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KiwiNet appoints new board chair

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The Kiwi Innovation Network (KiwiNet) recently announced the appointment of Dr Will Barker as the new board chair to steer the organisation as it continues to create benefits for New Zealand through publicly-funded research commercialisation.

An independent board member since 2018, Dr Barker, founder and CEO of Mint Innovation, advisor and company director, succeeds Ngaio Merrick.

KiwiNet has also appointed two new members to its board: Katherine Sandford, CEO of electric adventure vehicle company UBCO, and Amanda Davies, innovation manager at Crown Research Institute, Scion.

Based in Hamilton, KiwiNet is the combined power of 19 of New Zealand’s universities, Crown Research Institutes, and other research organisations, working together to transform early-stage discoveries into products and services that will have social, environmental, cultural, and economic impact for Aotearoa New Zealand.

Retiring KiwiNet chair Ngaio Merrick, who served for seven years on the KiwiNet board – four as Chair – has overseen KiwiNet as a collective support more than 830 new projects, launch 35 start-up companies and create a further $225m in financial returns for New Zealand.

Merrick, the managing partner at Nuance Connected Capital and Portfolio and investment manager at Lewis Holding, says chairing the KiwiNet Board has been an exciting and educational journey.

“It has been a great pleasure to learn from the extraordinary people within Aotearoa’s public research organisations who care deeply about what science has to offer and turn ideas into reality,” she says.

Dr Barker, is also a council member of the Health Research Council of New Zealand and chair of the investment committee at Outset Ventures. His wealth of experience spans the deep tech ecosystem – from founder to investor, from patent attorney to commercial operations. He has over 15 years of experience working with Aotearoa New Zealand’s most innovative deep tech and cleantech companies – notably advising Rocket Lab during their early-stage growth.

“I feel incredibly privileged to step into my new role as chair, as KiwiNet, and Aotearoa’s deep-tech sector, continue to evolve at pace. Ngaio has left big shoes to fill, and I am thankful for her immense contribution to the growth of KiwiNet, not just in its scale and impact but also in its prominence and confidence as an organisation. I am proud to continue her mahi in supporting and accelerating the commercialisation of New Zealand science,” he says.

KiwiNet CEO Dr James Hutchinson says KiwiNet will benefit greatly from Will’s leadership and expertise.

“We are thrilled to work alongside Will. His depth of experience will advance our work as we support even more scientific discoveries to market, where they can create longstanding social, environmental, and economic impact for our country and the world. We are also delighted to welcome Katherine and Amanda to the KiwiNet board – both are highly accomplished and we look forward to their contributions,” he says.

Katherine Sandford brings a comprehensive portfolio of global tech experience to her newly-appointed independent director role on the KiwiNet Board. As executive chair and more recently CEO at electric adventure vehicle maker UBCO, Katherine has led the organisation to its current scale, reaching customers across NZ, the US and Europe. In addition, Katherine was selected for the NZ Institute of Directors’ coveted Mentoring for Diversity programme in 2018 and is an active angel investor.

“I have a passion for the global commercialisation of New Zealand’s technological innovation and am actively engaged across the ecosystem. I am proud to be further contributing through my role on the KiwiNet board,” she says.

Amanda Davies, innovation manager at Scion, has also been appointed to the board as a Crown Research Institute representative director. She brings a deep understanding of the commercialisation ecosystem, having overseen the allocation of the PreSeed funding as a KiwiNet Investment Committee member.

“Amanda was a stand-out candidate for the KiwiNet Board representative director role. Her appointment is extra special because it follows her involvement in the 2021 Women in Leadership Development (WILD) programme,” Dr Hutchinson says.

The WILD programme, led by KiwiNet and Brandon Capital, aimed to enhance the leadership capabilities of women in STEM through a year-long governance course.

“The programme helped me identify where I can bring real value to a board and showed me how I could contribute as a leader in a way that aligns with my other life priorities. I’m excited for this new opportunity to contribute to the growth of our sector through the KiwiNet Board,” Davies says.

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