20 April, 2023
At the MacDiarmid Institute, we like to say that “commercialisation is in our DNA”. From the start, our founding director Sir Paul Callaghan’s vision was to stimulate greater productivity and diversification in New Zealand’s economy through advanced materials science. Sir Paul put forth this vision in two books with titles that speak for themselves: Wool to Weta, and (with Shaun Hendy) Get off the Grass.
Sir Paul’s legacy was honoured in the naming of Callaghan Innovation. His company Magritek, that began as a start-up, is now a global leader in manufacturing NMR, and won the Commercialisation Impact Award at this year’s KiwiNet Awards. In his acceptance speech, Magritek CEO Dr Andrew Coy spoke of Sir Paul’s vision for that company using another of our favourite quotes at the MacDiarmid Institute:
We will be good at what we are good at.Sir Paul Callaghan Founding Director The MacDiarmid Institute
Having a vision is great, but commercialisation is a tough business and tangible commercial impact was not quickly forthcoming during the first decade of the Institute. A corner was turned in 2011 with the founding of Engender, a MacDiarmid-affiliated spin-out company led by Professor Cather Simpson, who was awarded the Commercialisation Icon Award at this year’s KiwiNet Awards. Other influential figures included Dr Ray Thompson, an entrepreneurial Board Chair, and Professor David Williams, who brought commercial experience from a successful career in the UK. Through the work of such pioneers, connections were built between researchers and investors, and the roles of those in the commercialisation ecosystem became clearer. After generating three affiliated spinouts prior to 2011, the Institute can now count 27. Of those, 41% have MacDiarmid Institute women (Investigators and alumni) as founders or CEOs, with a higher proportion of women founding and leading these companies in more recent times.
Today, the MacDiarmid Institute is regularly producing at least two affiliated spin-out companies per year, and five of our researchers indicate their intention to spin out a company in 2023. Our contribution to industry partners is similarly strong and regular. With the ecosystem maturing, the Institute introduced initiatives such as seed funding for commercial projects, enhanced industry engagement through an Interface programme and Tech Week events, and a focus on training opportunities for all members of the Institute.
Our Co-Director Professor Justin Hodgkiss was instrumental in many of these changes, and this year Justin won the Research Entrepreneur Award at the KiwiNet Awards, having led the spectroscopy spin-out Advemto in addition to his contribution to commercialisation at the Institute. The Institute has performed excellently at the KiwiNet Awards for several years now, and there is a clear correlation between MacDiarmid Institute support and successful outcomes.