4 months in, I decided to take my first trip out of the North Island. The Interislander ferry took me through the beautiful harbour of Picton, then a trio of Kiwirailscenic runs down the Pacific Coastal route and the Tranzalpine line over the mountains to Greymouth. The pictures below convey the beauty, taken from an open viewing platform on the train. They speak for themselves. Next time South, I’ll explore the fascinating industrial heritage of the West Coast and Fjordland. In awe.
The pictures below tell the story of the energy in the room at Akina’s Launchpad event in Auckland’s GRIDAKL venue last week in Viaduct Harbour. I was there to observe the event with my colleague from Massey’s Wellington campus, Martina Battisti, looking at the dynamics of emerging social enterprises. It was great to see teams getting to grips with business model development in a social context, and the mentor support teams getting into action. Also good to connect with the Akina team, particularly David Clearwater, who I met as a fellow mentor at the Palmy Startup Weekend. Really looking forward to the interview phase with teas from the length and breadth of New Zealand. We’re hoping to get some good practical advice together for new social enterprises and gain new insights into business model development in social contexts. Good times! And thanks to Akina Foundation for providing us with this great research opportunity.
I was really pleased when I arrived here in July to find that one of my teaching weekends, the block for 152.334, Innovation, Creativity and Entrepreneurship, had been set up by my colleague Jo Bensemann and the BCC to run through the Palmy Startup weekend* (see previous posts, here and here and here). While I’ve worked on start-ups in many different ways in the UK, USA, Russia, Pakistan and elsewhere, the New Zealand experience was new to me, so I was both excited and just a little anxious about what to expect. The weekend was top and tailed with two sessions on the Turitea campus led by me, to set the experience in context pre- the event, and then afterwards to work on critical reflection about personal learning and development. Once out of the lecture theatre, the students were mixed in with other participants in the weekend, and spent the first evening getting into teams and bouncing ideas around.
The atmosphere in the UCOL atrium in the centre of town was intense – no need to leave as food, beer, mentors, everything you needed was right there on hand, thanks to some fantastic sponsorship*. As the weekend progressed, students began to work on market development, and began to put together pitches as the ideas came into shape.
Mentors were tough but constructive in providing feedback and by the time of the judging, it was incredible how much progress had been made. The Massey students were at the centre of it all, in both all-Massey teams and mixing in with other participants. One mentor said of the students, “They were all incredible this weekend! Very smart, respectful and motivated and it was a pleasure to meet them!”. I felt the same – they did me – and themselves – proud! Over to the judging* and I’m pleased to say one of the Massey students, Ross Frater, was in the winning team, with a business service idea, Expert Systems catching the eye of the panel. Other students were in commended teams, notably UGradbooks and RedeemMe (variants on book exchanges and loyalty schemes, respectively).
* See this link for mentors, judges and sponsors, and the BCC team
The approach to the paper was to give the students an exciting practical experience where real-life skills of team-building, leadership, entrepreneurial behaviour and presentation could be developed. A critical reflection piece gets them thinking about personal development and how much they have achieved. It’s not so much about whether real businesses come out of it, though that might happen in one or two cases. It’s about developing new skills sets and strengths, and building new networks, realising not only that you can do it, but what that means and what it takes. You can’t do that in a classroom. So, so different to traditional business planning approaches. The students enjoyed it too, judging from comments in their critical reflection pieces, and comments afterwards. Two of them said, this was the best paper they had ever done, and complimented the University on making this happen. The BCC team* Richard Dryden, Dave Craig and Nick Gain played a fabulous part in making this happen, they were incredibly professional and supportive throughout, both to me and the students, I can’t thank them enough.
The two week New Zealand International Film Festival has now ended in Palmerston North, leaving my quite bereft. It’s a long time since I’ve been anywhere where I’ve had the choice of 5 super films everyday just down the road. I’ve managed to see eleven, almost one a day. I began with the intensity of Locke, which felt like one of those “I’m late” quasi nightmares, trying to get things done in he UK; then ended with the roller coaster ride of Wild Tales, finishing NZIFF, fittingly, by laughing out loud at the frustations of Argentinian city life. Inbetween, Land Ho!, not so strong a narrative as some of the others, but many views of my beloved Iceland; In the Courtyard, a Parisian melange of city characters. One of my favourites, Force Majeure, tensions in a Swedish family, set against stunning snowscapes. Particle Fever about CERN and the Large Hadron Collider, with a message for international co-operation with representatives of warring nations getting down to the science. Diplomacy, from Germany, adaped from a stage play about the impending sack of Paris in WW2. Again from Sweden, In Order of Disappearance, a spot of Tarantino-esque gangster chic (not one of my favourites). Wasn’t really taken with Snowpiercer (international production), but many would like the dystopian fantasy, methinks. An interesting premise that didn’t quite come off in my view. The Skeleton Twins (USA), Allen-ish at times, but an acutely observed relationship between brother and sister. And finally, a charming Spanish road trip, Living is Easy With Eyes Closed – when it finished, I looked round and everyone in the cinema was smiling. my favourite? Wild Tales, closely followed by Force Majeure, So much joy; looking forward to 2015.
Met the students this morning – they’re here for the 152.334 Innovation, Creativity and Entrepreneurship paper, and we started off with a session setting out the aims for the next few days, and working out how the practical side of the #SWPalmy Startup weekend will fit with the academic side — linking theory and practice in other words. We had some good discussions around people’s expectations of the weekend; excitement in the air, and some a little apprehensive too, as they go off to join a much bigger group this evening. Good to see an impressive Judging Panel too (scroll down the page on the above link). Looking forward to my evening session!
Yesterday, I interviewed Richard Dryden, Marketing and Events Co-ordinator for the BCC, about what to expect from the Start-up weekend on 12-15 September. Here’s a summary of the key points:
- You refer to the Startup Weekend as “and MBA in a weekend”. What do you mean by that?
Well, participants have said it’s like compressing the intensity and learning of an MBA into a short period of time. You really get a thorough grounding in all aspects of business model development, the marketing channels, the customer architecture, in a short space of time – there’s nothing like it! You use tools like the Business Model Canvas in a very real sense, really refining ideas int a sharp focus. When I did the Weekend myself, we reduced our initial 150 post-it notes to around 10, taking our idea from something that was OK, but quite general, down to something really specific. there’s a real sense of exhilaration afterwards.
- What kind of ideas do people work on?
It really varies. Some are as you’d expect, high-tech, high growth. Other ideas that are popular are those that impact the community, social enterprises, those with an environmental impact. You also of course see some agri-food businesses, reflecting local interests and strengths. And of course, there are fashions – apps are very popular at the moment for example. It’s across the board really.
- What happens after? Do people go on and set up businesses?
It depends – some people do — the make up of your team is very important as to whether you have the momentum to keep going after. The main thing though, is the personal development and the sense of achievement, as well as having acquired new skills. You learn a lot about yourself. At the end of the day, what you put in is what you take out – bring an open mind!
One of the beauties of teaching a ‘block’ course is that you really get the chance to do things differently from traditional week-by-week teaching. In two weeks time, I’ll be with students on 152.334 Innovation, Creativity and Entrepreneurship. At the heart of their course is the Palmy North Startup weekend, part of a national New Zealand phenomenon. As well as participating in this intensive start-up experience, I’ll be working with the students to set the event in a wider context, providing some background material and asking them to produce ‘learning logs’ . The Startup weekend is delivered here by Palmy North’s BCC (Building Clever Companies) team, who have described the event as an ‘MBA in a weekend’! I’m interviewing them on Monday to see what’s behind that claim!
I’m not used to the seasons here yet, and it was a shame missing the lovely English summer this year. But, I did feel a hint of spring in the air yesterday at Wharerata house, a beautiful old ‘pioneer’ style house that is now a beautiful function venue on campus.
As some of you know, I’ve recently taken up a new role as Professor of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Massey University in New Zealand, Manawatu campus. I’ve been here almost a month now, settling in, getting to know the job, the town, the campus. And it’s all been such a good start, such a supportive and encouraging environment. VERY busy, but here’s a few pics of the beautiful riverside walk, the garden of my new home, which I’m very much looking forward to enjoying in the summer, and the new Impreza. I couldn’t last long without the Impreza to hand! The last pic is the gorgeous view from my office window. Just waiting for my container now, which is leaving Singapore today I hear! Hopefully many more posts to come about new developments soon.