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Monthly archives: August 2017

Posted: 30 August 2017
Sinead O’ Sullivan, aerospace engineer, entrepreneur and innovator reflects on her recent visit to New Zealand

Sinead O’ Sullivan is an aerospace engineer, entrepreneur and innovator, with experience in fields as diverse as machine learning, asteroid capture and underwater robotics. As an Entrepreneurship Fellow at the Harvard Business School, she’s been examining the landscape facing start-ups in the space sector, and the changing nature of open data.

Sinead is CEO of Fusion Space Technologies, where she leads a team of engineers who are integrating data from satellites and drones, and applying them to solve global problems. She’s an ardent proponent for innovation, and has been interested in New Zealand’s growing tech sector for several years. When she was offered the opportunity to visit New Zealand she leapt at the chance. We caught up with her towards the end of her trip, to find out if the land of the long white cloud lived up to her expectations.

Sinead, can you tell us a bit about your background?

Sure. I did my undergrad in aerospace engineering at Queens University Belfast before working in finance for two years. While I really enjoyed the technical challenges of the analysis, it wasn't hands-on enough for me, so I went back to engineering. I attended the International Space University for three months, which kind of dropped me into the middle of the space industry, and I worked on projects with the European and Brazilian space agencies.

After that, I went to the Aerospace Systems Design Lab at Georgia Tech. They deal with next generation tech – anything from supersonic aircraft to swarm drones – and I got to work on a huge range of projects. I worked on two fairly well-known NASA missions and did a project with the Federal Aviation Administration on drone regulatory issues.

Sinead O’Sullivan
Sinead O’Sullivan

I joined the Harvard Business School to do my MBA and now I'm looking at various routes to commercialisation of space technology. Most large, private companies in the US aerospace sector experience very slow innovation because a lot of their contracts are government-facing. So, among other things, I’m exploring how these companies can keep their competitive advantage over other countries who are innovating very quickly such as Russia, China, and India.

Last year, I founded a company called Fusion Space Technologies, which is still kind of operating in stealth mode. Our work is based on two hypotheses:

1. Satellite data is quickly becoming irrelevant for developing an understanding of microeconomic events, because it can only offer a snapshot.

2. With the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT), we’re producing lots of hardware that collects data in a specific format, which then doesn’t align with any other format.

We’re attempting to aggregate data – open data, for now – into a universal platform in which it can speak to each other. And we’re using that to create live, visual and non-visual maps of urban areas.

What brought you to New Zealand?

It was all a bit serendipitous. A few months ago, I was having a chat with New Zealand tech entrepreneur Blyth Rees-Jones in New York who has multiple connections to New Zealand. He asked if I’d be interested in working with Groundswell to deliver a talk via weblink at their Innovation Awards. But New Zealand has long been on my travel wish list – like most Irish people. I have a lot of Kiwi friends and my sister lived here for several years so I thought, “how about I deliver it in person?”

It snowballed from there. Callaghan Innovation very kindly stepped in to organise and fund what’s turned into a two-week innovation tour around the country! It’s been busy, but I’m feeling incredibly inspired, and I can’t wait to formalise some of the links I’ve made here.

What did you expect to find before you arrived?

I had a sense that I’d find a lot of fun, creative, liberal people who were full of energy and good ideas. I’d looked into the tech scene here a bit, but I knew I’d find a lot more once I’d scratched the surface. I haven’t been disappointed on either front! I’ve met some incredibly friendly, smart and easy-going people who are creating truly innovative companies, while helping to drive growth in New Zealand.

The whole trip was a great introduction to the country’s innovation landscape; to see how it scales from small groups up to international organisations, and what that means for the challenges they face. It’s impossible for me to pick a single highlight. I loved the NASA Mission Patch workshop that we ran with the Groundswell YiA finalists and meeting the Machine Learning/AI communities across the North Island was very special. My visit to the AR/VR Garage in Auckland was mind-blowing!

How does what you’ve seen here compare to your experience in the US and Europe?

There are loads of tech innovators here, and the work they’re doing is great, but one thing I’d say is that the tech industry seems to be fairly siloed. So, while I saw a lot of innovation in the Bay of Plenty and across greater New Zealand, some of it was hidden beneath the surface and not very obvious. Also, it seems that people don't really talk about what they're doing, or advertise when they’re doing well. It’s a bit like Ireland, actually – people really don't want to be seen to be blowing their own trumpet. That approach just doesn’t work in the US!

With organisations like Rocket Lab, you’ve got New Zealand innovators making huge strides on a global stage. For the first time since SpaceX was born, Elon Musk is probably wondering if he's got a competitor, and it turns it’s an engineer from Invercargill! But there are loads of other very cool things happening here that even people in the local area have never heard of. So there’s a discrepancy between the work being done and the stories being told.

But there’s no doubt that future of New Zealand tech is bright. I’ve loved being here, giving talks to the public, meeting business owners – especially Māori entrepreneurs, university students, and the team at Callaghan Innovation and New Zealand Trade & Enterprise, who have the desire and drive to push into other industries.

What’s next?

Well, the first thing I’m going to do once I get back to Harvard is start working on a paper that discusses New Zealand innovation. And I'm going to try to publish it in a media outlet with a readership in Silicon Valley, because I want it to reach the right audience. The tech start-up ecosystem here is good and growing, but from what I’ve seen, most of the support focuses on people who start companies. There are also lots of people who want to join high-tech companies, so we need to think differently, and that leads us to something called ‘talent arbitrage’.

I keep asking myself, why are organisations in Silicon Valley not looking to New Zealand for young, talented, innovative engineers? As I see it, with the rise of globalisation and the proliferation of high-speed internet, New Zealand should be considered a key R&D resource for high-tech companies on the west coast of the US. The cost of living there is so high that employing a single software engineer can put a start-up in financial difficulty. I’d like to see companies look to New Zealand, where frankly, they can get more bang for their buck. For the equivalent cost, they could hire two or three hugely talented engineers based here, growing the business and speeding up their development timeline in the process.

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@SineadOS1
Posted: 23 August 2017
Dr Jason Mika reviews last month's amazing Matariki XPonential event

Last month Callaghan Innovation hosted Matariki XPonential in Rotorua, building on the success of the 2015 and 2016 Inspire events.  Dr Jason Mika was there, and provides his perspective on how the event encouraged Māori entrepreneurs to be bold and take their business to the next level. 

On the brisk clear winter’s morning of 29 July 2017 the Sir Howard Morrison Performing Arts Centre in Rotorua hosted the third instalment of Callaghan Innovation’s annual Inspire event, aptly named Matariki X after the Pleiades constellation whose appearance signals the onset of the Māori New Year. This time, however, adding ‘XPonential’ signalled Callaghan Innovation’s intention to inject growth into the innovation theme.  With a ‘sold-out’ sign posted days ahead, demand for what has become a well-crafted ‘dessert,’ had exceeded expectation. Though the ‘proof of the pudding’ is always in the eating, and in this we were not to be disappointed. E ai ki ngā tīpuna, ko te kai a te rangatira, he kōrero. Ki tāku nei tītiro, kua mākona rawa atu te iti me te rahi i ngā kōrero i te tau nei.

Cliff Curtis at Matariki XPonential
Cliff Curtis at Matariki XPonential

 

The goal: to be inspired to act on our ideas by the exploits of others who are demonstrating what Sir Paul Callaghan described in his vision for Aoteaora as a “hub of smart, export-focused entrepreneurs, where a high quality lifestyle is achieved through excellence in education and R&D.” And from my vantage point that is precisely what we were treated to: entrepreneurs and innovators, the new, the emerging, and the well-established, all giving us their best, in short bursts of cogent, awe-inspiring, and at times hard case kōrero.

Matariki XPonential crowd

The conference opened with a stirring haka pōhiri by the mana whenua Ngāti Whakaue, as honoured guests were called into the centre stage by kuia, Margaret Herbert and Betty Herewini among them. Ngāti Whakaue’s Monty Morrison spoke for the home people and Kura Moeahu of Taranaki Whānui responded for the manuhiri. In his closing, Kura wove together the iconic Kahungunu waiata ‘Tūtira mai’ with the Callaghan Innovation whakatauākī in a way that reminded me of the eloquence of Ngāti Tahu Ngāti Whaoa kaumātua Rawiri Te Whare: “tūtira mai ngā iwi ki te rukuhia ki te wāhi ngaro, hei aha? Hei whaia te māramatanga me te aroha. Mā wai? Mā tātau, tātau e.” The rākau (baton) returned to renowned haka expert, entrepreneur and tourism operator Wetini Mitai-Ngatai as the final speaker. Blessings were offered by kaumātua Monty Morrison, before Callaghan Innovation intern Hinemihiata Lardelli and General Manager of Sectors, Hēmi Rolleston, took to the stage as MCs for the day.

Matariki XPonential haka pōhiri

Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick said few might think of councils as ‘mind blowing’ and ‘game changing,’ but she delivered news intent on challenging that perception. First, Rotorua Lakes Council had agreed to become the first bilingual city in the country. Second, the city had turned around 10 years of population and economic decline, with a sustained commitment to long term economic development. And third, the council’s partnership with Te Arawa has been a ‘game changer,’ redefining the city’s relationship with tāngata whenua.

Who knew history and martial arts were prerequisites for a parliamentary career, but they were for the Hon. Paul Goldsmith, Minister of Science and Innovation with responsibility for Callaghan Innovation. Writing about the history of New Zealand business leaders taught Mr Goldsmith that there are no easy pathways to success, only hard ones. And startup companies that grow, both the ordinary and extraordinary, all make a contribution. Science and innovation, he said, are about making things better and making better things. While the job of the state is all about public service, there was no purer form of public service than business because you only stay in business if you give people what they want.

AR-VR stand at Matariki XPonential
AR-VR stand at Matariki XPonential

 

For those unsure about the role of government in our lives, the Hon. Te Ururoa Flavell, Minister of Māori Development, left us in no doubt – it’s everywhere, and it is trying to help Māori entrepreneurs, in small ways and big. Mr Flavell noted support for young entrepreneurs, the Dig My Idea pitch competition, a new Māori business accelerator, the Māori Innovation Fund, Māori social innovation, and trade missions. He urged us to “make it Māori, make it happen;” in other words, get on with the business of business, but do it in a Māori way.

Vic Crone, Callaghan Innovation’s Chief Executive, spoke to the agency’s recent history although its whakapapa extends back to 1926, a mokopuna (grandchild) of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research or DSIR.  She outlined Callaghan Innovation’s reframing of its kaupapa as “liberating innovators,” challenging enterprises to embrace the possibilities of technology, and nurturing their entrepreneurial and innovative potential to realise their ambitions. The Māori Innovation Hub at Gracefield science park, the Nuku ki te Puku Māori food and beverage collective, and Callaghan Innovation’s Māori economy team are part of this effort.

Vic Crone
Vic Crone

 

Headline speakers included Mind Lab and Tech Futures founder Frances Valintine, recognised as one of the world’s top 50 tech educators; recent Business Hall of Fame inductee Mavis Mullins; former New Zealander of the Year and iMoko innovator Dr Lance O’Sullivan; 2017 Young Māori business leader of the year Blanche Murray; Victoria Park New World owner and Ngāpuhi Asset Holdings director Jason Witehira; Kono chief executive and recent Prime Minister’s Business Scholarship awardee Rachel Taulelei; Sports animation revolutionary Ian Taylor; Global translations company founder Grant Straker of Straker Group; with the closing keynote address by Te Arawa’s primary export to Hollywood and soon to be Avatar star, Cliff Curtis – ka mau te wehi!

Frances Valintine
Frances Valintine

 

We were also introduced to several inspirational newcomers, including: Tarnix Security founder and CEO Tupaea Rolleston; Kākāno Cafe Cookery School founder Jade Temepara; Agrisea executives and husband and wife team Tāne and Clare Bradley; Toby Littin, solving our parking woes and creating revenue for unused space holders through his company Parkable; and Digital Basecamp animators and entreprenuers Te Mauri Kingi and Nigel Ward. Co-hosts Hinemihiata and Hēmi rolled out cameos from some of last year’s stars and some new ones: Plus Group owner and horticultural robotics entrepreneur Steve Saunders, IronMāori founder and social entrepreneur Heather Skipworth, and Crankworx events manager Ariki Tibble. Aranui Ventures founder Robett Hollis beamed in from the USA via video message.

Mavis Mullins
Mavis Mullins

 

Over dinner two Matariki XPonential guest speakers shared their experiences of bringing Māori culture, language and issues in from the margins to a more central home in mainstream society. Journalist and professional singer Lizzie Marvelley shared the vulnerabilities of writing about Māori issues for the New Zealand Herald, while Air New Zealand’s cultural development manager Andrew Baker highlighted a 10 year mission to normalise Māori language and culture within the company.

The power, passion and punch of Matariki XPonential’s leading lights is undeniable, but for me it was the new and emerging Māori entrepreneurs who stole the show. They are the best barometer of Māori success in entrepreneurship, innovation and enterprise, showing that whatever we’re doing as Māori, coupled with whatever the politicians, agencies and the economy contribute, is working. Integrating Māori values, Māori identity, and Māori aspirations into their thinking and practice, they’re operating with high fidelity as entrepreneurs.

Grant Straker
Grant Straker

 

The effervescent Blanche Murray epitomised the inventiveness and determination of the teina (younger sibling), free to do what the tuakana (older sibling) cannot, but doing it for, with and by her whānau because they would do the same for her. Then there was Tarnix CEO Tupaea Rolleston, who sitting at his mum’s kitchen table pondering life at 18, decided to start his own business based on what interests him (computers) and what resources he has (himself largely, and his whānau). In academia, we call this method of entrepreneurship “effectuation” — making something out of nothing but what you have, what you know and who you know. In five years Tupaea has grown his electronic security business to 24 staff with some pretty big national clients. What struck me is that he’s all about giving people careers, not jobs, taking them from low- paying to high-paying positions and giving them challenging work, skills and opportunities. Isn’t that the image of the quintessential CEO, and isn’t such wisdom supposed to arrive around age 40, not 23?

Lastly, Te Mauri Kingi and Nigel Ward have to be commended for Digital Basecamp, where their mission is to grow Rotorua’s digital economy from the ground up and help other aspiring digital natives reach the top. I hope some of their success reflects the Māori innovation pilot programme Rukuhia, in which I was involved.

Ian Taylor
Ian Taylor

 

Not wanting to leave the audience wondering what’s next, Callaghan Innovation’s Māori economy team alerted us to a suite of initiatives and activity to maintain the momentum  a series of local events, Kōkiri, a Māori accelerator programme led by Te Wānanga o Aotearoa, and offering the Māori innovation programme Rukuhia in Te Taitokerau. I imagine planning for Matariki XPonential 2018 is also already underway. Rotorua is a magnificant host, but Palmerston North too can be a great host. Matariki XPonential could be just the ticket to ignite Māori entrepreneurial potential in Manawatū-Whanganui. Naumai, haramai e Hemi mā ki Papaioea.

Matariki Xponential group
Posted: 15 August 2017
The second in a blog post series by National Technology Networks Manager Kimberlee Jordan, following her recent Biotech trip to the United States

You may be familiar with recent studies involving transfer of the gut microbiota (read poop) from lean and obese mice into germ-free mice which resulted in the now not-so-germ-free either remaining lean or becoming obese respectively.

One of the most interesting sessions I attended at June’s BIO 2017 – the world’s largest biotechnology event held in June - was a panel discussion which contemplated this and much more.

Microbiome 2.0: Going Beyond Bugs as Drugs was one of many fascinating sessions on the understanding and treatment of disease, a major theme as the convention canvassed the theme of breakthroughs. Speakers came from J&J (Stephanie Robertson); Leading BioSciences (Tom Hallam) as well as academia (Professor Scott Peterson).  

The human microbiome – the collective genomes of the microorganisms (bacteria, fungi, viruses etc. – commonly known as bugs) that hang out on or within the human body – has garnered a lot of attention in recent years. It has been linked to a number of diseases, including cancer, bowel disease and obesity.

It turns out that our bugs have a powerful influence on our overall health and on a range of health conditions, and using bugs as drugs has been one of the main focuses of the microbiome space. However, these colonies are complex, and can change over time (in some cases quite rapidly – one of the comments made in this session is that every time you eat you change your gut microbiota). So, there are a huge number of variables to control and understand before we can reliably manipulate our microbiome to generate better health outcomes.

One example of a new approach is modulating the gut microbiome to improve patients’ responsiveness to a new class of cancer therapies called checkpoint inhibitors. While these new therapies can be extremely effective for some patients, many fail to respond, and there can be significant toxicity issues (i.e. the drugs make patients even sicker). Significant work is now going into trying to identify a microbiome ‘signature’ that will predict how a particular patient might respond. Interestingly, the gut microbiome can also play the villain, converting drugs into molecules that are even more toxic. Getting a better understanding of these interactions will result in better outcomes for patients.

The panel also discussed a new way of thinking about bugs. Traditionally scientists have thought of microorganisms in terms of taxonomies or species, but Scott Peterson suggested it made more sense to understand bugs in terms of their genetic makeup. A typical gene count for a typical microorganism is around 3000-5000. Humans, by comparison have around 19,000-20,000.  Our human genomes can vary by about 10 percent, compared with around 70 percent for bacteria. If we treat bugs as bags of genes we can better understand the ways in which these microbes (genes) affect or modulate our immune system and overall health.

And of course, no panel discussion on the human microbiome would be compete without time spent on the so-called gut-brain axis. In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, the gut-brain axis refers to the biochemical and neural signals that travel between the gut and the brain.

Bacteria

I was horrified to discover the details of how this can work. For example, a sugar-loving bacteria can produce enzymes that can travel to the brain and cut out the signals of satiety, meaning you crave more sugar. I was wondering how on earth this might happen (our gut is a fairly hostile environment for proteins), and it turns out that all you need is a “leaky gut”. Basically, these enzymes can leak out from anywhere even slightly damaged in the intestine and be carried in your plasma to your brain – where they can have an influence not always understood.

Making you eat more junk food might be the least of your worries, as new evidence suggests a link to Alzheimer’s as well. Yikes! Correcting the ecology of the microbiome so that bad things don’t happen could have a massive impact on human health and disease.

Given the increasingly vast amount of relevant data we can access and the level of complexity associated with the various microbiome - human interactions, how do we wade through all of this to reliably achieve good health outcomes?

Unsurprisingly the answer to this is Big Data. Integrating DNA sequence data with other sources of data such as RNA and protein sequences, as well as characterising the metabolites present within a microbial community, will give a clearer picture of that community and its influence on health.

I will write more about Big Data and Biotech next time, but for now I will come full circle and leave you with this factoid to consider. According to Prof Scott Peterson, 40 percent of the dry weight of faeces is bacteria – which means that it is full of information. So, the next time someone tells you you’re full of it, you should take it as a compliment!

Contact Kimberlee Jordan on Twitter @kimberlee_j

Callaghan Innovation is a New Zealand government innovation agency that works with Kiwi companies to accelerate commercialisation of their new technology ideas. Our National Technology Networks team supports businesses via our four technology platforms – Advanced Manufacturing, Advanced Materials, Biotechnology and Data & IoT, with the aim of helping companies rapidly connect to new and advanced technologies. 

Posted: 09 August 2017
Currently making headlines is the debate around a former Google employee’s memo on women in technology.

There are an ever-increasing number of opinion pieces, and data, about the lack of diversity in tech internationally and locally.  Currently making headlines is the debate around a former Google employee’s memo on women in technology.

The opinion pieces are often related to digital industries, particularly in Silicon Valley, but the issue is widespread across different technologies and businesses, and in entrepreneurship.  The discussion about diversity has also been going on for a long time in wider STEMM education circles, including the recent publication in New Zealand of “Why Science is Sexist” by Nicola Gaston.

A couple of months ago I attended TechConnect in my role scoping new and upcoming materials technologies that might be applicable to New Zealand businesses.  The conference included an excellent panel discussion on women in tech leadership that raised some of this data and analysis.  

A particularly eye-opening read for me was the recent HBR report about venture capitalists’ discussions and language in relation to entrepreneurs: for example, men were described as “young and promising” while women were “young and inexperienced”. 

I was interested to try and see what data was available about the high-tech business scene in NZ.  What I found?  Publicly available, collated data and analysis is not an easy Google search away, particularly in regard to ethnicity!  The best source (kindly provided by the AANZ) was the Compass Start-up Genome report, which in 2017 gives figures of 21% female founders in NZ compared with a global median of 15%.

My own (very unscientific, based on name and photograph) survey of start-ups listed on NZVIF yields 14% female CEOs/MDs – closely matching NZVIF’s own gender analysis work (13% female CEOs/founders).  This match gave me a bit more confidence in my methods, so I extended my survey to some other groupings of high tech companies.

Within Callaghan Innovation’s tech incubators, the figure sits at 8% female CEOs.  The total numbers of start-ups being incubated is still quite low due to the relative youth of the scheme so this figure can perhaps be taken with a pinch of salt.
The story in established high tech companies is significantly worse than the NZVIF scenario – surveying the TIN200 list gives us a measly 5% female CEOs/MDs!

There also appears to be an industry-specific effect.  Companies classified by Callaghan Innovation as being in the health sector stand out in all these data sources: 14% female representation at CEO/MD level in the TIN200, 24% in the NZVIF, and 25% in the tech incubators.  What does this mean?  Without doing a proper sociological study, I can’t say for sure, but it may reflect the high number of female graduates in the life and medical sciences comparative to other STEMM subjects.

So what do we, or can we, do given the ever-increasing amount of data from respected organisations like McKinsey&Company and Intel about the value of gender and ethnic diversity within a workplace?

A Callaghan Innovation funded accelerator, Lightning Lab, recently co-designed and ran an XX accelerator programme with women entrepreneurs in order to address gender diversity issues.  By collaborating on the design of the programme with the entrepreneurs before it ran, they gleaned several lessons about how best to run an accelerator programme that encourages inclusivity.  

As Laura Reitel, Programme Director notes: “Developing strong leadership capability among female founders and the immense value role models provide were two important lessons learned through the collaborative approach we took to Lightning Lab XX. On gaining this insight; we made sure each CEO had the opportunity to work with a personal leadership coach during the length of the accelerator. We have since incorporated personal leadership coaching into all of our programmes. We also make sure to focus on attracting a truly diverse group of mentors to all of our programmes, because with diversity comes new perspectives."   

It is too soon to gauge the impact of this change, but we will be watching this space with interest.

Callaghan Innovation has also recently introduced diversity elements into the required reporting for our accelerators and founder incubators, to enable us to gather a good, consistent, base line of data about the start-up programmes that we support.  This will extend beyond gender and include Maori and Pasifika representation as well.  We are also looking at how to implement such reporting into the technology incubator scheme in the future.

So, are you thinking about diversity enough within your organisation?  Because the data about success says that you should be!

Dr Kirsten Edgar is Callaghan Innovation’s National Technology Network Manager for Advanced Materials.
Twitter handle: @KirstenEdgar

Posted: 07 August 2017
The first in a blog post series by National Technology Networks Manager Kimberlee Jordan, following her recent Biotech trip to the United States.

In June, I attended BIO 2017 – the world’s largest biotechnology event. This year it drew a record-breaking 16,123 biotech industry leaders to sunny San Diego for an action-packed four days of partnering meetings, keynote talks, insights from business leaders and the occasional bout of networking over drinks (read the networking functions were endemic!).

With over 800 speakers on 150-plus topics, there was a rich supply of perspectives on the opportunities and challenges which face the biotechnology industry.

I attended sessions on Modern Ag Innovation, the Microbiome, Synthetic Biology to produce chemicals for industry, Precision Medicine and of course the ever-present Big Data.

In the next few weeks I will be reflecting on some of the things I learned at BIO 2017, and how these might impact or suggest opportunities for industry in New Zealand.

BIO2017

Biotechnology presents us with some of the most powerful tools we have for confronting the problems we face today. With a rapidly expanding population and changing climate, issues of hunger, disease, scarce resources and pollution are bigger than ever before. In this blog, I’m going to consider how biotech can help us feed our ever-growing population.

The World Bank has predicted a need to produce 50% more food by 2050, as we face changes in climate that may reduce productivity by 25%. The potential (and indeed existing ability) of biotechnology to modify plants to grow under increasingly challenging environmental constraints, improve yields, and provide more effective protection against pests and diseases is significant. 

Recent evidence even suggests that plant genetics rather than environmental factors are the rate limiting factor for plant productivity. However, there is still significant consumer resistance to the idea of eating genetically modified species, and general concern about the effect that modified species might have on the long-term survival and health of existing species. 

One of the more interesting points made at the Modern Ag Innovation session I attended was that communication on modified species should focus less on the science and more on the benefits to consumers and growers – something that is often overlooked in the race to reassure the public of these new species’ safety.

Less controversial is the “micro” solution to the problem of crop productivity. In a panel session on Micro Solutions for Mega Problems, executives from New Leaf Symbiotics, Marrone Bio Innovations and Taxon Biosciences discussed the use of biologicals in crop improvement. These can take the form of pesticides developed from microbes (Marrone, and NZ’s BioStart); endophytes (New Leaf and NZ’s Biotelliga); or consortia of soil microbes (Taxon, and NZ’s BioConsortia).

Reflecting on technology trends for the future of crop biologicals, Matthew Ashby from Taxon observed that while there are many discovery technologies currently being developed, downstream products such as formulation, stabilisation and delivery mechanisms are lacking. This creates a significant bottleneck for getting these technologies into the field. Amit Vasavada from Marrone built on this, noting that identifying and developing a desirable organism is only one part of the solution – being able to grow the organism on a large scale and still be economically viable is another challenge altogether. 

New Zealand has great strengths in crop science and associated fermentation technologies, as well as companies who are developing the upstream solutions. I find myself wondering if anyone in our research organisations or industry has considered the potential opportunities offered by the apparent downstream bottlenecks. 

Next time I will take a look at developments in our understanding of human microbiomes.

Contact Kimberlee Jordan on Twitter @kimberlee_j

Callaghan Innovation is a New Zealand government innovation agency that works with Kiwi companies to accelerate commercialisation of their new technology ideas. Our National Technology Networks team supports businesses via our four technology platforms – Advanced Manufacturing, Advanced Materials, Biotechnology and Data & IoT, with the aim of helping companies rapidly connect to new and advanced technologies.