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Callaghan Innovation's own goal?


Let’s call it an own goal eh.

How else can we describe Callaghan Innovation Research Ltd’s (CIRL), effectively the old Industrial Research as subsumed into the new-ish entity, failure to obtain millions of dollars’ worth of research funding from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment?

Now, CI announced in its high level Statement of Intentn in early July (not a business plan note) as a key feature of its operational framework, that it will

“no longer participate in the government’s contestable funding process after the current round”.

(note, emphasis is by me)

But, prior to this announcement, in the early New Year its various science teams put the usual huge efforts into attempting to secure some of the $297 million for up to seven years research. Proposals are asked for across the biological industries, high-value manufacturing and services, energy and minerals, environmental, and health and society sectors. The successful bidders were announced on August 28.

In the end, only CIRL’s High Temperature Superconducting team were successful – $7.46 million over four years. (Given this dowry of sorts, that’ll make them reasonably attractive for a university to bring under its arm).

But it means that many of the other teams – the internationally regarded carbohydrate chemistry and energy and power services for example – missed out completely on being one of the 51 successful research programmes out of 229 proposals.

Apparently CI will ensure funding for these teams by taking money from its Accelerator Services budget and keep them ticking over.

Perhaps it is indicative of a disjoint between MBIE and Callaghan Innovation.

Perhaps it is MBIE and its Science Board feeling that CI has plenty of its own money to splash around.

Perhaps it is The Treasury indicating a degree of discomfort with what is being created (and destroyed).

Perhaps it is their joint minister Steven Joyce failing to make sure that the carry over to whatever CI becomes is tidy and seamless and politically non-headlining.

But, it is not a good look, and hence the own goal comparison.

At the same time, you have to feel sorry for the scientists and engineers at CIRL who missed out on research funding. They must be in an uncomfortable place, twiddling their thumbs while waiting for the supposed deluge of interest and co-investment from New Zealand industry.

Remember, this is what predicated the creation of Callaghan Innovation instead of the Advanced Technology Institute model as proposed by the former IRL. The ATI model was intended to be more of a problem-solver for industry, while CI’s statutory objective is:

“to support science and technology-based innovation and its commercialisation by businesses.”

Now, we’re still to see how CI intends to do this.

Apparently a scientist at the Wednesday 28 August Gracefield announcement that CIRL had missed out on considerable chunks of research funding, asked when the business plan could be expected – to which the reply was “it is being worked on”.

Having not appointed the interim Chief Financial Officer (James Corrigan) nor the interim GM, People and Capability (Peter Stipkovitz) to the actual roles, while their replacements get their feet under their seats, there will be another disruption which will no doubt further delay the plan.

Continuing the sporting theme, we’ll just call that an injury break, and bring on the untrained reserves eh.



sticK is run by Peter Kerr. As a writer for hire, especially in the science and tech area, and in making the complicated more simple, I’m happy to yarn – if you’ve got a challenge you’d like a conversation about, it costs nothing.


You can contact him at:

Bat phone: +64 21 0696 040

Landline: +64 4 473 0960

Twitter: @sticknz

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