A recent installment of the UoA Bioscience Enterprise Forums was held on the 29th August and featured Nick Bain, Commercial Manager of NIWA. Nick primarily spoke on the his career path to date and shared some advice and interesting perspectives on commercialising science.
University of Auckland law graduate. Undertook 3 years with Bell Gully Wellington. Enabled him to establish a good legal skill set. While taking on various temp jobs in London he decided law was not for him and moved into banking where he developed his confidence, networking and an ability to capitalise on opportunities. Following this he returned to NZ, and after a small stint in film production, jumped into a role as CEO of the Intellectual Capital Foundation. The foundation was set up to promote the knowledge economy and investment in it. Part of this was setting up the first tech incubator at AUT. From here he moved onto a prestigious role as an adviser to the prime minister in 2001 having portfolios including telecom, R&DT, customs.
Before Nicks arrival at NIWA, the CRI had not commercialized anything prior. Despite having had little commercialisation experience, Nick instigated a stage/gate commercialisation process with a focus on product development. He is still the only member of his team, with NIWA utilising external consultants as project managers.NIWA has commercial projects in waste water to grow algae, wave energy, methane emissions, didymo eradication. NIWA’s commercialisation strategy primarily involves partnering/licensing with start up spin outs less common.
Nick’s Advice/ Perspectives:
- Highlighted the importance of failing fast and pursuing thorough due diligence in IP and market research when commercialising innovation
- Advice for success – ask questions, be focused – delivery focused, write well, work with smarter people than you, project management skills, find a passion.
- Challenges commercialization: communication – need to bring people with different skills sets together. Make sure everyone is on the same page
- 1 out of 3000 ideas are commercialised
- 97% value creation is in the bringing together of knowledge platforms not investing in new basic science.
Limitations of CRIs:
- have to exit commercial operations – not allowed to stay in it for profit sakes. Not running spin out companies.
- There is a desire to anchor/ leverage IP i.e. to keep the technology in NZ and develop it here – Nick believes this is a failed perspective as there is often the need to bring in other IP in order to commercialise your own.
My own thoughts:
It seems like there is an inconsistency between the strategies and missions (or how they pursue them) between different CRIs. AgResearch and HortResearch seem a lot more commercially focused with extensive business development teams and several spin outs to their name. To top it off the NIWA website does not even have a section for commercial operations or ‘looking for opportunities’ etc. AgResearch even goes as far as listing IP available for licensing. Surprisingly in the 2007, NIWA generated the greatest net surplus of all the CRIs of NZ$10million.
CRIs were set up as centers of basic research and I suspect tech transfer teams are only a recent addition. With the majority of their funding coming from government, should these institutes be pushing their commercial arms further, creating their own wealth which they can reinvest becoming self sustainable (also freeing up funding for other organisations).