Hamish Fletcher

Business reporter for the NZ Herald

Innovation body ready to launch

Venture aims to link-up firms with science and technology sector to help commercialisation.

Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce, who has been overseeing the venture since it was announced before the 2011 election, said the transition period was necessary. Photo / Ben Fraser
Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce, who has been overseeing the venture since it was announced before the 2011 election, said the transition period was necessary. Photo / Ben Fraser

Callaghan Innovation - a new organisation aimed at boosting economic growth - launches this week but isn't likely to roll out any new programmes for at least six months.

The government body will bring together operations of a Crown research institute, certain parts of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, staff from New Zealand Trade and Enterprise as well as the Auckland Foodbowl, which is an $18 million food innovation facility.

This new venture will work to better connect New Zealand businesses with the science and technology sector in the hope this will help in the commercialisation of innovative products or services.

Although Callaghan Innovation officially comes into being this Friday, for the first six months the organisation will go through a "transition period" where it will focus on merging its various parts and refining the way it will work, says chairwoman Sue Suckling.

"After the six months we will have a three-year business plan which will see us starting to deliver products and services and working with firms to step change their appetite and application of science, engineering, technology to improve their performance," Suckling said.

Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce, who has been overseeing the venture since it was announced before the 2011 election, said the transition period was necessary to ensure Callaghan Innovation "didn't drop the ball".

"There's a huge amount of commercialisation work being done as we speak ... you need to make sure from day one that [that work] continues and improves from the point of view of the customer, which is after all the business sector," Joyce said.

"We want to make sure that ... it all comes together."

One of the first steps for Callaghan Innovation's staff and board was to build relationships with a "significant numbers of players in the R&D space", he said.

"What it won't be doing is rolling out a whole lot of new programmes on day one, it's first job is to make sure it all works."

One of Callaghan Innovation's board members, Navman founder Sir Peter Maire, said although some of the details had not been worked out, everyone agreed that the country was not getting enough of a return from research and development spending.

"I think what has finally been realised is that we cannot keep doing the same things that we have been doing for decades," Maire said.

The Government had dedicated $90 million of operating funding and $76.1 million of capital funding over four years for Callaghan Innovation - named after the world-renowned New Zealand physicist Paul Callaghan.

Of this $166.1 million, $11.9 million was earmarked for the organisation in the 2012-13 Budget.

How will Callaghan Innovation work to boost economic growth?
Sue Suckling says the organisation will try to foster relationships between business and the science and research sector.

"So it's a lot easier for firms who are looking to innovate to know where to go to get the help and how to engage in that - so better connections between Crown research institutes, universities, private research providers back to firms and firms to them," she said.

It could also work in areas where New Zealand is competitive and see if any improvements can be made, she said. As well as this, it will have a role to play in managing big engineering or technology projects.

Will the organisation's performance be measurable?
Absolutely, Suckling said. "We must be able to measure our success and our success has to be related to firms doing things differently and greater wealth being created. It's not about activity, it's not about busy-ness. It's got to result in change."

How many staff will it have?
To begin with, when pulling together its various parts, around 400.

- NZ Herald

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