Otago talent has what it takes

Mary Quin.
Mary Quin.
Innovation is driving the Otago economy, writes Callaghan Innovation chief executive Mary Quin.

Otago registered growth of 3.2% in 2013. Unemployment has dropped a full point and job advertisements are up 10%.

It is easy, but too simplistic, to link Otago's economic success exclusively to the high dairy payout and the flow-on from bullish farmers.

The hidden story is the impressive expansion of new innovative businesses setting up shop in the South and taking on the world.

In Otago, the innovation scene is rife with entrepreneurs making a success of new ideas and technology.

Businesses born small are now staking a claim in the global marketplace.

They are investing in staff, training and research and development (R&D) - adding to our knowledge bank and global competitiveness.

Over the past three years, some 77 R&D grants worth $18 million have been awarded to 52 Otago businesses, and are being administered through Callaghan Innovation, New Zealand's high-tech HQ for business.

This is a direct result of the Government's ambition to double R&D expenditure and boost exports from 30% to 40% of GDP by 2025.

TracMap founder Colin Brown (left) and developer Joshua Gagnon with the company's TracLink ...
TracMap founder Colin Brown (left) and developer Joshua Gagnon with the company's TracLink product in 2012. Photo by ODT.
Callaghan Innovation's mandate is to accelerate the commercialisation of innovation.

We're targeting businesses with a track record of R&D investment and new ventures that have a real shot at commercial success, which in turn creates job opportunities and export returns.

Some firms, like Dunedin's Scott Technology and Pacific Edge, have already grown to be near household names due to their success.

And Fisher and Paykel Appliances, of course, recently announced it was expanding its Dunedin R&D facilities and creating more highly skilled jobs there.

Then there is Powerhouse Wind, which received a government grant to work with Otago Polytechnic to develop its patented Thinair - a single-bladed wind turbine designed for on-grid or off-grid applications, in rural, lifestyle or remote locations.

The Thinair turbine will generate enough power to run an energy-efficient home and can be configured with PV panels, battery chargers and diesel generators.

Powerhouse Wind has now moved into commercial production.

Dig a little further beneath the surface and you will find companies like ADInstruments and TracMap, two firms making waves in their respective fields and embarking on ambitious expansion programmes.

TracMap has developed GPS guidance and mapping software to make it easier for people using vehicles for demanding tasks in the primary industries sector.

More than 50% of all fertiliser applied to Kiwi farms is carried out using its system, while roughly half of our viticulture vehicles are also fitted out with TracMap software for grape harvesting.

Since its inception in 2006, TracMap has expanded from a crew of three to a roster of 28 full-time staff.

Revenue has grown 45% in the past year.

Last year, it worked with Callaghan Innovation to develop cloud-based software that has been picked up by Australia's largest tomato grower, Kagome Foods, owned by Japan's Kagome Group.

Kagome spent three years searching for a system that suited its needs, and found it in Dunedin.

With the success of this trial, there is huge potential to tailor the technology to other vegetable crops such as potatoes and carrots.

With Callaghan Innovation and NZTE working closely together to help identify new opportunities, TracMap is primed to take its technology to the world. There is no slowing down.

While TracMap is revolutionising agriculture, ADInstruments is leading a revolutionary change in how universities, training and research institutes educate students through tailored, interactive online content designed for hands-on learning.

Its software is used by 500,000 students each year across 6000 universities in more than 80 countries.

Having gained traction in the strong United States market, it has now broken into the Middle East, India, Pakistan and Brazil - growing from a staff of 27 in 2008 to 70 today.

Last year, ADInstruments received a $3 million project grant from Callaghan Innovation to accelerate the development of a new prototype software product - KuraCloud - and take it to the global market sooner.

Staying ahead of the pack in the highly competitive education industry is crucial.

KuraCloud throws textbooks out the window to engage students online and enables them to learn through interactive sessions at their own pace, get instant feedback and expand their boundaries.

Their progress is tracked, so teachers can follow what each individual student is doing and where they may need more assistance.

New Zealand is not just a commodity exporter and tourism destination.

We have the knowledge base that is delivering high-tech, high-wage jobs. We have the talent, we have the resources, and as each day passes, we have greater belief in our technology-driven future.

Otago has an underlying innovative current that is laying out the road map to sustained growth and - to use the words of Sir Paul Callaghan - to being a place where talent wants to live.

The success stories are mounting up.

 

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