Why our Momentum committees are an investment in the future

By Andy Shenk - UniServices CEO

Earlier this month we launched the fifth regional branch of our Momentum student-led investment committees. While the return of COVID-19 to our community put a halt to the launch event planned for the evening, the first Manawatū committee went ahead with its first few presenting teams and we had a great day together. The Manawatū committee joins Auckland, Wellington, Otago and Canterbury in our growing community of future leaders supporting the next generation of student entrepreneurs around the country.

As a proud member of both Momentum and Return On Science committees, I have a front-row view of how the programme provides a rich framework for both committee members and entrepreneurs to grow their capability. Launching another committee is a testament to the programme’s success, and today I want to share a little more with you about what Momentum means to us at UniServices and why we do it.

For those of you unfamiliar with its history, Momentum is the sister programme to Return On Science, a national investment committee programme we initiated to support research institutions and businesses with the development and launch of their commercial ideas. The direct result of innovating on ourselves and the way we work, both Momentum and Return On Science have grown out of our unique approach to nurturing the teams and the intellectual property that emerge out of research at the University of Auckland.

Momentum is renowned for its encouraging and inclusive culture and it is thought to be a unique programme globally. It was created out of our desire to add a student perspective to the Return On Science investment committees, which primarily support university staff and PHD students on their commercialisation journey through the deep expertise and, usually, the extensive professional careers of the majority of the committee members. Observing the power that arose from the combination of deep experience plus fresh new thinking helped us see the potential in reversing the make-up of our newest committees – in Momentum, the majority of the committee members are current students and the minority are more “longitudinally advantaged”.

Student-led committees allow us to help entrepreneurial students at an earlier stage in their career, providing the inventors with a committee that looks more like them, and it helps the rest of us remain current with the most up-to-date science and trends in the market. While both committee environments serve as a good tool to help with investment decisions for our own University of Auckland Inventors’ Fund, we realised that the benefit the Momentum committees bring could be expanded far beyond Auckland – that’s why we are now at five committees and counting.

Growing the investment committee programme, with support from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, helps us to grow the whole community of people who are doing this kind of work in New Zealand. The more people who engage with us, and the more people know about the support we offer, then the more value and impact we will all see from the commercialisation of research on the financial and social wellbeing of our country.  (Just quietly, the more we offer to others through programmes like Momentum then the more that some of the cleverest people in the country want to come and work with us, as well.)

For me personally, it has been tremendously rewarding being a part of the Momentum programme. I have seen people grow right in front of my eyes and that’s a terrific thing. Countless times I’ve seen smart, capable young people on Momentum make amazing contributions that could change the whole direction of someone else’s career and they’ve done it with genuine care, generosity and commitment.  The programme hasn’t been running very long but already we’ve seen the great strides our Momentum alumni have taken; surprising even themselves with how far they have gone so quickly.

Ultimately, I see Momentum as an investment in the future. It helps us achieve our goals here at UniServices in bringing ideas to life and, more significantly, it helps grow a culture of innovation, entrepreneurship, and commercialisation in our next generation of leaders here in New Zealand.