Plans for Tauranga's future as innovation hub

By David Porter

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PIONEERING: Priority One's Shane Stuart says pilot projects underway to test demand for innovation hub. PHOTO/FILE
PIONEERING: Priority One's Shane Stuart says pilot projects underway to test demand for innovation hub. PHOTO/FILE

Tauranga failed late last year to secure funding for one of the regional research institutes proposed by the Government.

But despite that, there was strong local interest in the concept, which had evolved into a positive collaboration programme among Priority One and local businesses on a series of pilot projects aimed at setting up an innovation lab in the city.

Shane Stuart, innovation manager for Priority One and Waikato University, told this week's Priority One annual general meeting he had found on consulting local businesses that they weren't interested in adding to research capability. However, they were keen to access skills and resources for design, innovation, and commercialising new technologies.

After his consultations, Mr Stuart facilitated the submission of two proposals for the regional research funding.

One was for a Tauranga Research Institute for MedTech (TRIM), a centre for the design, development and manufacture of medical devices, including implants and tools.

It was based around a combination of advanced manufacturing such as TiDA/RAM's 3D titanium printing technologies, working alongside Bay of Plenty Clinical School researchers.

The other was for a Kaimai Research and Innovation Institute (KRI2), an innovation lab matching science and technical expertise in areas such as natural products, horticultural value chains and Maori land use. This was supported by expressions of interest from 20-plus companies in the Western Bay of Plenty and 10-plus in the Waikato. A pilot had been ready to go involving Bluelab, Comvita, Locus Research, Plus Group, Waka Digital, and University of Waikato.

"We weren't really looking at research as such, but on research integrated with design and engineering, with a commercial orientation and global ambitions," Mr Stuart told the AGM, which included a series of brief presentations on the importance of innovation in the sub-region.

"However, just because that particular funding opportunity hadn't worked out, it didn't change the fact that we had seen a shared vision for a new capability here with world-class design and innovation skills, to build on our strengths and build something of global quality."

Mr Stuart was working with local technology-focused businesses on a series of pilot projects in order to develop the concept into a tangible, deliverable proposition for a local innovation lab.

Priority One interim chief executive Greg Simmonds said there were businesses which saw value in working collaboratively around research commercialisation opportunities. The agency had embarked on a dozen or so innovation hub pilot projects, which would run until about the middle of 2017.

"The projects are being co-ordinated and facilitated by Priority One, but driven by local businesses," Mr Simmonds said. "Each project will be funded and resourced in a different way depending on the companies involved."

The purpose was to evaluate the demand for an innovation lab, and map out what a workable model for it would be, he said.

Mr Stuart said one of the first projects underway was a monthly Bay of Plenty meet-up, which brings together business people and experts to network on how to develop innovative ideas. The next meeting on Tuesday will feature Bluelab Corp product development manager Jono Jones, who also spoke at the AGM on his company's innovation journey.

Priority One chief executive-designate Nigel Tutt, who starts work at the end of November, said the best way to be introduced to what was happening in Tauranga had been to hear from the people doing it.

"I thought it was hugely inspiring and energising to hear the voices of business people in the community," Mr Tutt said.

City of Opportunity
-The Priority One annual general meeting previewed the final version of its new business attraction video, City of Opportunity.
-The video was produced by Ian Taylor's Animation Research, in collaboration with Priority One and Carrus Corp.
-It includes the latest graphic visualisations of the new Waikato University campus in Durham Street, and proposed new Civic Heart and other infrastructure projects, as well as sound bites from major companies that have relocated to the Bay.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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