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UC/powerHouse could create 50 global businesses

Press Release – University of Canterbury

UC/powerHouse collaboration could create fifty global businesses by 2020 Venture capital investment company powerHouse has been ‘hot housing’ young entrepreneurial talent at the University of Canterbury during its first ever summer programme. The …
UC/powerHouse collaboration could create fifty global businesses by 2020

Venture capital investment company powerHouse has been ‘hot housing’ young entrepreneurial talent at the University of Canterbury during its first ever summer programme. The company hopes that this will contribute to its goal of creating fifty international multi-million dollar businesses for Canterbury by 2020.

powerHouse Managing Partner, Dr Stephen Hampson said the research-based intellectual property (IP) coming out of the university had great commercial potential. Working with the university, powerHouse ‘spins out’ these research outcomes into companies, and incubates them to give them the best start, employing entrepreneurial graduates to staff them. “This creates a virtuous circle, enabling the research to find commercial expression, and creating demand within the universities for new research and IP. We’re on track to create 50 new international multi-million dollar companies this way by 2020, and we need a lot of talented people to run them,” he said.

Over the past year, powerHouse has spearheaded the investment of $3.1 million into five such ventures.

Students and graduates from around the country converged on ‘the powerHouse’, based at the University of Canterbury, moving research-based IP from University of Canterbury, Lincoln University and Crown Research Institutes through a pipeline from research to fully-fledged companies.

Described as a “total immersion environment of innovation and commercialisation” the powerHouse Summer Programme provides mentorship for students and empowers them to talk with global commercial customers, identify the companies’ needs, and match those needs with the IP that powerHouse has on its books. powerHouse uses this market feedback to shape the companies based on the customers’ needs, maximising their potential for success in international markets. The students have brought back international opportunities from customers as far afield as Florida.

“We have existing close working relationships with industry and encourage industry to bring their innovation needs to us,” said Dr Hampson. “By creating ‘schools of experience’ like the powerHouse summer programme we are transforming students into the next generation of chief executives and senior managers which these spin-out companies will need. So far, the 16 students involved in the programme have created seven jobs with the spin-out companies.

“Our vision is that this will become a national programme that attracts the best and brightest students and graduates from around the country to come here and commercialise research-based IP. This, in turn, will create jobs and build companies that will stay in Christchurch and contribute to its economic vibrancy.”

University of Canterbury Vice-Chancellor, Dr Rod Carr, said that the powerHouse Summer Programme is an inspiring example of work-related learning in action. “It is our intention that all University of Canterbury graduates have a work-related experience such as an internship during their undergraduate degree. We find that such experiences provide the kind of learning opportunities that give our graduates the edge when it comes to seeking employment.

“The powerHouse programme takes that paradigm in a different direction with students and graduates creating their own employment and jobs for others in the process of commercialising the research-based innovations produced at the University.”

Dr Hampson said that powerHouse has already celebrated some notable successes. One spin-out company, Invert Robotics was incorporated last year and now employs five UC graduates. The company has three registered patents, it has secured a trial with Fonterra, and has raised its second series of investment.

“Taking IP from the academic world into the commercial world is not as easy as it sounds and requires a mixture of tough love and nurturing from powerHouse and inherent talent on the part of the students. Watching the students develop during their time with us is amazing. They acquire a gritty and inspired sense of what they can expect in the working world.”

Dr Carr said that a proactive approach is required to create tomorrow’s business leaders. “We have a part to play in creating the business hub that we want here in Christchurch,” said Dr Carr. “We can create innovation here at the University that can generate wealth for Canterbury long term. Companies that are created using that innovation through powerHouse and other entrepreneurial initiatives have the opportunity to achieve the Government’s economic goals and the potential to dominate niche market segments globally.”

Eventually, Dr Hampson said, the companies that have been created through the powerHouse programme will return to the University to invest in research to solve further challenges faced by industry. “Hopefully this will lead to a constant creation of new IP which serves the needs of industry and academics in a process in which academics are ‘cut in’ and not ‘cut out’ and where they get to share in the profits associated with the IP that they have developed through their research at the University.”

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