Unlocking Regional Growth through Innovation - Organised by Waikato University and Priority One for Techweek Tauranga 18
It’s not the strongest of the species that survives; it’s the one most adaptable to change. That idea underpinned a talk from former Lonely Planet executive director Gus Balbontin to a group at Mills Reef’s barrel room. Inside the underground cellar, flanked by French oak barrels and the aroma of vintage grapes, business and government leaders heard from experts how innovation and disruption can drive regional growth.
Balbontin told them businesses are the sum of us. “Each one of you is a fraction of a business. If you’re not adaptable, your business won’t be adaptable. If you drive home the same way every day, sit at the same desk...do the same thing every day, your life’s gonna be sh*t.”
He cautioned against becoming infatuated with services your business provides. “It’s the quickest way to become irrelevant. If you stop fixing customers’ problems, build momentum and fall in love with your own product, you’re done. Keep moving, that’s the point. ” He said innovation results from three human qualities: curiosity, courage and resilience.
Business leaders must start with ideas they can implement immediately, according to Balbontin. “Small is beautiful. If it’s not small enough that you can’t start on Monday, it’s too big.”
The Australia-based Argentine has helped develop products and technologies for companies such as Google X, Nokia, Apple and Amazon. He is also involved in the international start-up scene as a founder, investor and adviser. Balbontin was the keynote speaker at a forum entitled Unlocking Regional Growth Through Innovation, part of the annual Techweek Tauranga ‘18 festival.
Callaghan Innovation’s Hemi Rolleston said New Zealand needed to spend more money on research and development. He said the country trailed other OECD nations in attracting global capital, growing global sales and using technology to increase profitability. “Callaghan’s vision is create a place where talent wants to live. One hundred inspired entrepreneurs can turn this country around.” Rolleston said Callaghan, a government agency supporting high-tech businesses, has 250 customers in the Bay of Plenty and will award $250 million in grants. “Investment by government will make a difference, but you can’t let government tell you how to innovate. You need to lead and we need to follow and support.”
Economist and columnist Rod Oram provided economic commentary throughout the conference and moderated a panel discussion entitled ‘How do we unlock regional growth?’
Other speakers included Lain Jager, chair of the newly formed Primary Sector Council and former Zespri CEO; Kevin Bowler, CEO of Frucor Suntory and former CEO of Tourism NZ, and Carl Jones, CEO of WNT Ventures.
Vaughan Robertson, technology strategy manager at Beca’s Auckland office, said the Bay’s talent pool and can-do attitude provide a platform for transformation. Speaking to Venture Centre after the Mills Reef event, Robertson said one way Tauranga can overcome logistics and infrastructure issues is to “hammer the digital economy,” focussing on products that don’t require physical transport. “I think relationships are important, creating relationships with other places so you can export people...We should be getting more people into the Bay of Plenty, but we should be taking our people out of here and exporting them to other places to share the message.”
Kate Davies, with Tatua Dairy Company, said she especially enjoyed Balbontin’s message about letting customers lead the way. “I think that is one thing we don’t do particularly well in New Zealand is being really close to our customer needs. Not what our needs are, but what are the customers’ needs?”
The University of Waikato Management School in partnership with Priority One sponsored Unlocking Regional Growth through Innovation. Techweek is New Zealand’s annual festival of innovation which included more than 500 events nationwide from 19-27 May 2018. It featured regional, national and international speakers and companies. This year’s theme: innovation that’s good for the world.
Techweek Tauranga 2018 is curated, coordinated and promoted by Venture Centre.
Venture Centre works to connect people on enterprising journeys - with each other and the mindset, skillset, toolsets, networks and resources they need - to build an ecosystem that delivers real-world, learn-by-doing events, activities, projects and experiences.
Techweek Tauranga 2018 is supported by Tauranga City and Western Bay of Plenty District councils.