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New Co. Spawns out of Agbiotech Innovators Academy

AgBiotech Innovators Academy Waikato Innovation Park Hamilton
MEDIA RELEASE 30 June 2009
New Company Spawns out of Agbiotech Innovators Academy

In 2007, the Waikato Innovation Park, with $1 million of funding from the Tertiary Education Commission, set up the Agbiotech Innovators Academy (AIA). The initiative is now wrapping up and has spawned the formation of a new company that is developing a product with a $20 million dairy industry potential.

Organisations participating in the AIA initiative over the past two‐and‐a‐half years were Fonterra, Gallagher Group, Milfos, NDA Engineering, LIC, Wintec, University of Waikato and Lincoln University.

AIA CEO, Peter Dowd, says the Waikato agritech initiative was a success.

“The best thing that’s come out of the AIA is that four out of five commercial partners have set up a new company – Technical Farm Solutions ‐ that will commercial a product in the dairy industry. This is a product that none of the partners would have developed on their own as the idea doesn’t fit with any of their individual core businesses.

“However, working together, they can all share the start‐up costs and all reap the benefits from a product that has a $20 million market potential.

“The four partners have all put in the cash to get the business started, the product has undergone testing and final development is now underway. We should see a commercial product on the market within the year,” says Mr Dowd.

Mr Dowd says he can’t be specific about the product as it is still commercially sensitive.

The AIA had two specific purposes. One was to get Waikato companies collaborating on new innovations and business opportunities. The other was to foster greater interaction between the region’s commercial and tertiary sectors.

Mr Dowd said other ways the commercial partners collaborated with each other over the past two and a half years include: jointly bidding for work on dairy conversions in China; marketing each others products for one another; and solving technical problems for each other. Gallaghers even provided an idea to Milfos that spurred them to patent a new product idea.

“Forming the AIA provided companies with the benefit of a neutral space where the partners could get to know one another in a non‐competitive environment. It just goes to show what can happen when you create a collaborative, neutral environment for companies to meet and discuss new ideas,” explains Mr Dowd.

Another project the AIA worked on, which will not be taken forward, is developing a business case around a large scale New Zealand sheep milking industry. University of Waikato students worked with AIA partners to research the current industry and market potential.

“The AIA fostered the development of a business case for setting up a large scale ovine milking industry in New Zealand and we’ve shown it has potential to be a $6 billion export industry. Because setting up the new industry is far outside our partners’ businesses, they won’t be taking it forward.

“However, the business model is there for an industry body, for instance, to make it happen. It will just take someone to pick it up who has a long‐term vision,” outlines Mr Dowd.

Achieving the AIA’s second objective of fostering relationships between the region’s commercial and tertiary sectors proved to be more challenging. However, Mr Dowd says he believes progress was definitely achieved.

“Through the AIA, we got over 50 students in all three institutions working on projects and gaining the benefits of working alongside our commercial partners. Plus, we were able to work with the tertiary partners to break down communication barriers and foster more inter‐institutional trust.

“A great example of the project’s tertiary benefits is the University of Waikato and Wintec signing a major Memorandum of Understanding to work together to build training and degree programmes in the Land Based Industries and Health sectors. Our tertiary partners will tell you the AIA helped make this happen,” says Mr Dowd.

Mr Dowd says a key lesson coming from the formation of the AIA initiative is that “collaboration and trust‐building takes time. Plus, initiatives like these will only work when there is value to everyone involved. The formation of this new company shows there was value and it will provide an excellent return on the Government’s $1 million investment.”


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