University tipped as global innovation powerhouse

18 August 2014
MIT Skoltech Initiative
The MIT Skoltech Initiative conducted a two-year study to find the world’s best university-based entrepreneurial ecosystems.

The University of Auckland has been identified as one of the world’s top five “emerging leaders in entrepreneurship” expected to become a major international innovation powerhouse in the decades ahead.

The MIT Skoltech Initiative conducted a two-year study to find the world’s best university-based entrepreneurial ecosystems operating outside the technology-driven innovation hubs of MIT, Stanford University and the University of Cambridge.

The report, which says the University of Auckland offers an exciting blueprint for other universities operating in similar circumstances across the world, has been written to offer insights into how universities can transform their institutions toward a more entrepreneurial model, particularly in environments that may not be naturally conducive to entrepreneurship and innovation.

The University is listed alongside Finland’s Aalto University, the University of Michigan in the US, Technion in Israel and KAIST in Korea. The challenging environments in which they operate are typically characterised as cultures that do not support entrepreneurship and innovation, geographic isolation and/or a lack of venture capital.

The report was written by Dr Ruth Graham who conducted about 35 interviews in New Zealand in October last year, including the University’s current and former vice-chancellors, deans and academics from various faculties, representatives from UniServices and Spark, and others from the entrepreneurial community.

She details the Business School’s strategic decision in the early 2000s to strive towards building a generation of business-savvy graduates and supporting the growth of institutional and regional entrepreneurial capacity.  

Many of her interviewees said the Spark entrepreneurship programme was “the beating heart of entrepreneurship at the university”. They also commented on the critical role that Spark has played in triggering a major, on-going cultural change at the university; a change that has "bubbled up from the students".

Dr Graham says the University’s leadership, combined with the complementary dynamic of the commercially-focused activities of UniServices and community-focused and institutional activities of the Business School including the Spark initiatives, have established it as an emerging international centre of excellence in entrepreneurship and innovation.

“Auckland’s current trajectory suggests a strong international presence in the future,” Dr Graham says. “What has been achieved (by the University) is impressive. However, it is not complacent and recognises that the approach requires constant recalibration and careful management.”

National expenditure on Kiwi-based R&D is still 47% below the OECD average, melding with contestable research funding to universities being reduced by 30% over the past three years, Dr Graham says.

“These low levels of expenditure present a major constraint on the growth of the University’s ecosystem and to the country’s innovation system as a whole.     

“What has been achieved (by the University) is impressive. However, it is not complacent and recognises that the approach requires constant recalibration and careful management.”

Business School Dean Professor Greg Whittred says to be included in the emerging leaders group of entrepreneurial universities is an excellent tribute to staff and students from numerous faculties who, along with the business community, have combined well to create and continuously strengthen the University’s entrepreneurial ecosystem over the past 12 years.