November 30, 2009


I was just made aware of a new website by the Royal Society UK, called Trailblazing. Compiled by scientists, science communicators and historians, it celebrates 350 years of Royal Society publishing in the form of an interactive timeline that users can wade through at their own pace.

Some of the big ideas in science are present, including NZ's own Ernest Rutherford. One of the things I love about science is the fact that we stand on the shoulders of giants, yet have the ability to make our own contribution. Perhaps that's why the scale extends to 2050...who knows what might turn up there!

Check it out, its a fascinating site.

November 23, 2009

No. 8 Wire

There's an interesting article on this morning about NZ's No. 8 wire mentality being the thing that is actually hampering our growth as a country.

I blogged about this in one of my first posts on this blog, which you can read here.

As per usual there are some fantastic comments in the comments section of the article, but also some mind-boggling ones that illustrate perfectly some of the themes discussed in the article itself.

I'm glad we have people with drive and vision who are willing to step up and give it a go. Science has a big part to play in all of this, and I know from my experience as both a scientist and a junior venture capitalist that the people I work with and for do what they do because they genuinely believe that they can make a difference for everybody in this country. It angers me that when they succeed or encourage others to fulfill their potential they are labelled as 'greedy'. I couldn't agree more with comment #46, by Gareth Chaplin - the person who actually commissioned the report. The same people who criticise are the same people who lament the deficiencies in our infrastructure, health, and education systems.

If this is how the country views its innovators and their role, then the increased standard of living that we all seek, isn't going to happen any time soon.

November 11, 2009

Sweet Deal

BioVittoria is a NZ product development and marketing company founded by former HortResearch scientist Dr Garth Smith, American nutraceuticals marketer Stephen LeFebvre and Chinese Luo Han expert, Lan Fusheng. Their product is PureLo, a zero-calorie natural sweetner extracted from the Luo Han fruit, which is 200 times sweeter than sugar.

The Luo Han fruit is native to China, grows only in Southern China, and the Chinese Government has banned it from being grown outside of China where it is protected by World Trade Organisation Rules. Bio-GFS, the Joint Venture through which BioVittoria has recently set up a factory in Guanxi Province, owns the sole plant variety rights to the only commercially available Luo Han plants, and has a network of over 5000 growers in the Province, for which they help manage the fruit growing and processing aspects of the business.

They have recently announced an Initial Public Offering (IPO) on the New Zealand Stock Exchange (NZX) in order to raise $20 Million in capital (at $1 per share) to buy more fruit, pay off debt and to expand into the USA where some of the worlds biggest foodstuffs and nutraceuticals companies are located. They expect US FDA approval in February, which would open significant doors.

As pointed out by Andrew McDouall of McDouall Stuart, that although risky, this represents a great opportunity to get involved early with a NZ company that is making big strides. "If we waited six months they could have all the regulatory approvals but would pay more. It's a risk return trade-off. There are many investors that want to get in at the ground floor of great opportunities rather than paying top dollar from a private equity firm."

Considering diseases associated with high sugar intake (such as diabetes) are becoming more and more prevalent in developed and developing countries, this could be a very sweet deal indeed.

November 6, 2009

Geometric Growth and finding our Mojo

I frequently enjoy the blog posts of Chris Dixon, a web startup guru operating out of New York. One of his latest posts discussed Startup career paths, where he states that a career start in a startup is like an apprenticeship in becoming an entrepreneur.

If you talk to any of the main commentators on what NZ's high tech economy requires for growth, it is geometric growth. Much in the way Neville Jordan describes in this article about the success of his old company MAS Technology leading to half a dozen employees starting their own telecommunications businesses in NZ.

An interesting non-tech parallel is that of Mojo Coffee and their 'magic formula'. Mojo has expanded throughout the Wellington region and nationally since its establishment in 2003. Being in the service industry it is vital for them to retain the personal touch. "Its all about people", says owner Steve Gianoutsos in the Jan 2009 article on He has turned down numerous requests for franchise licenses, preferring to go into partnership with employees from his stores to open new stores. This is geometric growth - a store opens, another two stores open with someone from the previous store, which generate a further few stores, and so on and so on.

If NZ is to generate the 200 new tech companies people such as Prof. Paul Callaghan talk of, we need people to do "apprenticeships in entrepreneurship", as Chris Dixon says. If you want to really make a difference to NZ as a recent graduate, working for (or even starting) a startup company is a great way to do this. The benefits of working in a startup are well documented.

Although we are not a startup company just yet, I've learnt one or two things myself this year while working at scaling up and commercialising some of our university research toward forming a startup company. That is a post for another day, however.

November 2, 2009

Punching above our weight

Prof. Richard Faull may not be known to many of you. In fact, until last weekend, he wasn't know to me either. I happened to be reading the latest issue of North and South Magazine, and an article on the new Centre for Brain Research at Auckland University of which Prof. Faull is the director.

What was suprising to me, is that Prof. Faull and his team (plus colleagues in Sweden) were the first to discover that diseased human brain cells can regenerate - that is they have a repair pathway. We previously didn't know this (we thought once they died that was that), and as such it turned accepted knowledge on its head. The discovery was so astounding, that the research plan couldn't even be written into the original grant application for fear of rejection because it was 'dreaming'. Here is yet another case of a New Zealander conducting world class research that has ashamedly slipped under the radar.

Prof. Faull also mentioned in the article that he likes to keep the facility in NZ, because here we were small enough to remain flexible and adapt to new challenges as they arise. That reminded me of comments made by Chief Science Advisor Sir Peter Gluckman, that NZ's advantage was its small size (something that some may find hard to believe) and something that Shaun Hendy has touched on with Innovation Networks - that NZ must remain flexible enough to change to any new demands, as the Finn's did with Nokia and the mobile phone boom - that is easiest if you are small.

We like to think we punch above our weight in sport (and we do), so why don't we take this frame of mind and apply it to other areas like science and business? I know the people active in these areas most certainly do, as do I, but the whole country should take a sense of pride in people like Richard Faull and the ground breaking work they're doing.

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