Last night I spoke about science based innovation to a large group of civic, business and academic leaders hosted by the Auckland mayor, Len Brown, on the subject of what Auckland needed to do to if it wished to become an innovation city of note. The text of my speech is available here.
It is important that the Auckland plan properly embraces an understanding of science based innovation and the multiple actions that would be needed to achieve that ambition. I tried to be all-encompassing, and discussed issues ranging from properly integrating and exploiting the presence of The University of Auckland and the other universities and polytechnics in Auckland, to the need to attract multinational corporations to undertake research and development activities in New Zealand. During my recent visit to Europe it became clear how important multinational research activity is in creating innovation ecosystems in small countries. We also spent considerable time discussing the role of technology precincts, important given the commitment recently made to develop the Wynyard quarter as a high-technology precinct and the other precincts that are developing around the various academic campuses.
This week, Oren Gershtein who is Chief Executive of Van Leer Ventures Jerusalem in Israel is visiting. The VLVJ is one of Israel’s most impressive incubators and Israel is certainly the most impressive of small countries at turning knowledge into economic growth. There is much we can learn from them. Their notion of incubators is quite different to ours — start-up ventures are heavily supported by the State, but where successful they must return the investment to the State for reinvestment. Much attention is paid to ensuring that from the start all new ventures are focused on the global market, with boards and advisory groups put in place to do so. There is no place in their mind for governance and management by people without the relevant expertise. Similarly, they find that repayable loans are more effective than grants in incentivising research based innovation in the private sector — something that received considerable support from private sector people who heard him speak.
As we seek to lift our game in innovation, it is important that we see what we can learn from countries such as Israel which have been remarkably successful over the last two decades in diversifying their economies in the high technology sector.