Fast forward in Wellington

November 2011

 

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Wellington City Council staged a Business Innovation Growth (BIG) event at Parliament in September to demonstrate to MPs of all parties that Wellington has a growing, innovative business sector which makes an important contribution to the nation’s economy. DAVID CRAIG reports on whether our education sector is producing the kind of graduates that innovative business wants.

 

Attending the Business Innovation Growth event at the Beehive was like stepping into a time machine that sent me hurtling into the future.

Let’s start with 8Interactive: established 2009, produces Read Me Stories in an iPad/iPhone application, which, according to the company, features script, “gorgeous digital art, rich soundtracks and touchable characters which create an addictive reading experience for kids”.

These digital books can be accessed “everywhere – car, café, while mum is cooking, bedtime, you name it”. 8Interactive claims that Read Me Stories has achieved success in the US, UK, Australia, Canada and Singapore and is “the top education application overall in New Zealand”.

It has published over 100 digital books and 99 per cent of its customers are overseas. Even allowing for the company’s enthusiastic promotional language, 8Interactive demonstrates how technology can be used in the critically important task of encouraging children to read.

There were 25 other innovative entities listed under ‘Information Technology and Telecommunications’ sector, including some well-established award winners
such as Fronde, that excels at delivering software solutions to government and many business sectors.

A common theme among the 75 participants in this event was the importance of partnering with tertiary institutions and research facilities. This led me to Viclink, which is Victoria University’s commercialisation company. Viclink’s written material helped answer my key question about whether our education system was providing the kind of people innovative businesses need: “Viclink helps students and academics turn their cutting-edge research into potentially global businesses. We plan to build a portfolio of relevant intellectual property and develop the next generation of entrepreneurs. We’ll also work to find partners and experts to develop our technology.”

As my foray into New Zealand’s innovative future continued, I paused to admire the screen and digital sector, featuring the Gibson Group and the companies associated with the production of The Lord of the Rings films and Avatar. Their inspirational story is familiar to all of us.

The undisputed star of the show was a remote-controlled helicopter that can take aerial photos much more cost effectively than a piloted aircraft. This is the brainchild of Avenir Holdings, which specialises in unmanned aerial vehicle systems. Almost all of this company’s revenue comes from exports.

My last stop was at the exhibit of the remarkable Gillies McIndoe Research Institute. This is a research institute which focuses on reconstructive plastic surgery and its name is a tribute to New Zealand’s most famous reconstructive plastic surgeons, Gillies from the First World War and McIndoe from the Second World War. They were uncle and nephew and both trained at Otago. The institute’s ground-breaking research has changed the way strawberry birthmarks are treated, by minimising the need for surgery and it is looking to extend this work to the treatment of cancer.

My reflections on this Business Innovation Growth event are:

  • The Wellington City Council deserves credit for putting on this event. It showed participants that their innovative achievements were valued, and I noted that many MPs took a keen interest in the displays.
  • The education sector in general and Victoria University in particular contributed strongly to
  • the innovative enterprise featured in this event, which helped celebrate that step toward relevance, and excellence.
  • There is now a consensus that having investment capital chasing its tail through the residential property market generates nothing but inflation. Investment in innovative enterprise is always high risk, but there is a lead being given by those Kiwisaver providers, for example, who place around seven per cent to help achieve business innovation growth.