this fund is to be administered by the Health Research Council (HRC).

In a way it all makes perfectly logical sense given the way that science, innovation and commercialisation ‘policy’ (used in the very loosest terminology) has gone over the past few years

We had science policy and funding being separated – a Ministry and a Foundation for R,S & T.

Then these two were brought together to have a Ministry of Science and Innovation.

That lasted about five minutes, and MBIE was set up, with much of its funding allocation removed when Callaghan Innovation came, and is coming into, being.

Oh, there’s also the Primary Research Growth Partnership administered by the Ministry of Primary Industry as another entity entirely.

And now this.

The HRC does make funding allocations to researchers in health – which presumably they have a fair degree of expertise to do so.

Now they’ve got to become experts in a wide range of research fields, completely unrelated to their core knowledge.

Instead of the fund being under MBIE, and aligned to its overarching goals which seeing as it helped write them it should understand, a completely different body gets to do the choosing.

I guess, when as a country, we have no clear idea of what we should be concentrating our limited scientific endeavours on, then spreading the resource ever more thinly and hoping something, anything, serendipitously happens to happen is as good as any other approach.

But it takes us ever further away from the exemplar countries such as Denmark and Singapore – countries that have a plan, stick to it for a bit, and then modify what they do to achieve the clear goals that they have.

Talk about re-arranging the deck chairs!

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‘Fire engine envy’ + time = sales


Fire engine envy.

No, I never knew that such a condition existed, though it kinda makes sense if you happen to be involved in the fire fighting business.

But fire engine envy is one of many factors that’s assisted Lower Hutt’s Fraser Engineering into a pre-eminent position as an Australasian manufacturer of such tenders.

Speaking at a recent gathering of Technology Valley participants (and totally coincidentally, held at Petone’s Fireman’s Arms pub), Fraser’s general manager Martin Simpson told of how firemen looking enviously at the units put together by his own company, make comments that gradually and ever so slowly filter up to positively influence decisions made by a purchasing officer.

Fraser’s manufacture virtually everything in a fire engine tender beyond an imported truck chassis and cab (though they’re thinking about building this as well).

It starts with feedback and input from real firemen.

Hosereels, pumps, valves, nozzles, cabinents and the whole kit and caboddle are designed from scratch, from single components up, on a SolidWorks 3D CAD software platform.

Most of them are then created through the use of more than $20 million of manufacturing equipment, including an increasing amount of 3D (additive) metal and other products printing.

The demands of fire fighters are an important element in designing extremely robust equipment.

“A fireman’s pumped with adrenalin when they’re in action,” says Martin.

“They don’t want to be grabbing something in the heat of the moment…and it breaks. Likewise, a pump must start first time, every time.”

Another aspect of firemen psychology is that, during some of their downtime (mostly they’re not fighting fires), they’ll often surf the net, checking out tools of their trade. (You can imagine that this sort of exercise would certainly contriubte to fire engine envy!)

Martin says that unlike some of their competitors’ fire engines, all Frasers’ vehicles are immediately able to go into service (commissioning is relatively easy). The company also concentrates on the “whole of life cost” of the tenders, noting that Fraser’s has virtually zero warranty issues. In other words, the fire engines work first time, for a long time.

It is information and feedback such as this that slowly filters through the fire services of different states and countries – helping to build Fraser’s reputation.

Martin says Fraser’s is helping to organise a major fire fighting conference to take place in Wellington in September 2014, which may be attended by up to 2000 people.

“If there’s any other fire fighting related companies who would like to attend this event that will have every purchasing officer from Australia and New Zealand there, as well as a swag from other countries, we’ve love to hear from them,” he says.

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Fraser Engineering; a billion dollar company in the making


Well, you can’t accuse Hutt Valley-based Fraser Engineering of lacking ambition.

Speaking at a recent Technology Valley get-together, general manager Martin Simpson says it wants to be a billion dollar company.

The 60 year old private company with 100 designers, engineers and fabrication and production specialists has tweaked what it makes a number of times over the years – with its latest incarnation having manufacture of fully-specified fire engines as one of its major product lines.

Fraser’s are now the largest fire engine manufacturer in the Pacific area, and one of the largest in the world.  All of this has been achieved by ploughing profits back into the business, and NOT outsourcing to the likes of China.  It means that the company has more than $20 million of manufacturing ‘kit’, from 3D laser printers, to laser cutters, 9-axis machine tools to powder-coating facilities.

However, all this machinery starts and interacts with a Solidworks 3D CAD design software. (Martin noted that there’s a very large bill that the company has to pay for licence fees for this capability as one of the largest privately-owned users in New Zealand).

As a result Fraser’s are able to barcode-view the manufacture of every single part of the appliance, control valves, nozzles, hose reels and host of other components that make up a fire engine (or any other job it does for outside clients). From materials to drawings, purchasing and all aspects of turning raw metal into often very complex finished components, Fraser’s can track the process and progress of any individual part.

Should a replacement part be required, Fraser’s can find its specifications virtually instantly, and be able to produce it on the spot if required.

By maintaining a design-led in-house manufacturing and engineering capacity, “we’re now a powerhouse that can compete with anyone in Australasia,” Martin says.

“In fact, we’re advancing our manufacturing capability so quickly, our opposition can’t keep up.”

This in-house expertise also means that Fraser’s know to a few cents, how much an item costs to manufacture. Detailed information and internal reporting such as this is one reason that Fraser’s is now building 20-30 fire engines at any one time.

The company also has an intellectual property strategy that isn’t based on patents.

“The way we do it is to keep ahead of the competition,” says Martin. “If you copy you will never lead.”

Martin is also dubious (to say the least) about some of the ‘advice’ received over the years from government ministries.

Fraser’s deliberately didn’t outsource parts of its manufacturing to China. An observation he’s made of other engineering companies who have done so, is the waiting and co-ordination required to make sure hundreds of parts arrive on-time to create the component. This wait, and just as important the resultant delay in getting paid by your own customers is part of the reason the company has been so insistent on being a one-stop-shop, and/or outsourcing some manufacturing elements  to local collaborative partners.

Control of the process is key.

“Don’t sell your assets,” was one of Martin’s take-home points. “It keeps you in control.”

He says an exemplar company for Fraser’s is Rosenbauer.

They are often asked (with incentives) whether they would also like to establish themselves over the ditch.  In the meantime though growth will come through being smarter than their opposition.

That, and no doubt, a large degree of listening to themselves and not to others who don’t have skin in the game.

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A trial with zero percent success proves trap’s worth


 Any business that gets itself into a financial position to employ others is, by default, doing OK.

If that operation starts with a completely new product, to survive long enough to (at least) thrive, is even better.

So it is great to hear of pest and predator control company Goodnature coming up trumps in an extensive DOC test in a two-year project at two trial sites at Boundary Stream Mainland Island, Hawkes Bay, and Onepu, Northern Te Urewera.

We’ve set a whole new standard for rat control with traps,” says Goodnature head of marketing and market development Stu Barr.

For us and DOC the trial results are exceptional and beyond the expectations set at the start of the project.

To put it in perspective, the pass mark for the trial was 5%. To get 0% at both trial sites has set a whole new standard for future developments. At 0% all the rats are gone and therefore all bird and native species vulnerable to rat predation are going to thrive and grow in numbers.”

This is a level of control previously only achieved by toxins.

Goodnature’s A24 automatic humane kill-traps for rats and stoats resets itself up to 24 times powered by a 16 gram compressed CO2 canister. A bolt to the animal’s head results in an instant kill.

The Goodnature A24 rat and stoat trap

And while the innovative design of the traps (which, in a larger version also kill possums) was part of the design team’s approach, over time the Wellington company’s found much of its ongoing research and development aimed at perfecting longlife lures to attract the pest to its death.

Stu Barr says the constant trap and lure improvement were vividly seen when the 2013 technology version traps were deployed in 2013.

The humane killing technology, along with pest-specific lures, is now being use in more than 15 countries around the world.

As well as further rat control, Goodnature’s automatic resetting traps are helping eliminate the introduced mongoose in Hawaii, and mink in Scandinavia.

All of this hasn’t happened overnight of course.

Goodnature, founded by three mature design students, started in 2006.

But there’s now eight people onboard – and you can only be an employer if you’re making money.

The constant trap and lure improvement is part of the company’s design philosophy.

The trial alongside DOC, and more importantly the 100% kill statistics all help Goodnature position itself as a viable est control method beyond poisons.

Undoubtedly too when Goodnature started, they considered themselves in the pest killing business. Over time they’ve found themselves just as much in the pest-attraction business – as the ‘kill’ part of the trap itself is increasingly honed to perfection.

It is this eye for constant improvement that is helping the company grow.

Good luck guys, keep up the good work.

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How long will it take for the Wynyard Precinct to hit its straps?


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.

Posted in Angel investment, contract writer, Entrepreneur, high tech, Innovation, IT, SciBlogs, start-up, technology, university, value added food, value-added food. processed food, writer for hire | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Driver of Callaghan accelerator services to put pedal to the metal?


We’ll make the assumption that Callaghan Innovation’s new GM of Accelerator Services isn’t there for the money.

Chris Somogyi’s come relatively unannounced to the crown entity whose role is to accelerate the commercialisation of innovation by NZ firms.

Chris Somogyi

Softly, softly is possibly how the American, recently from Seattle may do things – lie low, get a feeling for the place before making yourself known.

He’s been a venture capitalist, developed concepts into ready-made products and has a strong record in business development. He’s already been to NZ a number of times, so presumably isn’t too rose-tinted glasses about our place.

Given his interesting credentials, and presumably backstory as a biomedical engineer by training, Somogyi hopefully brings some deep connections and contacts into some of the business areas CI’s targeting.

Having been well over a year in the development, CI needs a few runs on the board, needs the accelerator pressed to the floor.

Investing in companies, having an umbrella view of industries and sectors will undoubtedly be a completely different gig to being down and dirty with would-be up-and-coming businesses within the same, and trying to help them scale quickly to significant size.

In other words, fighting in the trenches is completely different to attempting to direct from above.

Which Somogyi will undoubtedly be aware of, and hopefully up for the challenge of being part of.

From Callaghan Innovation’s point of view, they probably have little to lose.

An outsider (of NZ candidates) solves a few of those political/business bias challenges that can arise in such a pivotal, potentially game-changing position.

CI may’ve thrown a double six just found the exact person they need.

Or not.

He’s only been in the GM accelerator services role for a month or so, and Somogyi is probably doing a lot of listening while trying to make sense of the disjointed research, development, commercialisation and funding and investment scene in this country.

Welcome to New Zealand Chris.

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Finding the fruitful intersection of ideas and organisation


 Ultimately this blog is a plug for Stephen Cummings handbook of ways that business can fruitfully marry management and creativity.

Along the way it is also an endorsement of the Professor of Management at Victoria University’s Business School, and in particular the part he played in what was Industrial Research Ltd’s former Leadership Development Programme (LDP). (See page 5).

The LDP was essentially an MBA on steroids – condensing into a couple of weeks what often is a two year grind. Stephen was one of the LDP facilitators.

From (the former) IRL’s point of view, not only did the LDP expose and encourage  its researchers and staff into leadership roles, it was also a highly productive and cost-effective way to encourage ideas that would be of benefit to IRL and its clients.

The LDP gave permission for ‘ordinary’ IRL people to grow, to literally think outside the square of what the former crown research institute could or should be.

As a result, the ‘What’s Your Problem New Zealand’ concept, of a million dollars of research for a commercial challenge that had major potential to impact, was born.

The ‘Scientist for a Day’ programme, opening the doors of Gracefield to the general public was another initiative. (Coastal Markers Ltd used the day to introduce themselves to the science capability on its doorstep).

Some of the thinking, outcomes and research behind the LDP is no doubt included in Stephen Cummings and Chris Bilton’s ‘Handbook of Management and Creativity’. (Check near the end of the blog and you’ll find a link to a discounted early-bird order).

I gave the challenge to Stephen to give a one sentence line as to: why AREN’T management and creativity diametrically opposed.

And inch being pretty close to a mile, this was his email reply.

“The Handbook is based on the idea that good management and creativity are similar: they both require the effective combination of disciplined focus and unstructured free-association. We tend to see management as the opposite of creativity, but this is largely for historical reasons. In the middle of the 20th history management’s fundamental aim was defined as the pursuit of efficiency. Part of this limited definition of intent was reference to pioneers like FW Taylor (so called creator of Scientific Management) who were claimed to be only focussed on efficiency. However, was is forgotten in management history is that Taylor’s ideas were destined for the scrapheap until a young lawyer called Louis Brandeis remodelled them and used them to attack big business interests in a high profile legal case in 1910. ‘Conservation’ was the big political issue of the day, as governments sought ways to combat rampant business  exploitation and Brandeis connected these new ides about management to show how business could more carefully and creatively utilize their resources and share their wealth. The aim of the ‘conservation movement’, of which Brandeis, Taylor and FD Roosevelt were a part, ascribed this thinking was “the greatest good for the greatest number for the longest time.” If history had been interpreted differently and we had come to see this more open guiding principle of management then we might not see management and creativity as opposites in the first place.”

And here’s the original email that earned Stephen his plug.

We are pleased to offer a special promotional price on The Handbook of Management and Creativity, a compilation of new research and case studies on the relationship between management and creativity (see the attached flyer). The book features experts from the fields of management studies, creative industries research, organisational studies and strategy. Further details can be seen via the weblink below (and extracts are available via Amazon’s ‘Look Inside’ option). Some of the research findings in the handbook are also discussed in a blog which you can find here

We are able to the handbook to our personal networks at a special discounted price of £40 (+p&p). The discount is available to individuals only (not for libraries or institutions) between now and the end of March.

To order please click http://bit.ly/19UUd7j or email sales@e-elgar.co.uk, quoting promotional code BILT40

Please take advantage of what we think is a pretty generous offer from the publishers and please provide any of your own comments and thoughts about management and creativity in general or the book in particular on the blog site. It would be great if you could contribute to the discussion. And please tweet/linkedin/pass on information about the book to any of your friends/colleagues/networks that you think might be interested.

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Opportunity lost? – a case study, Dr Werner Komposi


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.

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Chipping in for multicore champion – let’s get parallel programming


 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?)

Posted in cloud computing, contract writer, Development, Entrepreneur, high tech, IT, open source, SciBlogs, technology, university, writer for hire | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment