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Collaboration key to creating innovation hubs in Auckland

Collaboration is a crucial component of innovation, and in order for New Zealand to foster progression and advancement it must overcome the perception that a do-it-yourself attitude wins out.

This is a key finding from Dr Rebecca Gill’s the Grow North Innovation District research project, which was presented at a summit at Massey University’s Auckland campus.

The research investigates the opportunities and challenges to developing an innovation district in Auckland North, but also has implications for innovation hubs in other parts of Auckland and New Zealand.

“While Kiwis are quick to invent new solutions, there is also a mentality that success comes from an independent, do-it-yourself effort,” Gill says.

“While this ability is viewed as a national strength, it also contributes to a mindset that leads to non-collaboration, slow commercialisation of innovation and globally naive strategies.

“In successful innovation districts overseas ‘coopetition’ - or cooperative competition - is considered a healthy thing, but New Zealand startups are generally hesitant to develop these sorts of partnerships,” she says.

Gill says her research, which involved extensive interviews with business, education and local government leaders in Auckland North, uncovered a sense of frustration that there was no framework for sharing information and knowledge in a way that improves the innovation ecosystem.

“There are pockets of innovation all over Auckland North, but we really need to mobilise open collaboration and connections between these existing groups.

“Then you’ll see those connections multiply to create an ecosystem - a place where clever businesses work together and local schools, Massey University and industry are completely integrated,” she says.

At the Grow North summit Gill also presented a roadmap, based on her research findings, for establishing an innovation district in Auckland North, and connecting it to other innovation sites in Auckland and around the country.

She says the first step in the roadmap will be to establish the Grow North Trust, a steering group to ‘steward the process forward’.

The group will be made up of key figures from industry, the education sector, government and also include venture capitalists.

The next priority, Gill says, is to connect the clusters that already exist across Auckland North and introduce incentives to encourage collaboration.

“To get things started I think there needs to be an online portal where innovators can identify themselves and share what they are doing so useful connections can be made.

“We currently lack an R&D capability database that can easily be tapped into when firms want to purchase each other’s innovation or collaborate on development,” she says.

Other initiatives in the roadmap include engaging secondary and tertiary students in real innovative projects, with business mentors providing support at every stage of the education pipeline.

“Students could receive academic credits for work experience in new economy businesses, and this also gives industry an opportunity to access and develop the future talent they need,” says Gill.

She says it will also be important to start the conversation about eventually funding the creation of some physical spaces like a public innovation centre, for holding workshops and lectures, connected to public and commercial spaces for co-working and shared services.

“Good transport links are important too and, if it all comes together, you can create a region that has a great reputation for lifestyle that also draws innovative businesses because they want to access the benefits of the ecosystem,” Gill says.