Floods and powerful gusts have swept across New Zealand this winter, conditions which have caused many kiwis to retreat indoors, hibernate or seek high dry ground.

Yet since winter started in the Central North Island, we’ve been extremely fortunate to experience a flood of new opportunities which have set a powerful wind at our backs to create a very bright, prosperous future.

In just over a month we’ve seen the launch of:

– Waikato Uni’s Agritech fund alongside a new Waikato Agricultural Hub, a co-operation between nine institutions;

– SODA's founder-focused incubator model in Hamilton, funded by Callaghan Innovation to support entrepreneurs behind early-stage, high growth potential ventures; and,

– WNT Ventures winning Callaghan support for a high-tech incubator based in Tauranga to commercialise problem-solving research with global potential.

Taken together these three initiatives put the Central North Island 'on the map' as a centre for ventures in New Zealand. All three exemplify the collaborative approach the region is well known for.

The University of Waikato's agri-tech innovation initiatives support the institutions strategy for a 'connected University' focused on adding value to key sectors. Prof. Alister Jones announced their model for engagement will "make it easier for industry to engage with the University”.  And to prove the point ,Vice-Chancellor Professor Roy Crawford made the announcement to a crowd of over 200 key agribusiness stakeholders.

The University’s new fund and hub will make best use one of the largest concentrations of agribusiness, agritechnology and agriservice companies in the country according to Professor Jones and is based on co-operation between nine institutions. Together they will make the most of Waikato’s formidable mix of educational and research resource and expertise.

Over in Hamilton, consistent conditions are predicted with the continuation of Callaghan Innovation's support of SODA's founder focused entrepreneurship services. “We are in the business of supporting people who start and build high-growth early-stage businesses and who have the vision and courage to take an idea and invest into making it a business reality," said Vanessa Clark, SODA’s acting CEO.

"Whether the people are recent graduates, scientists, employees or founders of existing businesses, SODA is here to offer them a variety of support services from entry level workshops and events to intensive incubation and growth programmes” says Clark. SODA will continue to build key partnerships with people and organisations in the Waikato, New Zealand and around the world that are on a mission to grow NZ Inc.

And the outlook for the Bay of Plenty brightened significantly with the third entrepreneurial front to sweep through. The announcement of WNT Ventures’ technology-focused incubator, a new entity operating with a market-based, profit-driven focus to establish and nurture businesses based particularly on complex technologies derived from research and development.

WNT Ventures incubator, a collaboration between four future focused organisations based in Tauranga will identify suitable intellectual property (IP) protected idea or technology that may not have an associated entrepreneur. It will then work to build a team around the intellectual property, building up a venture to the stage where it is attractive to angel or venture capital investors.

A fund, a hub, founder focused services, pathways to commercialisation including education, industry and entrepreneurial collaboration, plus capital and resources – right now the forecast is good for venture-growing activities in the Central North Island.

The following post from Sharronn Harris, of Matua, is taken from her presentation to the local Toastmasters group, of which she is a member. Toastmasters Tauranga meets on Thursday mornings at 7am at Alimento Cafe, 2nd Avenue, Tauranga, Bay of Plenty, New Zealand.

What’s happening in my city – Tauranga Moana?

Having had opportunity to spend some real time in Tauranga in the last few months, I’ve found I have fresh eyes on a well-known place.

There are many things happening in our city and I decided it’s time to take a look and attend, or explore, some of the events happening here.

This exploration has had mixed results. I have found myself entertained, amongst hundreds of bantering women, at a fashion fundraiser. At a business womens network event, I found some inspiration and connection with ladies evaluating (critiquing?) some well-respected visiting speakers.

I also attended a presentation at our Toi Toi Tauranga Art Gallery last month which challenged me to think about the future, my own, Tauranga’s and New Zealand’s.

"Get off the Grass - Kickstarting our Innovation Economy” was a free event which bought Professor Shaun Hendy to Tauranga to deliver, in person, the results of his research.

Over 100 people attended which seemed a reasonable crowd for a Friday evening and a serious, academic-sounding subject matter.

The fact the event promoted its aim as an opportunity to get an answer to the conundrum "Why do New Zealanders work harder, yet earn less”, was undoubtedly a draw card.

Professor Shaun Hendy has many titles after his name and in 2012 was the winner of the Prime Ministers Science Media Communication Prize. I’d previously not known of the existence of this prize, but will watch out for future winners.

The Professor certainly captured my attention early on in the evening with the statement: “New Zealanders work harder and earn less than most other people in the developed world.”

It was a statement that bore repeating, and I will repeat it here too!  “NZ'ers work harder and earn less than most other people in the developed world.”

The evenings presentation was based on the book Get Off The Grass, in which Hendy and Sir Paul Callaghan advocate building nationwide communities of innovators, entrepreneurs and businesses to allow New Zealand to grow its economy more rapidly.

Both the book and the presentation were based on research which shows while New Zealand was comparable with Scandinavian countries (such as Denmark and Finland) in the 70’s it has lost parity over ensuing years. By continuing to foster priorities around primary industries – milk being our biggest earner our country is at risk from a critical issue – decades in which New Zealand has underinvested in both public and private sector technological research and innovation.

Take aways I noted down from the event were;

- We need to start capitalising on our smarts, not just our sheep
- We need to start harnessing communications technology, science and innovation
- We need to figure out how to export knowledge
- How connectivity and collaboration play a key role in determining rates of innovation and economic growth
- If New Zealand is to grow its economy more rapidly, it must overcome its small size and low population density to build a nationwide community of innovators, entrepreneurs and businesses.

Most important to me were the messages aimed at catching New Zealand up with the countries that lure our young people away:

- we need to learn to operate and innovate as if we were a city of four million people
- we need to start taking technology and science seriously
- we need to start seeing ourselves as people of learning, not just of the land
- we need to put our money where our mouths are and learn to live off knowledge, rather than nature.

This lecture left me believing that New Zealand needs us all – everyone single one of us – to contribute if we are going to secure a prosperous future. Also, potentially, retirement will go out the window if we can find a way to collaborate in a way that uses the wisdom and knowledge of our ageing population too.

It seems we need to work with what we have, develop and then export the smarts – the very same stuff that this nation was founded on.

What made the evenings presentation more poignant was the launch of “Venture Centre”. A local initiative which has an aim of being a place online for “people finding people, and idea’s finding ideas”.

The team behind the initiative are committed to the kind of collaboration and investment that Professor Hendy suggests. They believe passionate, talented people who love what they do, create great families, jobs, companies and solutions to the world’s problems and can increase our city's, in fact our countries, prosperity, together.

Professor Hendy is an active participant in this critical national debate on how we are to become a more wealthy and healthy country and made a welcome and timely contribution on a local level here in Tauranga. The people who have launched Venture Centre are applying Hendy’s research  for our ongoing benefit.

My fresh eyes see many new opportunities opening up for young and old(er) here in Tauranga. It’s an exciting time to be exploring!