KiwiNet—who has traditionally only been able to provide pre-seed accelerator funding to projects with intellectual property owned by a select range of publicly-funded research organisations—has approved a small amount of funding to be used to support the commercial development of student-owned IP, and the students themselves. Students can apply for this funding over the next 12 months.
Dr James Hutchinson, KiwiNet's CEO, says providing that support now will pay dividends in the long term.
“It is fundamental to New Zealand’s future that we identify and support the next generation of entrepreneurs now,” he says. “If we are going to diversify our economy and drive the prosperity of our country, these are the people who are going to do it.
“These talented young people need the support of the wider business community to help them create solutions for the big challenges the country faces. Harnessing cutting-edge science is where the answers lie.”
James says New Zealand has a real opportunity to drive forward an entrepreneurial revolution.
“Helping our young people to overcome a fear of failure, and supporting them as entrepreneurs, is key. We see this initiative as transformative. It will enable our young people and scientists to make a difference and provide many opportunities for the next generation.”
The support will be delivered in Wellington using the very successful Momentum model developed by Return on Science. Momentum focuses on providing commercialisation advice and support to budding student entrepreneurs via an Investment Committee that consists of students who are supported by a core team of experienced investors and entrepreneurs.
The programme has been running in Auckland for over a year, and has already supported a wide range of projects—from Aerial Automatic Vehicles and energy drinks, to a fitness programme and GMO crops.
Emily Sullivan, Viclink’s Entrepreneurship Manager, says that based on the diverse range of ideas that have come out of Auckland, the Wellington Investment Committee will be looking to attract members with experience in a broad range of technical backgrounds. "We'll also be drawing on a pool of talented students who are well-networked and close to the latest technologies, ways of working and doing business."
She says that the new committee will enable Wellington to provide more support to its young entrepreneurs, and connect them with the entrepreneurial ecosystem.
“Early-stage funding is very hard to get," she says, "especially for students who may not have friends and family to call upon for finance. This is a huge opportunity to help them develop their projects to the next stage where they can attract further funding from investors.”
Applications for committee membership are now being invited and, once appointed, members will meet every two months to engage with three or four student projects that need advice, connections and/or funding.
“Although we provide teams with further mentoring and professional development opportunities post-Bootcamp, Momentum will allow us to offer more, and also enable us to support student teams with great ideas that haven’t gone through Bootcamp,” she says.
While the opportunity for Victoria University students is obvious, Emily is quick to point out that students from all Wellington-based tertiary institutions will be invited to join the committee or submit projects to the meetings—the first of which is planned for October.
“We’re promoting the committee, and recruiting people and projects, between now and the end of July,” says Emily. “There’s still a lot to be done, but we’re excited to be part of a partnership with such far-reaching potential for impact.”
Graham Scown, Director of Return on Science, couldn’t agree more.
“The investment decisions made by our Momentum committees are decisions that will affect the future of New Zealand,” says Graham. “Today’s students have the passion and urgency to innovate in ways that will positively impact on their own and future generations—how can we not support them?”
The core team of more experienced entrepreneurs and investors has been decided, and includes:
Photograph (from left): James Hutchinson (KiwiNet), Emily Sullivan (Viclink), Graham Scown (Return on Science)
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