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Sharp minds, business savvy

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How the University is helping turn cool ideas into stuff we need. Vaughan Yarwood reports.

A small, picturesque town high in the Swiss Alps is not the sort of place you would expect to find a University of Auckland alumna championing the riches to be found in the world’s e-waste.

But that is exactly what Privahini Bradoo did in January when she addressed a meeting at the World Economic Forum in Davos. More particularly, Privahini, co-founder and CEO of US-based recycling start-up Blue Oak, spoke about the ‘circular economy’ and her company’s role in it.

“From one tonne of cell phones you can extract as much gold as you can from 100 tonnes of gold ore,” she explained. Then there was the silver, palladium, copper…

It was a far cry from her heady student days in Auckland when she steered the Business School’s entrepreneurial development programme, Spark (now Velocity), as its inaugural chief executive. But through a stellar career, the clean-tech pioneer’s enthusiasm for science, and her heartfelt desire to make a difference, still burn bright.

Meanwhile, half a world away from Davos, alumnus Hamish Elmslie was keen to build on the momentum of business deals he had sealed in California’s Napa Valley and Mexico. He was looking to disturb the equilibrium of vintners in Chile and Argentina by “pulling the pin” on a wine grenade or two there. The grenades in question are micro-oxygenators that mimic the way red wine matures in traditional oak barrels, but in a compressed time frame, making it quicker and less costly for wineries to get their product to market.

The idea was born when Hamish and four fellow students in the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship’s Master of Commercialisation and Entrepreneurship (MCE) degree were handed a piece of tech developed by Plant and Food Research and invited, as part of their masters programme, to make a business of it.

Having researched the market, the five formed a company, Wine Grenade, with Hamish as chief executive. Winning the 2014 Spark $100K Challenge brought them seed capital and a six-month residency at business incubator The Icehouse. That done, and now business-hardened, they set about winning industry hearts and minds. In a Kiwi sector known for its innovation – daring enough, for instance, to replace the ubiquitous corks with screw caps – there is talk of the grenades being revolutionary – or, at least, incendiary.

What connects the ventures of Privahini and Hamish (and more than 120 others who, collectively, have raised in excess of $200 million in capital and created over 460 jobs) is the University of Auckland’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. This is an evolving network of organisations, including Velocity, Chiasma, the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, The Icehouse, and UniServices –which manages commercial return for all of the University’s research-generated intellectual property and is now the largest of its kind in Australasia.

Largely anchored in the Business School, the network is helping reshape attitudes and aspirations among academic staff and students across the University, and demystifying the commercialisation process in disciplines as diverse as engineering, medicine and the sciences. So effective is it that the MIT Skoltech Initiative – a two-year study to identify the best university-based entrepreneurial ecosystem outside heavy hitters MIT, Stanford, and Cambridge – named the University of Auckland as one the world’s top five “emerging leaders in entrepreneurship” and a growing international centre of excellence in innovation. In 2016, the inaugural Reuters Top 75: Asia’s Most Innovative Universities added its voice, ranking Auckland as the most innovative university in Australasia.

Achievements like that tend to attract attention, and they no doubt caught the eye of philanthropist and business builder Sir Owen Glenn, a long-time benefactor of the University of Auckland. It was Sir Owen’s $7.5 million foundation gift in 2005 that enabled the Business School to bring its scattered faculty together in a new state-of-the-art building. And in February this year he gifted a further $2.6 million to the School to promote innovation and entrepreneurship across the University, including through the creation of an innovation hub.

The gesture was recognition that the challenge for universities was to equip students for radically new ways of doing business and of thinking about the relationship between business and society, said Sir Owen.

“It’s about nurturing a new breed of graduate who is innovative, entrepreneurial, business savvy, globally connected, and capable of having both an economic and social impact.”

More people like Privahini and Hamish, in other words. Which is where the innovation hub – also funded by PWC, Beca, and the Li Ka Shing Foundation – comes in. It will be run by the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE), which is charged with propagating an entrepreneurial mindset across the University, developing a new curriculum, forging visionary partnerships with the business and investment communities, and improving the process of getting ideas to market.

To that end, in November CIE’s Director, Wendy Kerr, led a cross-faculty team to several US universities, including Duke, MIT, Stanford, and Yale, to better understand the thinking behind the ‘maker-space’ phenomenon that is sweeping the country’s Ivy League universities. These learning labs, typically, are workshop spaces equipped with hardware such as 3D printers, scanners, vinyl cutters, and CAD stations. Many sprang up to meet the needs of engineering students but found a broader purpose satisfying demand from students and faculty elsewhere on campus.

Taking its cue from these labs, the highly-visible innovation hub – which is located in the 900-square-metre space formerly occupied by the Engineering library on Symonds Street – will provide the environment and the tools for idea sharing, collaborative experimentation and creative play. It will be open to students from all faculties with ideas of any sort. Its integrated programme will combine mentoring, workshops, and engagement opportunities to help students build, and eventually launch and grow their ventures.

The Business School’s General Manager, Himendra Ratnayake, who was in the US study group, is enthusiastic about how the University’s innovation drive is evolving.

“Five years ago, we introduced team-based learning labs at the School. Now they are fully booked and have spread like wildfire across the University. Going by what has happened overseas, this maker-space is going to be just as popular.”

Professor Greg Whittred, who has been unwavering in his determination to “turn up the volume” on innovation, stepped down as Dean of the Business School in December. However, he will continue to push his vision for a university-wide “culture change” as the University’s newly-appointed Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

Arguing the rationale for change, he once wrote: “The future is in the hands of the nation’s young scientists, engineers, technologists, and creative professionals. Let’s empower them, give them the right tools, and let them get on with the job.”

For now, all attention is on the University’s bold new shop window on innovation. If all goes to plan, a basic lab could be open for business there as early as the second semester.

As they say: watch this space…

Reproduced with permission from Ingenio – the University of Auckland Alumni magazine.

 

Alumnus Hamish Elmslie

Alumnus Hamish Elmslie.

Alumnus Hamish Elmslie

Alumnus Hamish Elmslie.

social media

How the University is helping turn cool ideas into stuff we need. Vaughan Yarwood reports.

A small, picturesque town high in the Swiss Alps is not the sort of place you would expect to find a University of Auckland alumna championing the riches to be found in the world’s e-waste.

But that is exactly what Privahini Bradoo did in January when she addressed a meeting at the World Economic Forum in Davos. More particularly, Privahini, co-founder and CEO of US-based recycling start-up Blue Oak, spoke about the ‘circular economy’ and her company’s role in it.

“From one tonne of cell phones you can extract as much gold as you can from 100 tonnes of gold ore,” she explained. Then there was the silver, palladium, copper…

It was a far cry from her heady student days in Auckland when she steered the Business School’s entrepreneurial development programme, Spark (now Velocity), as its inaugural chief executive. But through a stellar career, the clean-tech pioneer’s enthusiasm for science, and her heartfelt desire to make a difference, still burn bright.

Meanwhile, half a world away from Davos, alumnus Hamish Elmslie was keen to build on the momentum of business deals he had sealed in California’s Napa Valley and Mexico. He was looking to disturb the equilibrium of vintners in Chile and Argentina by “pulling the pin” on a wine grenade or two there. The grenades in question are micro-oxygenators that mimic the way red wine matures in traditional oak barrels, but in a compressed time frame, making it quicker and less costly for wineries to get their product to market.

The idea was born when Hamish and four fellow students in the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship’s Master of Commercialisation and Entrepreneurship (MCE) degree were handed a piece of tech developed by Plant and Food Research and invited, as part of their masters programme, to make a business of it.

Having researched the market, the five formed a company, Wine Grenade, with Hamish as chief executive. Winning the 2014 Spark $100K Challenge brought them seed capital and a six-month residency at business incubator The Icehouse. That done, and now business-hardened, they set about winning industry hearts and minds. In a Kiwi sector known for its innovation – daring enough, for instance, to replace the ubiquitous corks with screw caps – there is talk of the grenades being revolutionary – or, at least, incendiary.

What connects the ventures of Privahini and Hamish (and more than 120 others who, collectively, have raised in excess of $200 million in capital and created over 460 jobs) is the University of Auckland’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. This is an evolving network of organisations, including Velocity, Chiasma, the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, The Icehouse, and UniServices –which manages commercial return for all of the University’s research-generated intellectual property and is now the largest of its kind in Australasia.

Largely anchored in the Business School, the network is helping reshape attitudes and aspirations among academic staff and students across the University, and demystifying the commercialisation process in disciplines as diverse as engineering, medicine and the sciences. So effective is it that the MIT Skoltech Initiative – a two-year study to identify the best university-based entrepreneurial ecosystem outside heavy hitters MIT, Stanford, and Cambridge – named the University of Auckland as one the world’s top five “emerging leaders in entrepreneurship” and a growing international centre of excellence in innovation. In 2016, the inaugural Reuters Top 75: Asia’s Most Innovative Universities added its voice, ranking Auckland as the most innovative university in Australasia.

Achievements like that tend to attract attention, and they no doubt caught the eye of philanthropist and business builder Sir Owen Glenn, a long-time benefactor of the University of Auckland. It was Sir Owen’s $7.5 million foundation gift in 2005 that enabled the Business School to bring its scattered faculty together in a new state-of-the-art building. And in February this year he gifted a further $2.6 million to the School to promote innovation and entrepreneurship across the University, including through the creation of an innovation hub.

The gesture was recognition that the challenge for universities was to equip students for radically new ways of doing business and of thinking about the relationship between business and society, said Sir Owen.

“It’s about nurturing a new breed of graduate who is innovative, entrepreneurial, business savvy, globally connected, and capable of having both an economic and social impact.”

More people like Privahini and Hamish, in other words. Which is where the innovation hub – also funded by PWC, Beca, and the Li Ka Shing Foundation – comes in. It will be run by the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE), which is charged with propagating an entrepreneurial mindset across the University, developing a new curriculum, forging visionary partnerships with the business and investment communities, and improving the process of getting ideas to market.

To that end, in November CIE’s Director, Wendy Kerr, led a cross-faculty team to several US universities, including Duke, MIT, Stanford, and Yale, to better understand the thinking behind the ‘maker-space’ phenomenon that is sweeping the country’s Ivy League universities. These learning labs, typically, are workshop spaces equipped with hardware such as 3D printers, scanners, vinyl cutters, and CAD stations. Many sprang up to meet the needs of engineering students but found a broader purpose satisfying demand from students and faculty elsewhere on campus.

Taking its cue from these labs, the highly-visible innovation hub – which is located in the 900-square-metre space formerly occupied by the Engineering library on Symonds Street – will provide the environment and the tools for idea sharing, collaborative experimentation and creative play. It will be open to students from all faculties with ideas of any sort. Its integrated programme will combine mentoring, workshops, and engagement opportunities to help students build, and eventually launch and grow their ventures.

The Business School’s General Manager, Himendra Ratnayake, who was in the US study group, is enthusiastic about how the University’s innovation drive is evolving.

“Five years ago, we introduced team-based learning labs at the School. Now they are fully booked and have spread like wildfire across the University. Going by what has happened overseas, this maker-space is going to be just as popular.”

Professor Greg Whittred, who has been unwavering in his determination to “turn up the volume” on innovation, stepped down as Dean of the Business School in December. However, he will continue to push his vision for a university-wide “culture change” as the University’s newly-appointed Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

Arguing the rationale for change, he once wrote: “The future is in the hands of the nation’s young scientists, engineers, technologists, and creative professionals. Let’s empower them, give them the right tools, and let them get on with the job.”

For now, all attention is on the University’s bold new shop window on innovation. If all goes to plan, a basic lab could be open for business there as early as the second semester.

As they say: watch this space…

Reproduced with permission from Ingenio – the University of Auckland Alumni magazine.

 


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