Stefan Meyer is intense. Very intense.
He's also the kind of driven, high-tech innovator who the government would, on paper, appear to want to keep in New Zealand.
But he's leaving, frustrated and feeling beaten by government innovation funding that talks the talk but has given him nowhere to walk.
The 39 year-old German-born physicist was lured to New Zealand in the first place by a $26,000 a year ($78,000 over three years) McDiarmid Institute scholarship, in 2009. He gained his PhD at Wellington's Victoria University in 2012. Over the following two years, he developed and built a prototype electric vehicle (pic supplied) before returning to Germany.
There, he led a team working on vehicle concepts for prestigious research academy TU Munich and then for an Austrian start-up company developing lightweight batteries for electric vehicles.
In 2017 and 2018, based in New Zealand, he made serious coin working on an EV research and development project for "an international automotive supplier in Germany" that he is not permitted to name.
His return to New Zealand was for the most personal of reasons – love – but he also wanted to prove a high tech innovation company could operate from here, even though his European and American contacts "looked at me like I was crazy."
He began knocking on the doors that he thought should open for someone who had taken to heart Sir Paul Callaghan's vision that New Zealand should become a place "where talent wants to live."
Sir Paul worked on the floor above him during his time at Victoria and the government agency that's intended to foster new high-tech businesses in New Zealand, Callaghan Innovation, bears Sir Paul's name.
Meyer also believed the government's $100 million low-carbon projects vehicle, Green Investment Finance, would be an obvious venue for his ambitions.
After three years of what seems to have started as knocking politely and then banging his head on those doors, Meyer is giving up.
"Callaghan Innovation is not interested. New Zealand Trade and Enterprise is not interested. Green Investment Finance is not interested. I have given up.
"I've decided I don't want to work in New Zealand," he says in a frank and frustrated interview with BusinessDesk. "In fact, I can't work in New Zealand, so I don't give a hoot whose toes I'm stepping on."
He says he's speaking out because he hears the same story from many smaller scale, would-be tech innovators who feel they can't risk putting their heads above the parapet and making enemies among potential funders.
It is an old story: the bureaucrats in an ivory tower, stopping for morning tea to do the Dominion Post daily quiz while cash-strapped entrepreneurs pursuing their great idea jump through endless hoops only to be told to hurry up and wait.
As always, there's truth on both sides.
"How people feel about their projects and how we see them as an investor can sometimes be quite different," says Green Investment Finance's chief executive, Craig Weise. "For us, as a publicly capitalised institution, there can occasionally be an additional sense of entitlement that arises, notwithstanding our role as an investor."
He won't discuss individual applicants, but says this gulf is a common dynamic.
So, too, is a misunderstanding about what GIF has been created to do.
At first glance, it looks like a vehicle for advancing big carbon-busting ideas from little old NZ, which is what Meyer is trying to do. His driving ambition is to find a way to regulate temperatures in EV batteries at levels that both optimise their output and lengthen their lives.
Today's new owner of an EV Nissan Leaf will often find their enthusiasm for saving the planet tested when they discover the battery won't fast-charge on a trip from Auckland to Wellington because it has to cool down first – a process that can take a couple of hours.
Meyer has secured substantial European capital backing to try and crack this fundamental barrier to the widespread uptake of EVs which, again, the government says it wants people to do.
His frustration is that both Callaghan – which is supposed to take an interest in this sort of thing – and the GIF – which probably isn't – have given him the cold shoulder.
"I've shown that companies are willing to spend serious money, even with me being in New Zealand," he says. "If you want 'wool to Weta' (a Paul Callaghan methaphor for New Zealand's economic transformation), this is what we have to do – bring in foreign capital."
Having done so, he feels he's met a wall of resistance, ignorance, and bureaucratic inertia.
"I am in the desert here. I'm not saying this is what New Zealand has to do. We could just say 'sheep, cows, wood'. Fine. What I find annoying is I'm being told to go after this other stuff."
When he's tried, he's got nowhere.
At GIF, he says he was told he was told there was interest, although GIF insists that early stage technology is not a priority. Its mandate is mainly to put money behind proven low-carbon technologies that need a shove to be commercialised. Meyer's projects are not at that stage.
"There are and continue to be some misunderstandings (about our mandate) although we expect those will fade over time," says Weise.
With a $100m capital base and $5m annual operating costs, the GIF's role is to mobilise private capital. A good example might be helping fund energy efficiency technology in high-rise buildings that take seven years to pay for themselves, rather than the three to five years that a commercial investor seeks, says Climate Change Minister James Shaw.
GIF was his baby, a win from post-2017 election negotiations that took until last September to be ready to accept investment pitches. It has yet to announce any investments.
"Yes, I would have liked them to start deploying capital earlier," says Shaw. "But this is a commercial investment fund and it's important that they do due diligence, that their investments are high quality. I would rather have quality than haste."
Meyer suggests GIF's cost base and urgency would be very different if it were a private sector fund.
By the time he was knocking down their door, he had already met a blank wall at Callaghan Innovation where the response was the opposite from GIF's.
Instead of being too being too blue-sky, Callaghan told him "I'd gone too far, that there's not enough r&d."
It's easy to see how this could seem a rather Orwellian runaround to even the most reasonable individual.
"I think they just have no idea what they are talking about," he says of his interactions with "rookies" at Callaghan Innovation.
The agency works fine for big companies, he says, but not for small ones.
NZTE, whose mandate he may have misunderstood since its beachhead programme for international expansion is restricted to established exporters seeking growth, would not bend its rules for him.
Putting government agencies together with impatient, entrepreneurial risk-takers – often singular individuals with big ideas that can take some explaining – is always likely to be a combustible mix.
Government money doesn't move like private money and government bodies don't make decisions like private sector ones do.
However, the question posed by the singular case of Stefan Meyer is whether governments' desire to make New Zealand "a place where talent want to live" can ever be more than a slogan when it comes to effective interventions for ground-breaking technology.