Meeting of minds to plan scientific startups

Attending the launch of the Otago Momentum investment committee at Petridish shared business space in Dunedin yesterday are (from left) committee members Mathew Arand, Kiri Lenagh-Glue, Wayne Dillon, Gemma Cotton and Momentum chairman Elliott Dunn. Photo:
Attending the launch of the Otago Momentum investment committee at Petridish shared business space in Dunedin yesterday are (from left) committee members Mathew Arand, Kiri Lenagh-Glue, Wayne Dillon, Gemma Cotton and Momentum chairman Elliott Dunn. Photo: Peter McIntosh
''The future of New Zealand making investment decisions for the future of New Zealand.''

That's the tagline programme director Graham Scown uses to describe the student-led Momentum investment committees.

Yesterday, the Otago Momentum investment committee was launched and also held its first meeting.

Momentum was a national programme that came out of the Return on Science biotech and life sciences investment committee.

It focused on commercialisation pathways for particularly student-led initiatives that could translate into startup companies.

There were three investment committees operating - Auckland, Wellington and now Otago, which was hosted by Otago Innovation.

The committees comprised an independent chairman, tertiary students, and some longitudinally experienced investors, and entrepreneurs.

Each committee had a majority of student members and those students were the next generation of startup founders, investors and board members, Mr Scown said.

Their capability and experience was being rapidly and sustainably grown and they were ''actually making live investment decisions'', he said.

The initiative was Otago and Southland-wide, not just the University of Otago; there were projects coming from Otago Polytechnic and it was exciting to see that as that was a first for the Momentum programme to have a polytechnic involved, he said.

There were well-established and tested processes that underpinned the operation of the committees.

Committee members and host organisations were also encouraged to help develop any local nuances that the committee could start to build into the programme.

Rapid growth was being seen in project pipelines as committees demonstrated they were looking for projects to add value to, he said.

Chairman Elliott Dunn said three projects were presented to the committee of 19 yesterday - an app to link students and recent graduates with employers, an app where physiotherapists could connect with patients and ensure they were doing the correct exercise, and a Uber Eats-type initiative for laundromat services.

Some of those ideas had come out of the Audacious business challenge and there were definite synergies between the two, he said.

On the committee, there was a 50:50 gender split and members ranged from first-year undergraduates through to PhD students. There were also age differences and differences in technological expertise.

At this stage, meetings were being held on a two-monthly basis but already there had been conversations about whether to increase to monthly because the agenda had already unofficially been filled up for the next meeting and there was spill-over to the November meeting.

That was a good problem to have, Dr Dunn acknowledged.

UniServices chief executive Dr Andy Shenk said Momentum was a ''fabulous opportunity'' to develop the great talent in New Zealand and help drive it ''towards the kind of success of the future we believe in.''

While the committee met for the first time yesterday, it appeared they had been working together at least a year.

Dr Shenk said it usually took a little time for people to ''warm up and be willing to contribute what they really think''.

The combination of the students with the longitudinal experience was very powerful and exciting, he said.

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