The year that was

Published Nov 29, 2019

As 2019 draws to a close, it’s time once again to reflect on how we’ve continued to support the University to create tangible impact—both locally and internationally—from our academics’ and students’ world-class research. 

There is no doubt that it has been a year of incredible growth—with significant wins, new and strengthened partnerships, and changes in our team. 

Geoff Todd, who handed the baton to me as Chief Executive Officer in 2018, officially retired in March this year, after doing an incredible job to grow and develop the business since taking on the role of Viclink’s Managing Director in 2011. His achievements are too numerous to list here, but I think his nomination as a finalist in the inaugural ‘Commercialisation Professional’ category in KiwiNet’s 2019 Research Commercialisation Awards recognises the profound impact Geoff has had on shaping not just Viclink, but the way scientific research is commercialised in New Zealand today.  

2019 has been a full and active year for Viclink, which makes selecting highlights from the wide range of success stories a satisfying challenge.

Our Knowledge Services activities for the University have continued apace in 2019.  We have further cemented our decade-long working relationship with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT), signing another three-year multi-million-dollar contract to manage the delivery of the English Language Training for Officials (ELTO) programme through the University’s English Language Institute (ELI), to government officials from South East Asia.    

Working closely with the School of Education and the ELI, we also won our second contract with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to deliver a fully-immersive English language and teaching programme—known as Khebrat—to a group of Saudi teachers and principals. Our commitment to the education sector is also demonstrated through our delivery of the anti-bullying programme KiVa. We now have more than 50 Kiwi schools taking part in this evidence-based programme, and the incredible impact demonstrated through the KiVa programme offshore is now also being replicated in New Zealand. 

We have continued to expand our reach in both the countries we deliver to and the subject areas from the University that are garnering international attention.  In November, we welcomed a group of senior officials working across India’s digital Government sector to take part in a programme of learning developed in conjunction with the University’s School of Government.  This year was also the first that we signed and completed a contract with the Asian Development Bank to deliver Tourism Management training in Indonesia. 

In a move that supports the wider New Zealand innovation ecosystem, we won a number of contracts to support commercialisation of research developed outside of Victoria University of Wellington—re-signing with the New Zealand Health Innovation Hub (NZHIH) and the Auckland District Health Board, and providing commercialisation opportunity assessment services for three other Kiwi research organisations. 

The University commercialisation pipeline has continued to grow in both size and scope with over 50 invention disclosures received from University research activities this year.  We have secured $3m of external funding into developing our pipeline projects (at pre-commercial phase) and have transacted eight new commercial deals of significance.  We are building depth in our intellectual property portfolio in a range of interesting new technology areas with battery technology, ammonia production and animal health technologies providing particular highlights for 2019. 

We continued to work with financial services company Booster to grow our portfolio of spin-out companies being invested in by our New Zealand Innovation Booster fund (NZIB)—a partnership established between Viclink and Booster in 2018.  New companies joining the NZIB portfolio this year include MaramaLabsFerronova and Inhibit Coatings—all founded on ground-breaking research developed at Victoria University of Wellington.  

In 2019 we developed a new and significant relationship with the Victoria Foundation and Development Office, launching the Innovate Fund in September—a new philanthropic fund aimed at supporting early-stage research translation activities within the University. 

Viclink kicked off its ninth annual Victoria Entrepreneur Bootcamp for the University’s most entrepreneurial students in November. It has been gratifying to see how well some of our Bootcamp alumni are continuing to progress their ideas, with Viewpoint Medical and Dignity particular stand-outs this year as they seek to make a difference in the world. And it was another Victoria University of Wellington student—Cynthia Hunefield—who won the Momentum Student Entrepreneur Award at the 2019 KiwiNet Commercialisation Awards with her research-project-turned-company HerbScience

At the same Awards night, Shalen Kumar—Victoria University of Wellington alumni and CEO of Viclink spin-out company AuramerBio—took out the Norman Barry Foundation Breakthrough Innovator Award. 

Our team continued to grow and change this year.  We welcomed Hamish Findlay—a key appointment—as our General Manager, Commercialisation, and his skillset and expertise have already proven invaluable.  We also welcomed Professor Ian Williamson, Dean of the Wellington School of Business and Government, to the Viclink Board. 

While this year has had many highlights, undoubtedly the biggest challenge we faced was the sudden passing of our talented and highly-respected colleague Jeremy Bloomfield.  From 2020 onwards, Viclink will sponsor a $20k innovation scholarship in his name to support the translation of educational or environmental research, reflecting Jeremy’s great passions. 

As the year draws to a close, the new decade signals the start of a new era for Viclink; in February 2020, we will change our trading name from Viclink to Wellington UniVentures. We want to be the acknowledged leader in taking Wellington’s knowledge to the world, and this renaming will ensure that our activities and impact are connected not only to the University and Wellington, but to New Zealand, Asia Pacific and beyond.  

While our name might be changing, it will still be business as usual for us as we work to build potent value in University knowledge, and continue to attract, connect and support groups and individuals to amplify ideas and inventions, all while building capability for true change and global advancement.   

Wishing you all a safe and festive holiday break. 

Dr Anne Barnett, Chief Executive Officer