Though successful in its own right, and with major growth aspirations, Magritek’s position and image as one of the poster-children of a high technology company within the New Zealand environment is a sad reflection on the nation’s science commercialisation efforts.
The value-added manufacturer and marketer of small-scale Nuclear Magnetic Resonance, and MRI Imaging products finds some parts of its business a real challenge says chief executive, Dr Andrew Coy.
“The potential is here in NZ,” he says. “We have very well educated people, the cost of starting and running a business is virtually nothing, and we’re creative, work hard and very entrepreneurial, who are prepared to roll our sleeves up to get the job done. Those are all necessary ingredients in high-tech manufacturing.”
However, over the past 20 years, the manufacturing sector in general has contracted rather than grown, its infrastructure hasn’t developed, and there’s generally a lack of capital for the sector.
This is particularly so in manufacturing’s support base, where machining and electronic fabrication (to name just a couple) are quite thin on the ground.
This is one reason the country struggles to have high tech industries, especially compared to many overseas countries that have companies that invest in their own infrastructure, and purchase the latest machinery and equipment to support other manufacturing companies.
For all that however, “these challenges are solvable,” he says. “Exporting isn’t as hard as some people think it is. We shouldn’t be afraid of failures, they are opportunities to learn.”
From his own company’s point of view, “the hard bit isn’t necessarily the science,” he says. “We have lots of smart ideas, the question is which ideas should you go after and execute. There’s no easy formula or recipe to answer that question.”
“A smart idea needs to make commercial sense, have a viable market, and be profitable,” Coy says. “In a lot of cases of failure, the idea had already been done before, it wasn’t profitable, or it had a market of just one person.”
“There is not necessarily a strong correlation between how smart the science is, and how successful the venture is,” Coy says, “Successful products can derive from science that would not necessarily be published academically. “