PlantTech poised for takeoff mid-year

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The Bay of Plenty’s PlantTech expects to get underway by July, say people associated with the new regional research institute. The uniquely structured institute was one of four research initiatives that won funding last year from the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment (MBIE).

PlantTech aims to build regional and national capability in the application of advanced technologies to strengthen hi-tech exports.

A team of experts in data sciences and automation will focus on premium, natural plant production and collaborate with industry, research organisations and international partners.

Priority One and the University of Waikato have partnered with a consortium of eight local high-tech focused businesses to secure $8.4 million in investment from MBIE.

PlantTech is at this stage a working title, but it reflects the strong agri-tech focus of the founding companies, which include Bluelab, Cucumber, GPS-It, Eurofins, Plus Group Horticulture, Trimax Mowing Systems, Waka Digital and Zespri International.

The companies have partnered up with Priority One and the University of Waikato.

Priority One innovation manager Shane Stuart said PlantTech was still in the establishment stage under a six month initial contract from MBIE to assist in the set-up.

“We’ve secured five of the seven board members we’re looking for and we’re in advanced discussions with a potential CEO and the three research directors we plan to hire at this stage,” said Stuart.

The PlantTech concept aims to accelerate innovation using the region’s horticulture industry as a testing ground for new technologies and services.

Through participating companies, PlantTech’s research will be commercialised nationally and globally in markets including sports fields, hydroponics, logistics and primary industry land use, as well as horticultural technologies.

Stuart said bringing together commercial entities had helped win MBIE support, but he said the political machinery may have “struggled a bit” initially with the open innovation model concept.

PlantTech aimed to not just develop innovation through its own capability, but through its commercial and other networks, he said.

PlantTech was a good example of the collaboration that is a feature of how business is done in the Bay, he added.

Steve Saunders, head of Plus Group Horticulture, said PlantTech was on track for a mid-year start.

“It’s another piece of the eco system we’ve been building in Tauranga, from starting co-working spaces to getting WNT Ventures underway, growing Enterprise Angels to being the biggest angel group in the country, and now Oriens Capital providing private equity funding, “ said Saunders.

“The great thing about PlantTech is that you’ve got Zespri in there as a founding member, as well as a number of tech companies so it all aligns really well.

“It was clear to MBIE that it’s a research institute, but with a real commercial focus. The horticultural sector is not just growing, but really punching above its weight. Being able to bring new technology into a growing industry in New Zealand is really exciting.”

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David Porter

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