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!

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About sticknz

sticK is by Peter Kerr, a writer for hire. I have a broad science and technology background and interest, with an original degree in agricultural science. My writing speciality is making the complex understandable. I am available for outside consultancy work, and for general discussions of converting a good idea into something positive
This entry was posted in Angel investment, contract writer, Entrepreneur, high tech, Innovation, SciBlogs, Science policy, start-up, technology, writer for hire and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to The Kiwi innovation space is starting to look awfully crowded

  1. Neal T says:

    Well said, Peter. As a start-up the issue for me is the money wants to go to ‘guaranteed’ projects e.g. apps or Fonterra or F&P, of get wasted in a CRI or University. The efficiency of capital invested in CRI innovation is absolutely horrid. The money given by CI to F&P or Fonterra in simply shareholder welfare and does little, if anything, to promote real innovation (a light tight bottle is not innovation).

    Most of the government/University work is essentially patch protection. If the country wants real innovation we should look at the Israeli model. But the problem we have is we throw tiny bits of capital at all these new ideas, and never enough to get them through the devleopment cycle and to market. It is a complaint I have been hearing since I arrived here many years ago, and nothing has changed. This is why we see the CodA’s and the LanzaTech’s and other leave these shores.

  2. Jon says:

    Again well said Peter, but not everyone in this space is taking the government shilling – the real action isn’t in the sponsored showboats. If it was, they’d be crowing about ‘exit’ events over the 10 years they’ve been operating. OK, I mean exit events that don’t need smoke, mirrors and pink glasses.

  3. Alan says:

    A good question Peter! It would be great to hear where you think innovation should come from and how best to support those who can make it happen.

  4. Unfortunately we never seem to get past the same old problems, specifically, “Public servants” primary focus is to protect their own jobs and increase the size of their organisation.Secondly they think they can pick winners when the market has shown repeatedly that even the best companies can produce mega failures. Public servants will also protect their own butts by adhering to the “nobody got fired for buying IBM” policy.
    Somehow we need a research, innovation and development environment and incentives for small businesses. Tax breaks do not work, most small innovative companies do not make profit in their early years. Co funding for outside consultants is often of little use because most small companies do R & D. inhouse. Getting in outside capital means loosing control. It needs someone with more smarts than me to figure it out.

  5. drllau says:

    reminds me of old saw about too many chiefs and not enough Indians … the problem has been identified elsewhere as angels + VC not really knowing which teams are going to be winners so its like taking a blind punt … especially at seed stage. can govts do better?

  6. Toby Ruckert says:

    The beauty of a small country like New Zealand is that actually this space need not be as complicated as it appears to be. Navigating the NZ startup waters is easy and difficult at the same time. Whilst there are limited resources to look at, it is not always so clear what they’re ultimately doing, where there is overlap and cooperation with others and who is really active vs. simply standing by.

  7. Jane Shearer says:

    I think NZ is in a development path for innovation in which increases in the ancillary services is happening and, I would guess, rationalisation of such services will be the next step. We have come a hugely long way in the last 15-20 years and I don’t know that there is a single or optimal path to follow. It only makes sense to compare NZ with countries which are at a similar stage in the innovation development timeline.

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