Summer Tech Challenge

Lovely to see local kids building robots for for the Summer Tech Challenge here in Palmy – a  collaboration between Palmerston North Libraries and Community Services and Massey University School of Engineering.  Lots of skill and ingenuity on display as well as a fun barbecue afterwards.  What really impressed me though was the persistence and tenacity when things didn’t go quite right first time – the steely determination to go through ‘pit stops’ trying to get it right.  As well as being great practice for engineering, it’s good practice for life too – the wheels do often come off, metaphorically as well as literally, and keeping going repeatedly in the face of that is what keeps entrepreneurs going as well as inventors and engineers.  Good to see the Mayor Grant Smith popping in to say hello too.

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Young Enterprise Scheme – Final awards, Creating futures (2)

Not long ago, I went to the regional awards for the Young Enterprise Scheme.  so exciting to be there for the finals in Wellington this week.  Gone are the days when YE students set up tiny  businesses based on crafts and local needs.  YES students are now coming through digitally aware with businesses that are building supply chains with potential for international development.  And I certainly never had that much poise and confidence when I was on stage  at 17/18!  Great to see Jeff Stangl present the Young Enntrepreneur of the Year Award to Michelle Fong, who along with other Award winners, receives a Massey Scholarship


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ANZAM 2015

Good to see colleagues old and new at the ANZAM conference last week.  Presented with new colleague Michael Breum Ramsgaard on learning in early stage food ventures in Denmark and New Zealand.  That as the first time I had met or presented with Michael in person.  It shows that great new projects can be created easily online – but meeting in person does add that extra dimension of trust that really gels things for the future.  Queenstown and the Skyline restaurant were gorgeous – I’ll be back!

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The Number 1 Start-up mistake?


I’ve been working for almost twenty years now with people trying to get new ideas for start-ups off the ground.  That includes undergraduate and postgraduate students from business schools and the sciences, as well as a variety of people from the wider public who come into ‘bootcamp’ weekends and start up accelerator events.  Some people are successful, but others are not.  Of course they always learn from their experiences, but I always feel it’s a shame when people come in with poorly formed ideas that are unlikely to ever get off the ground.  I find myself thinking that if only they had done a little more preparation, they would have got more out more out of their efforts.  Of course there are many reasons why a start-up idea might not result in a new venture, but one of the biggest is Building Something Nobody Wants, as pointed out on this site

Why does that happen?  I’ve looked at this using the well-known PESTLE analysis model:

  • Politically, there are high barriers.  I’ve seen people with some great ideas, particularly around social enterprises, where there could well be useful social value.  But the problems are often complex and there may be many existing agencies at work.  The chances of a small venture overturning the status quo are very small and these ideas usually remain at the level of an activist group.
  • Economically, the idea may solve a problem or meet a need – but people just aren’t willing to pay what it would cost to deliver the idea to any reasonable standard of product or service.
  • Socially, the idea may meet a demand, but may clash with social norms or ethics – particularly where young or vulnerable people are involved, or there are hidden health and safety issues.
  • Technologically, because something CAN be built, it doesn’t mean people want it.  Ideas in this category are sometimes called ‘solutions looking for a problem’, or a said to be a ‘tech push’ with no ‘market pull’.
  • Legally, your idea could run up against regulatory issues – there may be laws working against you.  Sometimes these are obvious, but other times, less so; for example, when you export or operate overseas, there may be quite unexpected obstructions.
  • Environmentally, you may not set out to damage the environment, but there may be hidden costs that stack up against you, around waste disposal for example.

Many, many ideas are seductive and exciting when you first think of them, but there may well be rocks under the water from the above list.  Don’t go too far down the track before you find them



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Optometry research – help needed

Are you an Optometry student in their last year at university or have recently graduated? In collaboration with Jocelyn Handy, Dianne Gardner and Michelle Hunt, I am looking at some exciting new research into how optometrists manage retail optometry and being a healthcare professional, including how you see the future of optometry and your career. There is very little research in this area, particularly in a New Zealand context. If you are interested and in the final year of your Optometry degree or you have graduated in the last 3 years we would love to hear from you. Please contact We only need around 30 minutes of your time. Interviews are confidential and are conducted at your convenience in person, over Skype, on the phone- it is up to you. $20 gift voucher for participating.

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The bones of the earth….

My destination this weekend was the limestone caves of Waitomo, beautiful formations that always put me in mind of ossuaries, hence the title

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Young Enterprise Scheme: Creating futures

It was great to see so many keen and able students being rewarded for their work on New Zealand’s Young Enterprise Scheme on Thursday evening last week.  The Award ceremony for Palmerston North and the surrounding region took place in Downtown Cinemas (just one of many sponsors for the event), and all’s set now for the national finals in Wellington in December.  The atmosphere was fun and informal, with many people dressed in Halloween outfits.

There’s an old saying that it’s not the winning, it’s the taking part, and that’s the case with YE events.  I’ve seen over the years many students in New Zealand and elsewhere, create great businesses, develop great ideas and sometimes go on to be very effective and successful entrepreneurs.  But it’s not just the ideas and the businesses, thought that’s an important of it.  It’s the learning and skills development that goes along with that: leadership, creativity, team development, proactivity, problem solving – to name just a few.

Yes, these skills are needed by entrepreneurs and new ventures, and also by employers generally.  But there’s more to it than that.  The world is changing fast – globalisation and digitisation are presenting huge opportunity and challenge to New Zealand, changing the nature of work and how we live our lives.   The  skillsets obtained on YE will enable students to meet that challenge face on and create not just new ideas and new ventures, but positive and sustainable futures for themselves and for New Zealand.

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Tongariro dreams….

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It’s long been my dream to walk around the volcanic Central Plateau.   Love this last one of Taranaki out to the west, rare for it to be clear at this distance. No words needed on what a fabulous day today was

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Employability, or creating futures?

Employability is an important concept for aspirant students, as they face a challenging job market and have to manage student loans. Too often, discussions around employability become rather reductive, focussing on quantitative measures at the expense of the bigger picture.  The future of work is changing rapidly, digital disruption will continue to reshape the landscape.  If we are looking at a time when we’re:

  • preparing students for jobs that don’t exist yet
  • preparing  them for a life where that contain 6-8 ‘careers’ that span interdisciplinary  boundaries,

then what do we need to do?   It’s more than encouraging and developing entrepreneurial behaviours (in a new venture, or larger business).  That’s a given.  They need to be:

  • flexible, agile, creative and resilient
  • digitally aware
  • able to create value in a  range of societal contexts,

so that future change is positive and sustainable for all.  As part of that, they need to pro-actively engage with life long learning. That’s not just about

  • keeping up with your existing or next job
  • retraining post redundancy
  • realising a new interest in a range of contexts

It’s most importantly nowadays about creating futures. We need to enable students to create futures for themselves and others.  That’s what employability  is all about.

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Future (Inc): Walking the walk!

Will technology  disrupt our existing and future infrastructure? was the question asked at the launch of the Chartered Accountants and Australia and New Zealand‘s latest thought leadership paper, Disruptive Technologies: Risks, Opportunities – can New Zealand make the most of them?  at the Auckland Events Centre yesterday evening.   The answer, is yes it will!  And as Grant Robertson, leader of Labour’s Future of Work group stressed,  the task is to make the changes both positive and sustainable for the economy and the community. Technology needs to work for people, not the other way round. Universities have a key role to play in this, collaborating to get that message across and engaging students about leading edge debates in futures – all of our futures, in a world where it might be the norm to have 7 or 8 careers cross different disciplines, supported by lifelong learning.  The task is to prepare students for jobs that don’t exist yet; skills of digital awareness, value creation, flexibility and agility are just the start.

As well as the very serious messages put across by Grant, Louise Webster (Founder and CEO of New Zealand’s Innovation Council emphasising the collaboration message, and Shamabeel Eaqub (Economist and commentator), it was great fun watching the show, with CEO Lee White working the panel as himself and his own hologram. With holograms, drones, driverless cars, 3D printing and robots, Future(inc) really walked the walk, as well as talking the talk   Some great emerging technologies in the room and a real sense of occasion – bodes well for New Zealand’s future leadership role!

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