As a national network of commercialisation centres comes into being, to help speed and improve the transfer of good university ideas into sellable products and services, it is worth remembering the challenges that face such an endeavour in a small market such as New Zealand.
A February 2010 Centre for Entrepreneurship (Otago University) Working Paper Series called ‘Innovation, Technology Transfer and Commercialisation in New Zealand’ found a broad consensus among the country’s scientific community about the potential of innovation to spur our nation’s economic development.
However, there was a wide diversity of opinion about what sectors should be targeted and how commercialisation should be organized, coordinated and improved.
The study concluded that companies face high transaction costs when trying to effectively access and commercialise innovations developed by universities and research institutes given the broad array of organisational capabilities, objectives, approaches and measures utilised by their technology transfer offices.
The study’s finding suggest that a uniform approach to measuring the effectiveness of TTOs may help align missions, reduce transaction costs and enhance the effectiveness of commercialisation strategies and practices.
The May 2010 budget allocated $11 million over four years to the establishment of a national network to bring together existing expertise from the commercialisation units already attached to public research organisations.
The purpose of the national network of commercialisation centres (NNCC) is to share and leverage this expertise, and develop critical mass where needed in order to increase successful commercialisation of publically funded research.
The Otago University paper outlined some of the challenges that need to be addressed in the setting up of the NNCC. Recurrent concerns included:
• Lack of support resources: “I believe that most innovation and technology transfer in New Zealand, particularly in a university setting is managed without adequate resources.”
• Risk aversion: “A lack of job opportunities when ventures fail means a very risk adverse [sic} culture.”
• Capital and management concerns: “Good ideas based on niches but poor access to capital and management expertise,” and “our researchers are world class (if they stay) but management often misguided and inept.”
• Incentives need modification: “Amend the PBRF to allow credit for research that is successfully commercialised.”
• Industry links need improvement: “We are not good at getting alongside industry.”
• Market and labour limitations: “Small market, limited pools of investors for initial funding, and the tyranny of distance,”, “small pockets of great skill but too small to be effective,” and “…..extremely small number of firms able to develop and maintain the major structural shifts required for effective new product development.”
The creation of a NNCC, given the need for it to be co-operative and collaborative, while also being competitive will be a challenge. Is there a New Zealand way to overcome our obstacles?