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Collaborate to compete

01 Dec 2010

Are you too busy to do that research that could really put you ahead of your competitors?  Do you need specialised equipment but can’t afford the outlay?  New Zealand has numerous public sector research organisations that can help you develop your competitive advantage. This article outlines some of the benefits, explains who the key players are, and gives you tips on how to make contact with them. Here are just some of the strategic benefits that you could achieve:

  • Kick start a strategic project: You could undertake a targeted term research and development (R&D) project without the need to hire staff. This greatly reduces the business risk attached to the project.
  • Add credibility: Once the research is done, it then has the credibility of being backed by experts in the field.
  • Leverage funding: There are a number of funding schemes for research projects to help companies achieve their strategic goals. Working with a reputable research organisation will often be a prerequisite for such funding.
  • Access specialist resources:  By collaborating with a research organisation, you can access its specialised resources and equipment without the need for capital outlay.
  • Snaffle the best graduates: Many savvy technology companies use student projects as a way to engage early with good students. Very often this will lead to a permanent employment offer.  
  • Develop strategic networks: Over time, many companies build up a network of research partners they can call on for advice. Having your own alumni of high-quality graduates can also be invaluable; many go on to hold influential positions in significant companies around the world.
What type of work could I get done?There is really no end to the type of work you can get done, and it really depends on your business and technological goals.  Here are a few ideas:
  • Testing: This could include everything from usability testing to performance testing to materials analysis.  
  • Consulting: Market research, feasibility studies and project scoping are the few of the consulting possibilities.
  • Research projects: If you want to develop a new product or process and you need the skills or short-term resources to get the research done, a collaborative project is an ideal way, freeing you up to stay focused on your day-to-day business.
  • Licensing or buying intellectual property rights: Research organisations are often seeking companies to take new technologies to market, and many successful New Zealand businesses have been built around such technologies.
Which organisation should I use?Crown Research Organisations (CRIs):  New Zealand has eight CRIs, each centred on a particular sector of the economy or a natural grouping of resources. They have a strong focus on conducting research for the benefit of New Zealand.  Universities:  Contract research is big business for all New Zealand universities, and annual earnings from contract research for most (if not all) of them runs into the tens of millions of dollars. Universities are large and diverse, and the options are numerous.  Polytechnics: Polytechnics have fewer research-active staff (because they offer fewer degree qualifications), but still have plenty to offer, particularly at the applied end of the spectrum. The tutors are generally very industry-friendly and used to developing pragmatic solutions. Where do I start?The DIY approach: Unless you already have contacts you can use, websites are the obvious place to start. If you’re not sure which CRI to talk to, the website for the Ministry of Research Science and Technology has a summary of each and links to their websites ( Universities (and most polytechnics) have a research office and/or a commercialisation company which can help put you directly in touch with the right researcher. You can usually find these through the ‘research’ pages on the organisation’s website. There is also a useful starting list on the MoRST website ( service: If that all sounds too hard, Technology New Zealand also offers a global (or New Zealand) expert search, which provides you with a search report of experts and capabilities  ( Or you could talk to your local Technology New Zealand regional partner, who will have some good suggestions ( luck!