I enjoyed Fiona Rotherham’s recent article in Unlimited magazine featuring the scientist who is inventing red-fleshed apples. But local venture capital investor Stuart McKenzie’s comments in the same article about the lack of science investment are a chilling reminder that New Zealand continues to underperform in terms of raising capital for technology commercialisation.
Hitching our economic success to agriculture is a sensible strategy in some respects, given our natural assets; but it should not be the only strategy. Agriculture alone cannot improve our economic fortunes; especially since the added value component remains tiny. Considering the deleterious effects of pastoral greenhouses gases and waterway pollution from farm run-off; if we are to enrichen New Zealand with more knowledge intensive businesses there simply must be a diversity of approaches.
Even more troubling is that there is a perfect storm brewing. As local VC funds begin to mature it is not entirely clear where the new funds will emerge from. Existing venture capital funded projects are looking for their next funding rounds to take those businesses to the next level. So, in the current economic climate, investors are naturally more inclined to look after the projects already on their books. It is harder than ever to get a true “start-up” company funded.
The government has set an aspirational goal of catching up to Australia by improving economic productivity, but it has confused business productivity with GDP per capita. Productivity is not the problem. The problem is we need to be exporting knowledge not farm commodities. Securing sufficient capital to commercialise and scale up our portfolio of intellectual property is the only way to achieve this.