As a small, advancing economy, New Zealand has made its mark as a leading region for science and research intellect and labour. Universities and crown research institutes (CRIs) are above the OECD average for scientific publications. This is a reflection of the core responsibility and business of the academic and research environment to publish rather than commercialise.
The consequence of the science community not viewing themselves as entrepreneurial bodies is the poor translation of the great science into commercial success. The result is a bottleneck of early stage research that lacking the strategic focus and support to be developed into commercial ventures that can drive growth in this knowledge-based economy.
It is clear that the distance to global markets and limited financial capital to support long development time frames and high risk of scientific R&D is a barrier for commercialisation and success. However an integral underlying barrier that can be improved is an apparent ‘lack of business culture’. Characterised by the fear and stigmatisation of failure and lack of commercial education and training, the business culture within the science community is relatively weak compared to economies with well-demonstrated innovative successes in science and technology.
There is a growing awareness within New Zealand’s scientific community that a culture change is needed to enable New Zealand to best take advantage of its exceptional research power to propel economic growth in our country. Many initiatives have been formed to help address this need.
Chiasma is one such of these initiatives. Founded by three PhD students at the University of Auckland in 2004, Chiasma aims to provide commercial exposure to STEM students.
Chiasma helps students network with the science industry, provides training in the skills needed for science commercialisation, and encourages entrepreneurship in the STEM fields. Chiasma has since expanded to universities in Wellington and Dunedin, creating a nation wide-movement with over 3500 student and industry members.
As a fully student-run and student-led organisation, Chiasma targets students at the grassroots level. Providing this exposure early equips our young people with commercial awareness and skills that they then take forward into their career. They are then much better equipped to identify opportunities to translate New Zealand’s world class research into commercial ventures. In this way, Chiasma contributes to the drive towards accelerating the pace of science commercialisation in New Zealand.
However, filling the commercial education gap and bringing about a culture change takes time. Although some progress has been made, we still have a long way to go before science commercialisation can make a substantial impact on New Zealand’s economic prosperity. The commitment and passion of Chiasma members to driving this change will be key for its success.