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NZ universities a ‘hot-bed’ of entrepreneurial talent

New Zealand universities and research institutions are a ‘hot-bed’ of entrepreneurial talent. Innovative sci-tech ideas are coming through so fast that a student-led investment committee programme is expanding nationally to cope with demand.

The Momentum Programme was the first of its kind in New Zealand when it was conceived and launched with the formation of a student-led investment committee by the University of Auckland’s UniServices through its Return On Science programme in June 2017. The Auckland committee has already reviewed 49 projects since its inception and Return On Science has reviewed 480 projects in total. Momentum Programme investment committees are accredited by the Ministry of Business, Innovation, and Employment (MBIE) to make investment decisions and recommendations for placement of PreSeed Accelerator Funds.

Momentum Programme investment committees also push for natural incorporation of Te Reo Māori into each meeting. Karakia and Mihi are delivered at the beginning and end of each investment committee meeting, and the roles of Kaikarakia (karakia leader) and Kaimihi (Mihi leader) are shared among committee members.

Minister of Research, Science and Innovation, Hon Dr Megan Woods officially launched the second Momentum investment committee at a breakfast event attended by representatives from across New Zealand’s innovation ecosystem in Wellington this morning (Tuesday, December 11).

The new Momentum committee, which is a partnership between Return On Science, KiwiNet and Viclink (the commercialisation arm of Victoria University), will recommend investment into promising university student projects from the lower North Island from a $100,000 funding pool provided by KiwiNet via MBIE’s PreSeed Accelerator Fund. Prospective projects already reviewed range from Aria Digital, an app which gives greater rostering flexibility and control to staff and managers, to a platform for bioconversion of organic waste by invertebrates into useable nutrients.

The Momentum Programme will be rolled out progressively across New Zealand.

The new committee provides student entrepreneurs with expert advice and direction to help commercialise their innovations. As a result, business and investment sectors can expect to see these ‘pre-seed’ intellectual property (IP) and technology projects coming to market faster and with greater chance of success.

Young Kiwi business leaders such as Veronica Stevenson of Humble Bee and Spindle Fibre Films, Ben Dunn of Swibo, and Andrew Mayfield of Optimal Workshop have volunteered their expertise to support the next generation of sci-tech start-ups in Wellington.

Momentum in Auckland is chaired by Dr Daniel Xu, chair and CEO of Spark 64 and a graduate of the Stanford Ignite entrepreneurship programme.

“At UniServices and Return On Science we are always looking for ways to improve what we do, both for our own benefit and for the broader benefits we see for New Zealand,” comments Auckland UniServices chief executive, Dr Andy Shenk.

He explains the Momentum Programme was born out of two, inter-connected ideas. The first was to create a supportive environment for student entrepreneurs to put forward their ideas in a forum that strongly tests the business proposition without undermining or confronting the team behind the business proposition. The second was to provide real-world experiences and opportunities to the next generation of New Zealand innovators, entrepreneurs and investors.

“We could not be more pleased with how well the members of both the inaugural Momentum investment committees have brought these two ideas to life.”

Will Charles, Auckland UniServices executive director Commercialisation, adds, “We are really excited about how this programme is developing. The challenge of commercialising science and research really becomes scalable and transformational when an army of students, provided with some tools, support and infrastructure, is unleashed. We are already seeing the benefits of this in Auckland and are very confident that it will very quickly become a great New Zealand innovation.”

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