Govt pledges $7.2mln for Weta Digital R&D
By Pattrick Smellie
Dec. 10 (BusinessDesk) – Wellington’s film industry is getting a further boost of government funding, with special effects workshop Weta Digital one of six fast-growing, high-tech companies awarded $7.2 million each under the new Technology Development Grant Programme.
The announcement by Research, Science and Technology Minister Wayne Mapp follows the government decision in October to add more than $30 million in subsidies to secure filming and production of The Hobbit movies in New Zealand.
Weta will be a major contributor to the digital special effects to be used in the two-part version of the JRR Tolkien classic, as it has been for other global blockbusters, including James Cameron’s Avatar and Sir Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy.
Weta founder, Richard Taylor, was a high profile backer of protests by film industry workers that helped swing the deal that saw additional subsidies for The Hobbit project, and a change to labour laws to clarify the non-employee status of contract film workers.
Weta is only one of six firms chosen to receive the full extent of support available under the TDG scheme, which will see $92 million invested over the next three years in what Mapp says is “the largest business investment the government has ever made in helping business innovate.”
Maximum annual grants are $2.4 million, or $7.2 million over three years, and aim to match 20% of a firm’s annual r&d spend. The initiative is one of several intended both to boost private investment in r&d and to encourage greater collaboration.
Other recipients of this level of funding are Auckland-based generic drugs manufacturer Douglas Pharmaceuticals Ltd., Fisher & Paykel Healthcare Ltd., Hamilton-based power fence and animal systems company Gallagher Group Ltd., healthcare workflow designer Orchestral Development Ltd./Orion; and Christchurch radio technology developer Tait Electronics Ltd.
The total list of 26 companies receiving assistance included just three NZX-listed companies, although 19 are identified in the annual TIN 100 index of leading local high technology firms.
Other NZX-listed companies receiving assistance are Dunedin’s Scott Technology Ltd., which is up for $3.78 million for meat and food industry process development, and communications component-maker Rakon Ltd. which will receive $7.08 million over three years.
While the listed software developer Xero Ltd. is not on the list, a rival producer of online accounting systems, BankLink, will receive $2.1 million. A Christchurch motorised wheelchair and scooter control manufacturer, Dynamic Controls Ltd. receives $5.28 million over three years under the scheme.
London Stock Exchange-listed kiwi traffic management software developer Endace Technology Ltd. will receive $6.7 million over three years.
Commercial refrigeration and heating developer Skope Industries Ltd. will receive $3.21 million.
Even the nightclub industry gets a look-in, with the smallest grant of $490,000 over three years going to Auckland company Serato Inc., which produces software allowing DJ’s to “time-stretch and pitch-shift audio files.”
Other recipients are (funding over three years): Applied Research Associates Ltd. ($1.32 million); Compac Sorting Equipment Ltd. ($1.72 million); Enatel Ltd. ($2.46 million); Formway Furniture ($1.22 million); Gentrack Ltd. ($1.44 million); Integrated Control Technology Ltd. ($850,000); Jade Software Corp. ($3.2 million); Simcro Tech Ltd. ($930,000); Sika Technology Ltd. ($950,000); Vista Entertainment Solutions Ltd. ($1.24 million); Zeacom Ltd. ($2.11 million); Zelam Ltd. ($870,000); and 4RF Communications Ltd. ($1.89 million).
Mapp also this week announced the first grant of $190,000 worth of vouchers under another new scheme, the Technology Transfer Voucher scheme, to Auckland produce company Fresh Direct.