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Budget 2016: Can money buy innovation?

08 Jun 2016

Article by Vanessa Black, Grant Thornton Partner, Audit

Innovation is crucial to the success of any organisation, or economy for that matter. So how can you grow innovation?

Budget 2015 saw a range of new funding for science and innovation initiatives. This included $80 million of growth grants to boost research and development (R&D) projects administered by Callaghan Innovation. The Government also reprioritised money to fund an international investment programme to attract multinational companies to undertake R&D in New Zealand.

All in, Government invested more than $1.5 billion in science and innovation in 2015/16. But is it enough?

Recently Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce announced a further $15 million in funding to accelerate the commercialisation of scientific research and to support start-up companies. Current policies will take time to deliver a return on investment, but is it even possible to grow New Zealand to be the ‘go to’ for innovation?

R&D is seen internationally as a key driver of economic growth and comparisons show that New Zealand has scope for more investment in R&D, especially by business. However, recent research conducted by Grant Thornton shows that investment in R&D has fallen 14 percent this year compared to last year. Despite business belief in the need for innovation, they do not appear willing to increase their investment into R&D.

The United States has Silicon Valley with its burgeoning population of the world’s largest high-tech companies and startups; why can’t New Zealand carve out its own niche around innovation? We can. We have a unique environment and biodiversity, fast-growing knowledge-intensive sectors, and a distinctive and inventive culture. We typically embrace opportunities to absorb new ideas and to contribute to the global pool of knowledge.

Knowledge travels through people and the answer is to expand New Zealand’s pool of smart capital by attracting innovators to New Zealand. We can do this by building an innovation ecosystem and connecting people. People already love New Zealand – and we are seen as great people to do business with. With greater international engagement and a broader exchange of ideas, New Zealand businesses may be inspired to invest more into R&D activity and help drive growth in our economy.

New Zealand could also accelerate the commercialisation of innovation through partnership and collaboration. A great example is the partnership between Unitec and The Mind Lab. Over the past 12 months, The Mind Lab has grown from one to eight training facilities. The scale of this growth is significant, and central to the expansion has been the collaboration between the two partners. Together the partnership has been prepared to take risks where, individually, they may well have passed the opportunity by.

Risk is a huge factor in innovation – larger organisations have the financial resources, but tend to be more cautious while smaller more agile businesses have an appetite for risk, but often lack the financial resources to see a project through. In all, funding for R&D is important to innovation, but partnership and collaboration are key.

Article by Vanessa Black, Grant Thornton Partner, Audit

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