Bold plan for Callaghan

By Fran O'Sullivan

Callaghan Innovation 'there to make a difference and to be held accountable'

Sue Suckling and Steven Joyce at Callaghan innovations launch. Photo / NZH
Sue Suckling and Steven Joyce at Callaghan innovations launch. Photo / NZH

Callaghan Innovation chairman Sue Suckling has bold plans for her "start-up", promising there will be times when "we really ruffle feathers".

The Government has set the new organisation a tough challenge to galvanise the New Zealand innovation ecosystem.

There have been sceptics aplenty in an environment which has been turned upside down repeatedly in recent years.

But Suckling - who describes herself as a "make things happen person" has no time for the naysayers.

"We are there to make a difference and to be held accountable for that," she says.

"In New Zealand it is possible for people to make a difference.

"I've got four kids. I want this to be a successful country where people stay here because we've got a whole lot happening."

Callaghan Innovation was established on February 1 this year. It takes over the current role of Industrial Research Limited, the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment's business investment team and the Auckland Foodbowl.

Callaghan Innovation is named after the late Sir Paul Callaghan, who championed the role science could play in making New Zealand an economic success.

Callaghan Innovation is one of the Government's key priorities in building a stronger, more competitive economy, and was a major recommendation of the independent Powering Innovation report, which looked at how to boost the growth of firms in the manufacturing and services sector.

It doesn't have a CEO in place yet; one will be appointed soon.

Callaghan Innovation will clearly pick up large existing workstreams from the three organisations. But its priority will be to focus priorities which are "material and additional".

There will also be significant big projects.

"If you think of the rebuild that is coming out of the Christchurch earthquake and then the demand that is coming for seismic reassessment across New Zealand, there is a large need to think about what role science and technology could play in making it faster, safer and more cost effective," says Suckling.

"What we have is the mandate to say: that would be worth putting the right people round the table. The beneficiaries will be NZ Inc and the firms in the supply chain who can step up to work with the innovators to create new solutions."

Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce says Callaghan is a unique organisation.

"There's not many like it worldwide. Those who have, have written their own model. We're trying to take the best of that.

"I'm actually really excited about it. It's got to be a one-stop shop for innovative businesses ... it's like there is no wrong door. I turn up. I'm interested. I either go to Callaghan or NZTE."

Callaghan has a strong interest in the outcome of the review into Government funding.

Like Joyce, Suckling is attracted by the Israeli approach. "If you look at Israel, their innovation space came about from a very different dynamic and place than we are in.

"They have a loans scheme. It is a very disciplined loans scheme with hurdles and 'No Go' points and accountability. But they've got a very high success rate in terms of recycling that money. It's a way of getting a return on taxpayer investment and recycling. It's also a way of getting the right incentives for a company where access to loan funding is an enabler rather than the funding they could get from traditional backers."

The organisation is in a reach-out phase. Suckling says some institutions are doing very good work (call it Dragon's Den-ish). and there is no point replicating that.

By the end of June, the board and the new CEO will have reached a view on what should stay in Callaghan and and what could be elsewhere in the system or in new arrangements.

Suckling says success will be if, in five years' time, anyone was thinking about doing away with Callaghan Innovation, firms would be putting up their hands and saying, "No this has really step-changed how we thought about innovation and how we approached it."

The eight board members include former IRL director Richard Janes, Auckland Transport director Paul Lockey and Australian company director Dr Michele Allan who will move from the establishment board to the new board.

New board members are NZTE director Robin Hapi, Professor Peter Hunter from Auckland University and commercial entrepreneurs Sir Peter Maire and Craig Richardson.

- NZ Herald

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