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Callaghan Innovation seeks incubators with deep tech commercialisation experience

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This article was published on 3 July 2019

An extensive search is underway for incubators with the right knowledge and connections to unlock the potential of deep tech commercialisation in New Zealand.

Successful incubators will be tasked with ensuring the country’s deep technical and scientific research, and complex technology, translates to successful commercial outcomes.

New Zealand’s innovation agency Callaghan Innovation recently launched a request for proposals (RFP) to find new incubators for the country’s Technology Incubator programme and is encouraging local and international providers to apply. The RFP deadline is Friday 4 October 2019, but applicants are encouraged to apply early.

To date the Technology Incubator pilot programme has produced 45 new deep tech start-ups and attracted more than $50 million in investments since its launch in 2014. 

Invert Robotics’ Chief Technology Officer James Robertson, who last month announced the company had secured a US$8.8 million round of funding, says being part of the Technology Incubator programme has been critical to the development of his company.

“I had solid technical knowledge of my field but next to no experience in business or running a company. I learned a wide range of skills from people within the incubation environment, and gained invaluable insights around product market fit and working with customers to create a market.”

“Being in the incubator environment also meant I had training and coaching around pitching and capital raising, access to investors, and assistance with preparation of deal documentation.”

Having access to the right support, expertise and connections can make all the difference for start-ups, says Dr Peter Crabtree, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s General Manager of Science, Innovation and International.

“It can be a tough road creating productive businesses out of complex research like biotech and aerospace technology. The Technology Incubator programme bridges that gap between concept and commercialisation."

With the next iteration of the Technology Incubator programme, launching in 2020, the focus is on connecting companies with greater international experience and investment access.

“We are looking for incubators that have a wealth of international commercialisation expertise, access to international investment and pathways to market. We have some excellent expertise and knowledge here that the programme can draw on, and the RFP also presents opportunities for international providers who are willing to establish a team here,” says Vic Crone, Callaghan Innovation’s Chief Executive.

Successful incubators will be expected to report regularly and share data on the progress and deep tech commercialisation milestones of the companies they’re working with.

“New Zealand’s deep-tech ecosystem is fast-emerging. We have a rich well of deep technical and scientific research with the potential to solve many problems, here and around the world. But if we’re to ensure this IP makes it into the world and is converted into successful commercial outcomes – high value businesses, jobs and exports – we must have the right mentors, connections and capital in place.”

KiwiNet CEO James Hutchinson says the next phase of the Technology Incubator programme will provide a critical bridge between the swell of deep-tech propositions emerging from KiwiNet’s research commercialisation pipeline with follow-on growth capital, including Government’s recently-announced $300M Venture Fund.

“Successful commercialisation of deep-tech is a complex beast that requires a unique combination of skill-sets and capability, especially in developing business models based on complex intellectual property,” says Hutchinson.

“Incubators with robust knowledge, experience, networks and mana in deep-tech will be critical to identifying and understanding how to mitigate the unique risks associated with science-based start-ups.”

The RFP is for the delivery of Technology Incubator services – with an emphasis on deep-tech commercialisation experience – over an eight-year contract period starting in 2020.

Incubators are expected to establish a significant presence in New Zealand, including the permanent location of key management and incubation expertise in New Zealand.