Crown agency Callaghan Innovation has finally delivered its verdict on whether it will continue a $5 million a year R&D grant extended to Auckland wireless charging startup PowerbyProxi - it will.

PowerbyProxi was bought by Apple in a 2017 deal that an Overseas Investment Office filing revealed was in the $100m-plus bracket.

The deal came when PowerbyProxi was mid-way through a five-year Callaghan Innovation Growth Grant worth up to $25m in R&D co-funding.

It might seem perverse that Apple - the world's most profitable company - will receive millions from the NZ taxpayer.

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But Callaghan general manager of market and sectors Erica Lloyd says "Overseas companies are not precluded from applying for or receiving R&D grants co-funding so long as the R&D activity and benefits stay in New Zealand – for example, in the form of high-value job creation and/or retention".

At the time of PowerbyProxi's sale to Apple, its Growth Grant was paused, while more information about Apple's plans for local R&D investment was sought, Lloyd says.

Now, Callaghan has assessed Apple's R&D plans according to the set criteria for Growth Grants, which includes keeping research and development in NZ.

"So co-funding of Apple's New Zealand-based R&D in this area will continue, unless the situation changes, at which time Callaghan Innovation will once again review," she says.

Small Business Minister Stuart Nash, Greens small business spokesperson Chloe Swarbrick and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announcing the new R&D tax credit in September. Photo / Chris Keall
Small Business Minister Stuart Nash, Greens small business spokesperson Chloe Swarbrick and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announcing the new R&D tax credit in September. Photo / Chris Keall

Just how many jobs, and how much activity this involves, is not clear. Callaghan did not immediately respond to questions on that front, and the agency does not typically provide that level of detail about it grants.

PowerbyProxi was advertising for positions late last year - which could have been an attempt to bolster work on Apple's AirPower wireless charging mat, which was at the time running behind schedule (and whose 2019 release was canned by Apple in a move that shocked the geek world - although the Herald understands from an Apple insider that the AirPower is still likely to appear at some point once quality issues are ironed out).

Callaghan Growth Grants, which have run to a total of around $150m a year, have been sun-setted by the Labour-led government in favour of a universal 15 per cent R&D tax break.

But multi-year Growth Grants already in place are being honoured through til March 31, 2021.