"It's not like California here," the New Zealand venture capitalist told me. "New Zealand science students aren't entrepreneurial they don't have that drive to spin their own ideas out and start their own businesses."
The International Finance Corporation ranks New Zealand as the easiest place to start a business, five places ahead of the sixth-ranking United States. If budding New Zealand scientists aren't entrepreneurial, it isn't because red tape is holding them back.
It's clear that there are fewer partnerships between universities and the private sector in New Zealand than there are in the States. The University of California system has been particularly successful in fostering cooperation: areport that one in three California biotechnology firms was founded by a UC scientist. New Zealand successes are identifiable Auckland University spinoff Neuren Pharmaceuticals, for example, won NZ Bio's 2005Biotechnology Company of the Year award,and anti-cancer company Proacta Therapeutics, a cooperative venture between Auckland University and Stanford, has also been successful in raising funding but they can be enumerated; in California, which has nine times New Zealand's population, they've proliferated too fast to be counted.
So why are there so many entrepreneurial scientists in California? Speakers in Stanford University'sEntrepreneurial Thought Leader identified several factors as key: the presence of several universities, the ability for highly qualified researchers to switch between university and industry posts, industry being seen as a laudable goal rather than a second-tier slot for those who couldn't make it in research, and, finally, a high degree of contact between industry and academia. Clearly, California wins on most of these points. Auckland and Christchurch are the only two of New Zealand's cities to boast more than one university; of the two, only Auckland has enough industry to provide a business cluster able to support fruitful exchange with academe. Even in Auckland, it's not easy for researchers to switch between industry and the ivory tower: there are few public-sector slots available, and those who have them tend to stay put, so it's difficult to move back once you've made the move out. Where the final point is concerned, Auckland is picking up the pace: Auckland University of Technology has atech business incubator, and Auckland University Business School'sIcehouse incubates next-generation small and medium enterprises.