Grow North!

Now 8 months in to my new job in New Zealand, and some milestones passed, like my first visit back to the UK over Christmas and my first visitor from the UK, a long-time friend from University days. So now into the New Year, and pleased to take part in the Grow North! initiative at the Albany campus yesterday, which looks at making the area the Silicon Valley of New Zealand.  The VC, Steve Marahey, chaired a great panel of business and community speakers, including Auckland deputy mayor Penny Hulse, New Zealand, Institute of Economic Research principal economist Shamubeel Eaqub, KPMG executive chairman Ross Buckley, Ngati Whatua o Orakei Whai Rawa chief operating officer Kate Healy, Colliers International national director of research and consultancy Alan McMahon and Labour MP and housing spokesperson Phil Twyford.  We then broke up into 4 concurrent sessions, where I joined the panel devoted to Innovation/Technology, chaired by Albany’s Professor Christoph Schumacher.  For my part I noted:

  • Digital innovation has a lot to offer some of the key areas referred to by earlier speakers, namely an ageing population, transport difficulties and the need to attract and make the most of talent
  • We need to make the most of digital innovation, recognising that realising economic value is important, of course, but we also have to create social, cultural and community value too
  • We need to create a vision for how we want to live our lives – and think about that long-term in the design of homes and businesses
  • We have to have the right strategy to get there – the right digital infrastructure, the right education systems, the right support structures for the SMEs who will deliver much of that vision.

I look forward to being part of it

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First Graduation Ceremony

Graduation has always been one of my highlights of the academic year.  Memories of precessing round the cloisters at Lincoln Cathedral, the wonderful international mix at Southampton.  Today was no exception – back to the Regent – but so much more – after the ceremony, precessing through town met by townspeople, a pipe band and the town crier helped us on our way.  And discovered the Massey Ram for the first time!  A great sense of occasion.

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Advisory Board

Excellent insightful comment from our Industry Advisory Board today, as we start to develop the curriculum. Importance of teamwork, critical thinking and experiential learning stressed as key points. Jo Bensemann doing the talking here in lovely Wharerata.


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Vision Manawatu Awards

Just amazing small business talent in the room at the Vision Manawatu awards dinner on Friday night at Silks Lounge, Awapuni.  Pictures below capture the excitement in the room, and our Massey table.  So many heartwarming stories of team and family success over 3 generations in the Manawatu.


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Realising value in the agri-food industries: the next wave of digital innovation

In an earlier post I wrote about how digital was changing incubation needs in the creative industries.  At the time, I was putting together a proposal for a virtual incubator at Southampton, but before anything could be put in place, I left the UK for a new post at Massey University in New Zealand, at the Palmerston North campus in the Manawatu Whanganui region.  The energy here is around the growth possible in the Agri-food industries and the exciting aspirations around initiatives such as foodHQ, which has a mission to “generate value for the global food industry through innovation across the value chain”. The value chain for the agri-food industries stretches from the land to the plate, and the opportunities for digital innovation occur at every step of this complex ecosystem – production, transport, product development, business and commerce, logistics, distribution, marketing and retail.

Looking at it from my point of view, there are real challenges and opportunities here for digital innovation to realise and amplify the value in the agri-food industries, so vital for New Zealand’s future.  For some time now, people have been getting used to:

More widespread access to broadband technologies (including efforts to improve rural access)

  • Smartphones and tablets improving mobile access
  • Social media platforms
  • Availability of big and small data
  • Cloud computing
  • Digital marketing and market analytics
  • Visualisation
  • Falling technology prices

We now have growing communities of problem solvers, entrepreneurs and innovators looking to create value from this space: the entry barriers to digital innovation are getting lower all the time, and new innovation and commercial possibilities are open as never before to SMEs.  To maximise the benefits of this complex innovation ecosystem, we need to take a systemic view, shifting the emphasis from the basics of production (though this is so important!) to:


  • Consumers as co creators of value
  • Value chains to value networks
  • Product value to network value
  • Simple co-operation or competition to complex co-opetition and
  • Individual firm strategy to strategy in relation to value networks.


Relatively new trends in digital innovation presents us with many opportunities, such as the growth (and growing awareness) of open innovation and distributed business models, which can aid value creation.  There is also the growth of crowdfunding and crowdsourcing, fuelled by a social media culture, as mechanisms to not only finance, but shape emerging business models. Of course, we need to be aware that there are many unresolved issues concerning intellectual property, rights and ownership, distribution of equity and revenues, monetisation, trust.  And of course, we have to recognise that aspirational growth will take place against a backdrop of financial restraint and cutbacks particularly likely to impact public sector procurement and support.  But the vision to create a world-class space where entrepreneurs and innovators can come together and connect locally, regionally, nationally and globally is there, and connecting with leading edge possibilities in digital innovation will be a key enabler in taking this vision forward.

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Exciting times for foodHQ Manawatu

It’s great to be here at Palmerston North, being part of developing the entrepreneurial and innovation talent to help make Manawatu a world-class centre for food innovation.   This project started some time before I arrived; yesterday, it was great to see Roger van Hoesel, CEO of the Netherlands Food Valley organisation present his perspective at the Manawatu Agrifood Business Forum, on what is currently the world’s leading agrifood university and innovation cluster in Holland.  foodHQ is located here in Palmerston North.  Not only exciting from a professional point of view, but many excellent new colleagues and sampled local food and drinks too.  Pics below, a little blurry but shows key speakers in action.  More seriously, looking forward to picking up the digital side (more later).

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Latin America and Spain Film Festival

Palmy certainly hasn’t disappointed with film festivals since I came here in July. The New Zealand International Film Festival put out  a great mix of films in the Downtown Cinemas, and in October, the Latin America and Spain Film Festival has been a treat. I saw a great mix of films from Argentina (It’s not you, it’s me), Brazil (Simonal), Chile (The Maid), Colombia (The Hidden Face – my favourite), Ecuador (In the name of the girl), Mexico (in the middle of Heaven), Spain (Sleep Tight) and Venezuela (Topsy Turvy), al brought different joys.  Kudos to the organisers too, many of them from Massey – the Living Room provided a lovely informal setting and it was easy to make new friends over wine and coffee as many of the same people returned time and again. Just excellent.

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4 months in – the South Island calls

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.

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Launchpad: take off!

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.

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The Startup weekend – fantastic experience for students

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

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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.

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