Candidates for Technology New Zealand (TNZ) funding are facing delays because of a deluge of applications.
TNZ says it has had a record number of applications and total grants allocated, and with growth still accelerating is unable to deal with applications as quickly as it would like — though it still has funding for more applications.
Technology New Zealand is part of the Foundation for Research Science and Technology. It's designed to help businesses develop and adopt new technology, and includes IT projects. From July 1997 until June this year it has allocated a record total of more than $20 million to businesses. Manager John Manning says the accelerating growth is a problem for the organisation.
"We've gone from funding 120 projects in 1996-97, up to 400 last year. We'd aimed at about 600 this year but we're on track to fund about 1000."
As a result, it's hard to keep up with applications. It used to promise applications of up to $25,000 would be processed in less than a fortnight, but now it takes three to four weeks. Anything larger takes up to six weeks. However, Manning says that doesn't mean people should stop applying. "Despite the large number of applications, we're not actually going to run out of money this year. So if people have something they want to do, the only problem they're going to face is some processing delays in getting the application handled."
Manning says there are two reasons for the growth. One is that it has made itself better known in the market through a publicity campaign.
The second is that the programme was changed to make it more useful to small businesses, and those wanting to do smaller and faster projects. Historically it funded large projects worth large amounts of money. It tended to only look at about 1000 New Zealand companies as its market.
Now it's funding a greater variety of projects, including shorter ones and ones under $100,000. For consultancy assistance that includes grants down to $1000. "That suits things like the software industry because they want to finish fast and have a development completed in six to 12 months, to have something selling," Manning says.
TNZ now sees its market being between 12,000 and 15,000 companies. The projects include information--finding projects where organisations are looking for answers which already exist and feasibility studies.
Six staff run the programme. Manning says he has not asked for more funding. He's looking at a variety of options which will add to the private sector. "We're looking to divest some of the activity out to other organisations — contract consultants to do some of the project analyst work for us."