FFA Spotlights Migrant Entrepreneurs

Over a decade ago MacDiarmid Institute founder, renown physicist and technology entrepreneur the late Professor Sir Paul Callaghan proclaimed that we needed to make New Zealand “the place where talent wants to live”. Results of the 2022 Food, Fibre & Agritech (FFA) Supernode Challenge suggest we have reasons to be optimistic about attracting top talent to our shores.

During the last few weeks ThincLab advisors have been mentoring teams involved in the 2022 Food, Fibre and Agritech Supernode Challenge accelerator programme. The Challenge, supported by ChristchurchNZ, KiwiNet and the Canterbury Mayoral Forum sought to uncover innovative ideas with commercalisation potential from across research and business. Notably, environmental sustainability has been a key theme addressed by entrants within this year’s programme. Applicants really stepped up, with an initial 36 respondents whittled down to 24 participants, of these 12 outstanding finalists were selected.

Canterbury has a long and rich association with agricultural and is home to two universities and numerous land based research institutions. So there is no shortage of smart ideas on offer. But it has been a special thrill to see our skilled migrant researchers and entrepreneurs strongly represented among the participants in this programme. For many of them it has been a steep learning curve stepping out of the research lab and grappling with the fundamentals of business for the first time. But in every case they have grasped the opportunity and run with it.

Challenge overall winners Mahnaz Shaverdi and Associate Professor Ken Morison are food process engineering researchers from the University of Canterbury with big plans for turning plain old pea protein into a more desirable food source. Shaverdi migrated from Iran with the aim of pursuing further study and raising her young family in New Zealand. Morison is a respected engineer who originally returned home to work in the dairy industry after completing his doctorate at Imperial College in London. Commercialisation of their research is timely. Plant-based ingredients are one of the fastest growing food categories globally, as witnessed through the recent investment by Khosla Ventures in Canterbury plant protein processor Leaft Foods.

At a time when the world needs many bright minds to be working collectively on solving the myriad of social, economic and environmental problems that confront us, it is exciting to know that our skilled migrants are making an increasingly significant contribution. This is a success story that we rarely hear about and that needs to be told more often. Sir Paul Callaghan would have been encouraged by this progress.