The year that was

Published Dec 9, 2020

It goes without saying that COVID-19 has made 2020 a year that none of us will ever forget; it impacted us all.  But despite that, we continued to build on the growth of the past few years—largely due to the resilience of our amazing team. Their ability to switch so quickly into remote working, while still finding ways to support each other through the uncertain times, meant we were able to pivot and adapt as required, and keep moving forward.

In a year of constant change, one of the biggest involves us farewelling some of our Knowledge Services team. In February 2021, our team members who run the non-degree teaching part of our business will transfer to Wellington Uni-Professional Limited (WUPL)—a new Victoria University of Wellington subsidiary that has been established to centralise this part of the University’s business. 

I’m really proud of the existing business opportunities we are able to contribute to WUPL as it begins its journey, and the capability we are contributing through our team members who are transferring.  I wish them all the very best for their new endeavours.

In December, we also farewelled Jeff Howe who has led the growth of our International Aid and Development business for the past four years. Jeff is moving to a role with the crop science and animal health industry association Agcarm, building on his past experience in agricultural policy. I’d like to acknowledge Jeff for his invaluable contributions to both Wellington UniVentures—and the wider University—during more than 20 years working across both organisations in the international development space.

This year we have also said goodbye to Wellington UniVentures Board member Professor Ian O. Williamson—who returned to the United States—and welcomed Professor Ehsan Mesbahi (the University’s Pro Vice Chancellor, Faculties of Science, Engineering, Architecture and Design Innovation) to the Board.

While we are farewelling Knowledge Services’ non-degree teaching activities, we are continuing to deliver programmes or projects that have a commercialisation component. For example, KiVa—the bullying prevention programme we licence from Finland—is a product that we will continue to sell and support here at Wellington UniVentures. We recently renewed our licence for another five years to ensure New Zealand schools have the tools they need to address bullying, and are pleased that KiVa has now been rolled out across 59 schools across New Zealand.

On the subject of education, we were delighted to announce an exciting new scholarship to honour the memory of Jeremy Bloomfield, our former Senior Education Programme Manager, who passed away suddenly in 2019.

The Jeremy Bloomfield Memorial Scholarship is available to postgraduate research students focused on education or the environment—Jeremy’s great passions—to support the translation of their innovative ideas for impact in the wider society. We think Jeremy would have been thrilled to support innovation in these two areas that he had such infectious enthusiasm for.

On the commercialisation side of our business, the whole team have been absolute champions this year, achieving some incredible milestones in the midst of the COVID-19 chaos.

We received 61 new invention disclosures—the fourth year in a row where we hit our growth targets. The quality of these disclosures is also satisfyingly high—reflecting the calibre of the research and the dedication of our researchers at VUW.  The success we achieve as an organisation is always a direct reflection of their high quality, impactful research outputs, and we are proud to be part of that.

We also spun out four new companies from University research in just one year—setting a new record for ourselves. Congratulations to Bontia Bio, TasmanION, Rekover Therapeutics and X-Frame.

I’m also proud of our alumni start-up companies; they not only survived COVID-19 but some even managed to raise capital during this difficult year, which is a testament to the strength of the teams and their products. Particular standouts in this regard were Inhibit Coatings and Ferronova.

However, one of the most inspiring parts of our year has been the work undertaken by our English Language Training Services team to repatriate scholars during the pandemic—one of the most impressive team performances I have ever seen. At a time when many in New Zealand were lamenting having to go into lockdown, Jo-Anne, Tara, Alana, Chloe, Rachel and Simone were digging in and literally working day and night to get 81 strandees back home. The team’s dedication to ensuring the scholars’ wellbeing throughout this incredibly stressful time was quite extraordinary.

Despite the uncertainty and upheaval of 2020, I am left with an overwhelming sense of pride in how we have not just weathered the storm, but actually moved forward in spite of it. Never has our team—and the whole of New Zealand—deserved a summer break more, so I wish everyone a safe and happy Christmas and a truly relaxing holiday break.   


Dr Anne Barnett