When I arrived in the UK from New Zealand I was chatting with two friends who had also recently relocated – Peter Thomson and Klaus Bravenboer, about the types of business events being held in London. We were surprised that the events we had been to tended to be very sector-specific, and that innovation, collaboration and access to capital in London didn’t seem as far ahead of New Zealand as we had expected.
We recognised that the most exciting part of working in start-ups is when people from different backgrounds come together to make something exciting happen. Aristotle was exactly right: ‘The whole is more than the sum of its parts’ (we prefer the term ‘creative abrasion’, proposed by a little known book from the 1980’s with the same name, which postulated that genuinely new ideas emerge from the debate, disagreements and diversity that only happens when really opposing viewpoints collide).
Off the back of this conversation we created a non-profit organisation – “Converge+UK”.
Converge+UK runs events that bring together disparate groups of people from creative, business, and technology sectors.
For the first event we partnered with Google and hosted at Google Campus. Continuing to run our events in London start-up incubators we have also held Converge+UK events in the Innovation Warehouse and at Wayra.
Over time we have refined the event to include:
- Three blocks of “5in5“ presentations – five slides, one minute per slide. Five minutes is enough to cover five key points of a topic, and one minute per slide is a good length for storytelling and
- Two group exercises before breaks
- Plenty of networking opportunities between blocks of speakers
Bringing designers, developers, entrepreneurs, scientists, angels, corporates and industry leaders together has provided the opportunity to produce remarkable solutions to extremely disparate problems. Group exercises we have run include discussing how LOCOG (the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games) could have better dealt with the problem of empty sponsor seats in the Olympic stadium, and how we could use ‘creative abrasion’ to better educate the community about the problem with payday loans – an increasing problem in the UK.
“There were just so many meetups in London that it’s overwhelming, there’s something on every night, but it’s impossible to know which events are worth going to and even when you find a good event, it’s all people from the same discipline. It’s like partying in a giant echo chamber. I wanted to start something that bought people together in new ways.”
– Klaus Bravenboer
“There is a rebel spirit to most entrepreneurs that is somehow lacking in the events and support for innovation in the UK.”
– Peter Thomson
“Innovation is now so important to every sector. In every industry from supermarkets to social networks, if you don’t constantly delight your customers then two guys in a garage somewhere are coming for you.”
– Tim McCready
The recent visit to Japan by a group of young New Zealand farmers is exactly the sort of initiative needed to lay the groundwork for a trade deal between the two countries, says the director of the New Zealand Asia Institute, Professor Hugh Whittaker.
The trip, organised by the Japan East Network of Exchange for Students and Youths (JENESYS), followed bilateral talks between the New Zealand Foreign Affairs Minister, Murray McCully, and his counterpart Hirofumi Nakasone, and included official briefings and visits to dairy factories and livestock centres.
Among the 50-strong group was University of Auckland alumnus Tim McCready, a business development consultant at New Zealand Trade and Enterprise.
“Japan will always play an important role in the global economy. The things I have learned about the country and culture will change the way I think about, and conduct business with Japan forever,” McCready says.
It is the third such visit aimed at introducing a new generation of New Zealanders to the Japanese way of doing business and along with meetings in 2008 and 2009 of the Japan New Zealand Business Partnership Forum is evidence of a reawakening interest in Japan, which in recent years has been overshadowed by the spectacular economic rise of China. Professor Whittaker says the visits are also an effective way of overcoming obstacles to a bilateral trade deal with our third-largest trading partner.
“New Zealand’s position on the proposed free trade deal with Japan is that we are complementary not competitors, and that we are too small to upset things in Japan. If you want to try out the process for FTAs with developed countries and de-bug it, you are best to do that with a country the size of New Zealand. Japan sees it somewhat differently. If it gives ground to New Zealand, there will be pressure to do the same to bigger countries,” Whittaker says.
Nevertheless, with China and South Korea aggressively signing FTAs, pressure is growing for Japan to do the same to avoid becoming more isolated.
“That would necessitate a willingness within Japan to start implementing measures in the agricultural sector which would introduce market forces,” Whittaker says.
“The issue is not merely opening Japan to foreign agricultural goods, but increasing the marketisation of agricultural activity in the country.”
That process has been slowed by the strong presence of agricultural cooperatives, which are useful in upgrading agriculture and redistributing wealth, but which have become less innovative.
Distribution of wealth is a key issue, says Whittaker.
“Electoral boundaries don’t reflect the country’s urbanisation, so the rural vote is overweighted. The political structures have served to redistribute the results of urban activity to rural areas. Japanese politics is often portrayed as ‘immobilist’, and there is structural misallocation of funds, but there is also a legitimate debate about what is a just society and how much (urban-rural) inequality should be tolerated or encouraged through increased marketisation.”
Actually, Japan’s agricultural sector has great potential for reinvigoration without destroying the fabric of rural society, says Whittaker.
“As a ‘grassroots’ exchange, New Zealand’s agricultural mission is an astute move. If we can demonstrate through these visits that the two countries can complement each other rather than being caught up in a zero-sum game, then it can produce a groundswell for change.”
A programme that fuses business and science is showing business-savvy scientists how to commercialise bioscience innovations and create opportunities in the international market.
One of these business-science professionals is Tim McCready, an alumnus of The University of Auckland who now works for New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE) as a business development consultant.
“I’ve always enjoyed science and seeing the transformative effect it can have on people’s lives. At the same time, a lot of exciting research falls by the wayside because of a lack of business acumen in the industry,” he says.
Deciding to do something about this gap after finishing his Bachelor of Science, McCready joined the inaugural year of the Master of Bioscience Enterprise (MBioEnt) programme in 2006. The bioscience commercialisation degree is taught conjointly by the Business School, the School of Biological Sciences and the Law School.
“I chose a masters degree focused on business because I wanted to have an impact on the innovative science coming from New Zealand, the financial contribution it can give to the New Zealand economy and the difference it makes to lives worldwide,” McCready says.
He did papers on research commercialisation, finance, accounting, marketing, law and intellectual property, followed by a thesis project in the final year.
“I learned that scientists often have little understanding of the steps involved in commercialisation because their interest, understandably, is in research. At the same time, business people with no understanding of science can’t appreciate the length of time, the amount of risk, and the enormous cost involved in commercialising human therapeutics.”
McCready’s comments are echoed by Geoff Whitcher, director of the Business School’s Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning, who believes the MBioEnt is producing scientists with a strong business sense that will be a great help to New Zealand.
“Having an understanding of the science and commercial realities means they can help New Zealand companies to expand their international activities by taking new biotech products into export markets, thus helping New Zealand earn much-needed overseas funds,” Whitcher says.
While working on his thesis, McCready did an internship in the biotechnology team at NZTE. After finishing with first class honours he stayed with the organisation and recently shifted to Investment New Zealand, a division of NZTE focused on attracting investment to New Zealand and helping companies make strategic investments offshore.
This work has taken him to the United States three times in the past year to help New Zealand biotechnology and natural health product companies access the North American market.
Now McCready is working on a project with Living Cell Technologies (LCT), a company that breeds pathogen-free pigs from remote sub-Antarctic islands for its cell-based products to treat insulin-dependent diabetes and neurodegenerative diseases.
The LCT-Investment New Zealand project is looking into global market opportunities for high quality by-products taken from unused pig tissue, which could be used for other medical applications.
“LCT’s pig herds are uniquely free from viruses, bacteria and parasites so they are effectively the cleanest pigs in the world,” says McCready.
“This project is particularly exciting because LCT is one of New Zealand’s premier biotechnology companies making use of the country’s competitive advantage in animal health status.”