Te Kōmanawa Hui builds bridges between science and Māori business

Te Kōmanawa (a spring or well) is a new series of hui to help Māori business leaders from across New Zealand participate in the deep tech investments.

Participants at Te Kōmanawa.

The first hui held in The Atom innovation space at the end of 2019, launched the series and has already led to a greater appreciation of some of the investment opportunities available.

Speaking after the event, Dr Riri Ellis, Wellington School of Business and Government’s Director of Māori Business Programmes said it is imperative Māori business leaders are given the support they need to invest in commercial opportunities linked to scientific research. “The Māori economy has solid foundations and is starting to grow into new areas to generate better financial returns.”

Toko Kapea of Tuia Group believes global innovative opportunities are necessary, and offered some simple steps for Māori land trusts, incorporations and Iwi companies. “Start the innovation and diversification journey. Seek out other Māori that are actually doing new things—ask for advice and support. Practically, spend time at governance level on disruptive technologies and related themes, invite speakers in, request reading packs on the new ideas, start to allocate a percentage of your revenue (e.g. one to five percent) for these types of investments, research and development,” said Mr Kapea.

Wayne Mulligan of Fomana Capital, is optimistic for the future as New Zealand leverages innovation and technology, and scientific groups learn to reshape their relationship and understand Māori businesses are not homogeneous. “There are many dynamic business life-cycle stages across iwi and iwi asset holding companies as well. This presents significant future opportunities, which require strategic engagement. It is a matter of linking those doing global technology innovation with New Zealand science and to those iwi and Maori organisations that want to go on this new exciting journey,” said Mr Mulligan.

Dr Geoff Willmott, Deputy Director of the MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology, said there are strong investment opportunities in the deep-tech space based on the science coming out of New Zealand universities. “But there are groups, particularly Māori businesses and iwi, that have yet to benefit from the chance to invest in these deep-tech science opportunities, and to gain from the wealth these technologies can generate,” said Dr Willmott. “Te Kōmanawa is a chance to change this through building the right connections.”

Kiwi Innovation Network (KiwiNet) CEO Dr James Hutchinson said the hui is a chance to share differing perspectives and begin to build the relationships on which sound investments can be made.

“KiwiNet offers a front door to access amazing research discoveries from 18 of New Zealand’s universities and Crown Research Institutes. We’re delighted to showcase bleeding-edge technologies that have the potential to transform Māori businesses, industry and our economy,” said Dr Hutchinson.

The first hui, organised jointly by Wellington School of Business and Government, KiwiNet, the MacDiarmid Institute and FOMA Innovation was attended by representatives from 18 Māori trusts, incorporations and Iwi, as well as three rangatahi representatives, plus representatives of technology transfer offices across New Zealand’s research institutes.

Te Taiawatea Moko-Mead, FOMA Innovation rangatahi representative presented on the day and says: "Our rangatahi are our future, and this workshop was an opportunity to connect our tech leaders of the future with the tech science ecosystem. The participation of rangatahi in this workshop highlighted the need for a commitment which sees greater involvement of rangatahi in current and future tech science initiatives, as well as building their capability for the future."

Participants found common ground in numerous business and applied science opportunities and the day ended with a pitch session where five tech startups presented on their global opportunities. Rather than a “shark tank” approach, the session was likened to traditional fishing for one fish—Te Hi Ika or Te Hao Ika—with the hope of netting a big catch.