Comvita, the Institute for Innovation in Biotechnology at the University of Auckland and Comvita Innovation Limited (CIL) took out the Rudd Watts Research and Business Partnership Award at the 2015 KiwiNet Awards.
The collaboration of industry and research institute resulted in accelerated innovation in commercial research and enabled students to engage with a real question from a business, say
Mark Burgess, Director of the Institute for Innovation in Biotechnology, and Ralf Schlothauer, Chief Technical Officer of Comvita.
Auckland University’s Institute for Innovation in Biotechnology has partnered with Comvita to ensure their global exporting business is underpinned by cutting-edge Kiwi science.
So the IRB model is really about bringing industry in – we call them co-locators – to make use of the research infrastructure of the university, the academic staff of the university in relevant disciplines and to engage with students.
Essentially it’s like a symbiosis, let’s say, between the students, the professors, the environment, the infrastructure and the industry. Obviously, very actively working with mānuka honey, we work on medical honey. We’re also working on a product called propolis – the resin that the bee is collecting from the trees.
The partnership owes its success to deeply embedded collaboration between science and business.
Well, I think the principle is to find the synergies that exist between the strengths of the company and the strengths of the university. So it’s a case of the synergies 2 plus 2 probably equal 6 or 10.
Well, the advantages for the students are that they actually engage with a real question from a business. We have, in particular, the problem of mānuka honey being a very expensive honey on the global marketplace, and of course, then the inevitable happens – there is counterfeit going into those markets.
The exercise around trying to defeat the fraudulent mānuka honey – Comvita lined up with a medicinal chemist. Now, that’s not something you would have expected to have happened at the get-go. It’s something that happens because of the close relationship with our co-locators and academic staff. Trust is paramount. And you build trust much more effectively if you’re inside the organisation. You’d say it’s fast prototyping, really, and that’s really what it comes to – the ability to test an idea by the end of the week.
No red tape. No legal stuff. Comvita has a lot of intellectual property coming out of this. We can patent, we sort of leverage that. And also we have been seen as, in many cases, the market leader of being just having this technological knack or having this edge that other people don’t.
Modelling this kind of partnership between a university and business I think stands us in good stead for the economic development of New Zealand.