I just got back from New Zealand two weeks ago. It is amazing what is happening there in the area of entrepreneurship and innovation. My role has been to participate in a committee that can allocate up to $30M per year to aid universities in NZ to change the entrepreneurial culture of their faculty.

New Zealand is literally looking to change the composition of the faculty to include some who are both solid academics and also entrepreneurs. We know from our own experiences that when faculty are both, they tend to be prolific. They serially create ventures, and they even transfer this skill to their graduate students. In addition, they typically publish more and have greater impact in academic areas. In New Zealand, this also has the potential effect of increasing connections with global industry, enhancing entrepreneurial networks, and discovering new funding sources.

The program is the Entrepreneurial Universities Initiative offered through the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) in the New Zealand government. An expert panel comprised of local and international experts looked over approximately twenty applications to make this year’s awards. The panel was led by Peter Crabtree, General Manager, Science Innovation and International Policy Branch (MBIE) who is also heading up the New Zealand Space Agency as non-voting chair. The other members include Candice Kinser, Advisor at Planatir Technologies; Jenn Bestwick, Crown Research Institute Performance; Peter Riddles, Science and Industry Endowment Fund, Australia; Karen Willcox, MIT Professor, Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and Co-Director, MIT Center for Computational Engineering, and myself (Ikhlaq Sidhu).

The program was originally the brainchild of now Finance Minister, Steven Joyce, who I had the pleasure of meeting on his trip to Berkeley last year.  As an entrepreneur himself, he has been driving real change amongst New Zealand’s academics to include innovation and entrepreneurship culture as a cornerstone for improvement.

Really, this is an amazing experiment and has huge potential. Like all good things, it may take a little time, but the idea of intentionally changing the mix of entrepreneurial faculty through a formalized funding process is a big idea. I have not seen it done anywhere else so far. Congratulations to New Zealand for being leaders in the innovation process for Universities.

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Acknowledgements to all the great people at TEC in NZ who are making this project work including  Tony Scott, , Gemma Goldsmith, Seth Campbell, Sara Williams, Pat Gluck, Dina Demiri, Mark Garisch, and so many more.