Published Oct 30, 2023
Two Wellington UniVentures Senior Commercialisation Managers, Ela Romanowska and Jeremy Jones, were featured in KiwiNet's Commercialisation Professionals Framework, a new guide to navigating the diverse career opportunities in Aotearoa, New Zealand's thriving commercialisation sector.
Ela and Jeremy were featured in the "Stories from commercialisation frontlines" section, profiles that aim to be a source of inspiration for anyone aspiring to make a mark in the world of commercialisation. They show that with determination, resilience, and a commitment to lifelong learning, it's possible to turn science into successful businesses that positively impact the world.
Below is an excerpt containing Ela's and Jeremy's stories, and the full Commercialisation Professionals Framework is available through KiwiNet's website.
Ela Romanowska has a Masters in Electronic Engineering and is a Registered Technology Transfer Professional with over 20 years' experience working in deep tech research and commercialisation.
Her fascination for gadgets and technology influenced her choice to study engineering. She recalls, with a hint of pride in her non-conformist nature, "I was told by teachers that Engineering only for 'boys' so, of course, I had to prove them wrong!"
Her commercialisation career kicked off during her time at the CSIR (Council for Scientific and Industrial Research), the largest research and development organisation on the African continent. Ela found herself at the forefront of its innovation work - managing commercialisation partnerships, as well as assisting in the planning of an Innovation Hub.
"This exposed me to a commercial mindset, and that start-ups need 'virtual incubation' - coaching and mentoring - as much as other forms of support."
Ela ventured into her own consulting business and took on a role within the Southern African Research and Innovation Management Association - akin to KiwiNet. "For my sins, I was elected to the Executive. We were volunteers, which was really challenging. We successfully lobbied the government for significant funding into the sector, build technology transfer capabilities across the region, and contributed to the formulation and assessment of the internationally recognised RTTP status.
The government's introduction of its Research and Development Strategy which led to the creation of the Innovation Fund, a pivotal career moment. Ela assumed the role of Seed Fund Manager, supporting due diligence and deal structuring for technology development and commercialisation projects spanning universities, research organisations and startups. It also meant working closely with tech transfer offices. "After nearly ten years in investing, I tried 'the other side of the fence' - setting up such office at a university."
Ela recently relocated from South Africa to New Zealand to be in the same time zone as her closest family. She is a Senior Commercialisation Manager in the Wellington UniVentures team.
Ela says, "I have been incredibly privileged to have had so many opportunities to support impact, for which I am deeply grateful." In terms of the most valuable skill for research commercialisation, she says, "first and foremost is building trust relationships, building trust relationships and building trust relationships. Did I mention building trust relationships?! Key to this is connecting at a human level through empathy and vulnerability."
Ela shares her valuable insights for individuals considering a career in commercialisation:
- Be curious and willing to learn from experts and experiences across all aspects of research and commercialisation.
- Participate in every stage of the commercialisation journey, from raising funding for applied research to working with startups and everything in between.
- Use your passion to inspire and empower those you support - the founders and researchers. Remember, they are deep experts in their fields, and you are there to enable the unfamiliar commercialisation journey. Laugh and commiserate together in success and failure.
- Last by no means last, in a role that is complex and unpredictable, having a sense of humour always helps. It lightens the load and builds resilience for the next wild commercialisation ride!
Jeremy Jones began his career as a Process Development Chemist at Glycosyn, a contract development and manufacturing company specialising in cGMP grade materials.
Armed with an MSc in Carbohydrate Chemistry from Otago University, Jeremy's early career was firmly rooted in the lab.
Glycosyn's unique blend of commercial elements within a scientific framework provided him with early exposure to the world of commercialisation. Around six years into his tenure, Jeremy attended a leadership development course that opened his eyes to skills as a scientist and their transferability in the business side of science. This realisation was a moment that would set him on a course towards a career in commercialisation.
Jeremy's journey in commercialisation gained momentum with a secondment to KiwiNet as a Commercialisation Manager. He recalls, "During my time at KiwiNet, I grew my network and learned a ridiculous amount the commercialisation of science in a very short amount of time form KiwiNet's partner organisations."
Jeremy then assumed the role of Senior Commercialisation Manager at Wellington UniVentures, then Viclink. Soon after, he was able to spin-out one of Wellington UniVentures' start-up companies, AuramerBio. "This experience was like an accelerated MBA," Jeremy reflects. "I gained exposure to all aspects of running a business in just six months."
After three years of dedicated effort, Jeremy decided it was time to seek a new challenge. Following a period of consulting, he made the decision to return to Wellington UniVentures.
Jeremy shares advice that underscores the importance of adaptability, continuous learning, and building strong relationships when navigating the field of commercialisation:
- Embrace Uncertainty: Thriving in commercialisation means being comfortable with ambiguity and taking calculated risks.
- Dream Big, Plan Carefully: Envision possibilities and create actionable plans to bridge the gap between vision and reality.
- Leverage Your Networks: Build strong relationships, offer support, and admit when you don't know something.
- Stay Hungry: Never rest on your laurels; this industry rewards the grind if you're up for it.
- Learn Learn Learn: KiwiNet and their wider network contain so much knowledge and experience, and the best part is it's available to anyone who asks.
Recently, Jeremy restarted his consultancy business, using a decade's-worth of skills to help public research organisations accelerate projects through their pipelines for greater chances of success.
His lasting passion for commercialisation stems from its transformative power. As he puts it: "Commercialisation is the difference between exciting research findings gathering dust and actually getting turned into a product that can get out in society and have a direct impact on people's lives."