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Techweek 2018: Turning our sporting prowess into economic success

By combining innovation with collaboration, New Zealand is ideally placed to boost its share of the growing global human performance market, says Callaghan Innovation's Simon Yarrow.

When it comes to sport, as Kiwis we punch well above our weight on the global stage.

Across a full range of international codes and competitions, New Zealanders’ tally of sporting successes outshines what you’d expect from a small country.

But – apart from a few examples – we’re yet to achieve as much commercial success as we should from our innovative and winning approach to sport.

A handful of companies have made a name for themselves taking New Zealand sports technology to the world. Examples include Core Builders Composites which manufactured the AC50 components for all teams who contested the last America’s Cup. Animation Research Ltd continues to deliver real-time 3D graphical analysis after pioneering the technology back in the 1990s. And in the fitness space, Les Mills International sells its choreographed exercise-to-music group fitness classes to health clubs around the world.

Overall, however, New Zealand remains a nascent player in the growing global sports performance market, which is estimated to be worth $US300 billion per year.

But work is underway to boost local opportunities in this exciting, high-tech sector.

Callaghan Innovation has been a key partner in the third Sport Performance Innovation Forum, held as part of Tech Week 2018.

The forum brings together local and international sport performance experts, researchers and innovators in order to explore the latest developments in the sector with the aim of fostering collaboration so New Zealand can take full advantage of future commercial opportunities.

Internationally, growth in the human performance market is forecast to remain strong as awareness of the importance of living a healthy and active lifestyle continues to resonate around the globe.

One forecast for the New Zealand sector conservatively predicts locally-generated earnings could increase from $US144 million annually at present to $US1.15 billion in 10 years’ time. If we can boost our proportion of the sector up to our average global GDP contribution (0.25% of the world economy) that figure could rise to $US2.88 billion annually after 10 years.

And – given our strong history of sports performance and the easy access innovators wanting to test their products have in New Zealand to athletes at all levels of achievement – why shouldn’t this country aim for an even higher proportion of the global market?

The Sport Performance Innovation Forum isn’t the only example of a collaborative initiative involving Callaghan Innovation aimed at boosting opportunities in the human performance sector.

We are also involved in exciting plans to establish a Human Performance Innovation Centre (HPIC) in Auckland.

In partnership with Auckland University of Technology, AUT Millennium, ATEED and High Performance Sport New Zealand, we’ve been supporting work to establish the centre, which would bring together high-performance sports training, academic and innovation activities at one site, enabling better collaboration and sector growth.

Five key areas have been identified as providing opportunities to grow the sector: materials (textiles and composites), data, devices, nutrition and cognition.

Having researchers, innovators and other sector participants located together at one facility would spark the level of collaboration that would enable the sector to reach its full potential. It would open up greater opportunities for research to be commercialised and would improve access to investment.

When you combine New Zealand’s proud history of sporting success with our equally laudable list of ground-breaking achievements in technology and innovation, embracing the growing global opportunities in human performance is a natural fit.

With the right level of co-operation and collaboration, we have the potential to grow our presence in this important international market in the same way we’ve carved out a significant slice of other global markets such as agritech or food and beverage. 

Simon Yarrow is Callaghan Innovation’s thought leader in sports innovation.

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