We’re asking researchers to bake a cake without a recipe

Interview with Creative HQ’s CE, Catherine Jones. Innovation is a key ingredient to make our research fit for next century

Thought-leadership piece by Catherine Jones, Creative HQ’s CEO

Asking our researchers to commercialise their discoveries can be like asking them to bake a cake without a recipe. Our busy scientists, engineers, and researchers are some of the brightest minds in the world, but the current system isn’t set up for them to develop their research with the same commercial lens that a startup founder would.

Turning research discoveries into real-world products, services, or social outcomes involves learning new ways of working and thinking about their research.

The mindset of being a researcher is rarely the mindset of being an innovator. Recent research from KiwiNet, New Zealand’s commercialisation network, found the skill of innovation isn’t a strong suit of our world-class researchers. This can and should be taught, to strengthen the impact their research makes. And that’s okay – it just means we need to improve the system so our first-class research discoveries don’t head straight to a final resting place in academic journals.

“The mindset of being a researcher is rarely the mindset of being an innovator.”

Te Ara Paerangi Future Pathways – the Government’s ongoing review of New Zealand’s research, science, and innovation (RSI) systems – provides our country with a once-in-a-generation chance to develop a solution for this problem. It’s an opportunity to transform our RSI system so it’s focused on solutions.

With that in mind, here are three solutions to ensure our research community has access to the ingredients needed to supercharge innovation in our RSI system.

Government needs to give Kiwis tools needed to problem solve

Kiwis are ingenious, with a history of developing unique and interesting approaches to tackle challenges. The Government doesn’t have to solve society’s most pressing problems alone.

The Government could (and should) enable everyday Kiwis to be part of the solution. Take the housing crisis, climate change, poverty – plenty of Kiwis have their own ideas and solutions on how to make a positive impact on these issues. Yet they might not have the ability or means to take time out from their own lives to focus on developing these ideas. They might not even know what support is on offer to enable them in their journey of innovation and problem-solving.

Imagine if the Government provided funding that afforded Kiwis the time to innovate? We must make available to entrepreneurs the innovation tools, resources, and support needed. Programmes should be developed to enable Kiwis to work alongside the RSI system to learn about ways to bring their ideas to life.

The startup teams through our Climate Response Accelerator showcase the incredible entrepreneurs we have making a difference in this space. For every one of them, there are several others just waiting to be activated. If only there was a clear and visible path of enablement for them.

Group of people attending the Certificate in Applied Innovation

Create skillshare programmes between researchers and startups

Startups can greatly benefit from researcher expertise, much like researchers can benefit from startup innovation expertise. There’s a disconnect right now where our research community and our startup community aren’t working alongside each other enough.

Opportunities to collaborate are being missed.

We’d love to create more programmes that increase engagement between publicly funded RSI researchers and startups, so they can share expertise. These could be in accelerator or incubator programmes, or in publicly funded sprints or hackathon-type events designed specifically to increase collaboration and drive connectivity.

Plant seeds for a national mindset of innovation through education

Innovation isn’t just “inventing”, building cool tech, or selling products. It’s about teaching foundational problem-solving skills, adaptability, and a mindset of creative solutions-focused thinking. This innovative mindset will best become truly embedded when seeded at an early childhood education level and nurtured through training and education in adulthood.

Furthermore, we know that innovation as a skill isn’t currently taught to all researchers. You can be a world-class researcher and not know a thing about capital raising, intellectual property, or how to test a product at scale and, ultimately, commercialise it.

If we can publicly fund research through our RSI system, we can publicly fund courses in applied innovation and innovation practice to help commercialise that same research. These programmes must be made widely available to our researchers, along with incentives to encourage busy researchers to participate.

Some of our nation’s most successful startups … all have one thing in common: they’re problem solvers. They know how to bake the innovation cake.”

Catherine Jones
CE, Creative HQ

A prosperous future for Aotearoa can be achieved through innovation.

Our RSI system has not been seriously reviewed since the 1990s. In the meantime, the world has transformed. Today’s most economically successful countries are harnessing research and innovation to tackle the myriad issues facing us today, while also generating wealth and jobs. In this respect, we can do better.

Te Ara Paerangi is an opportunity to bring our RSI system closer than ever to our startup ecosystem, to the benefit of both.

For more information or to arrange an interview please contact:
Ciara Craig
GM Engagement
021 450 209

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