The ICEHOUSE Ideas conference was held at the University of Auckland Business School today (8 July) to assist in the sharing of knowledge and ideas amongst those highly passionate about building business and raising New Zealand’s economic output through increased utilization of science and technology.
Nearly 600 people were present with a further 20 or so SPARK members (including myself!) fortunate enough to be watching live-streaming at the venue, and countless people at home or work who caught some of this streaming via the ICEHOUSE facebook page.
The complex challenges New Zealand faces in regards to lifting our economy will require efforts on multiple fronts so the opening up of these talks to everyone is testament to the fact that this is a collaborative mission for New Zealanders, giving everyone the chance to be involved.
I arrived a little early, very eager to listen to some of New Zealand’s most successful minds share their 2-cents (although their 6 minute time slots are worth much more than that) and hopeful to make notes whenever ingenuity (sparked by their words) were to strike.
For those of you who didn’t watch the streaming, here is a summary* of the main messages from each speaker:
Session 1: New Zealand as a part of the world
Andy Hamilton, CEO of the ICEHOUSE, opened the conference with the official launch of his idea to get another 3000 internationally engaged, innovative companies by 2020. Like many others there, he worries that his children will want to move far away to pursue exciting careers they feel they cannot experience in NZ. He recollects how 10 years ago ‘it was all about the sport icons and the politicians. Now it is about the scientists, like Sir Ray Avery for example’. He asks ‘How much can we scale up genius in NZ?’ and calls for us to ‘make this a place our kids can be proud of’. Sick of diagnosis and keen for action, he encourages anyone to check out the projects listed on 3000.org and get involved or even list a project of their own.
Rob Adams, visiting entrepreneur and investor, challenged the entrepreneurs to do more and the investors to keep investing. Especially as there are more deals being made today than there were last time he visited NZ five years ago. He says ‘Don’t claim that we don’t have access to enough money, everyone says that, it’s out there’. This is a man who knows that it’s not easy, that it takes patience and hard work, until preparation and opportunity meet for success. He closed with ‘NZ Inc, the next move is yours and I look forward to seeing what happens’
Peter Thiel, technological entrepreneur, investor and philanthropist, is a man who first visited NZ 18 years ago and many times since then as he is particularly impressed with the friendliness, integrity, straight forwardness and honesty of New Zealanders. Qualities he prizes as ‘great for companies’. He explains that globalization is a ‘copying of things that work’ and technology is the ‘stuff that hasn’t been done before’, with the latter vital to the future success of the developed world as the former will lead to even worse resource issues. ‘The best way forward is to do something new, globally … NZ’s opportunity is to sell technology across the world … but, you have to paddle where the waves are’
The Hon Steven Joyce, Minister for Tertiary Education, mentioned that NZers are not short of ideas and are not bad at filtering them but identifies that sales is a challenge for us and that some check out too early in business development. He is a firm believer that our success is defined by how we see ourselves and believes that once our self esteem is lifted the country will be more successful.
Richard MacManus, founder of ReadWriteWeb, informed us of his view that America doesn’t spend much time thinking about us and if we are building things for a global audience we need to think about that audience. All in all, ‘think global’.
Mark Britt, General Manager of Consumer and Online at Microsoft Asia Pacific, talked about the importance of education. Kids today grow up with technology that wow’s us, thinking it is simply ordinary. He reminded us of our recent success with Team OneBeep, now OneBuzz, who won the Microsoft Imagine Cup challenge.
Tim Williams, founder of Value Click, is a kiwi who was the first foreigner to list a company in Japan. He advised that whilst you may not know what the Japan market wants or needs, private businesses can support each other to break in. He is a man who knows that in Asia the key thing is relationships, which means having a decision maker living there, learning the language and making the deals.
Session 2: Quintessential Kiwis
Dr Sue Watson, Global CEO of Kea, recounted how NZ defined itself with immigrants until emigration increased with every economic shock (i.e. the brain-drain) which prompted the increased immigration of non-NZers to fill the labour gaps. ‘We have the highest proportion of skilled workers living offshore in the OECD… and a third of NZ’s rich-list don’t live in NZ’. Kea’s big idea is to entice the nearly 1 million NZers who live off shore home.
Chris Jones, founder of Mobilis Networks Ltd, gave a quick and stern run down of his sales expertise. This included marketing essentials such as understanding your market, profiling the target audience fully, appreciating the channels to the market and being competitive as ‘there is no prize for second! Get paranoid until the money is in the bank and go out and win’.
Grant Ryan, most recently known for his invention of the YikeBike, gave his thoughts on what the difference is between success and failure (essentially nothing) and called for ‘small NZ businesses to work together and egg each other on … increase the amplitude and have some fun’.
Mark Eglington, CEO of NDA group, spoke with the title ‘farming is not just sexy… its critical to NZs future’ which focused on the idea to build on what we are already great at. Technology is sexy and is required to grow the agricultural sector and we would do well to expand further in the farm-to-consumer category such as tracing supply chains, solving environmental issues in regards to farming, increasing land yield and improving demand generation. We already have so much knowledge in this sector that ‘growing it is a massive opportunity for small and medium enterprises in NZ’
James Madelin, CEO at enlight photo Ltd, stated that with NZs situation he on his own is obviously not going to change the country, but with a few more like him it would be possible. We need to change our behaviour by laying aside old concepts (e.g. with technology our isolation is not an issue anymore) and refocusing our skills. Optimistically ask ‘if we do this, what can happen?’ and then lets ‘take our place at the front of the class’.
Mike Carden, CEO of Sonar6, discussed mistakes made at his company and what was learned. They were concerned about long sales cycles, which couldn’t be fixed with more sales staff as ‘people do what they were going to do anyway’, but with a new marketing strategy which involves targeting anyone and opening the dialogue, nurturing those that show an interest and closing on leads later in the game.
Mitch Olsen, cofounder of SmallWorlds, introduced the audience to the immenseness of the gaming industry and touched on his own entrepreneurial experience — first wanting to make some money but also ‘kind of’ wanting to affect the world (a potential he thinks we should be backing ourselves more on). His closing comment was ‘Wherever you are going, you start from where you are … and I think this is an amazing place to start from’.
Candace Kinser, CEO of Biomatters, started her talk with the concept ‘how someday the actions that are taken in entrepreneurship are always vindicated’ and went on to explain how the continuous conversation with the customer (biologists in this case) can improve a software product. With a reminder that it is a long, bumpy ride she gives the advice to entrepreneurs ‘be curious, stay lean, humble and pay attention’.
Session 3: Bringing it up a level
Peter Chrisp, CEO of NZ Trade and Enterprise, put up his own version of a Tui billboard: ‘We’re from the government. We are here to help — Yeah Right’ which went with a laugh, and he went on to share his view that public-private partnerships can add value. Mentioning the four sectors that the government wants to see 30-40% growth in by 2025: knowledge intensive manufacture and services; value added food and beverages; minerals and petroleum; and high value tourists.
Dr Andrew Coy, CEO of Magritek Ltd, talked about what he learned upon moving from the individual-style scientist way of life to the team-focussed business lifestyle (which unfortunately doesn’t always have time for going off on purely interesting tangents of investigation). He believes that mutual understanding and respect within a team in regards to all the various roles’s in the company is an integral part of startup success. True to his physics background describes this with a metaphor of turning the light that can be scattered by a lightbulb into a focused laser where all are moving in one direction together to achieve drastic results.
Fadi Mishriki, cofounder and CEO of PowerbyProxi, spoke about the power of investing in young people. He asked the audience how many of them would retire in the next decade or two, and asked them to think about mentoring those who are innovative and eager to prove themselves. He himself gained the taste for entrepreneurship through SPARK whilst studying at the University of Auckland and claims that the only other graduate of his class who still lives in NZ is the one he works with at PowerbyProxi. ‘There could be many more stories like mine… when I ask my peers why they left, the answer always came down to better money… I tell them now to take advantage of the incubators here … Success is when they dream of growing big global business from NZ’.
Phil McCaw, cofounder of Movac, gave an overview of the ‘fuel for growth’ such as the angel networks who he describes as heros (refering to the investment risks they are willing to take) and the funds ecosystem which desperately needs to be filled out in NZ so that small businesses can scale up to the global level. Towards the end he touched on the fact that exits-by-sale are not a bad thing, as the entrepreneurs that come out of it with cash in hand tend to be very willing to reinvest this in bigger and better ideas and drive growth that way.
Mai Chen, cofounder of Chen Palmer NZ Public Law Specialists, gave an energetic talk about confronting stereotypes and reconsidering the often frustrated business and government relationship by understanding each others needs better, since both will need to work together to fix the complex challenges facing us (e.g. the earthquakes, climate change, the economy). She calls for businesses to think in a more ‘social solutions focused’ way and to appreciate the tools that government offers ‘If you know how to work with government, it can help your business’.
Ross Peat, CEO at KlickEx Corporation Ltd, described the differences between corporate life and entrepreneurship (his new preferred option) and went on to overview the required considerations regarding device, service and network innovation that affects all of us.
Andrew Harmos, chairman of NZX and director of Harmos Horton Lusk Ltd, explained that there is plenty of money in NZ but that most of it is locked away in bank deposits. He would much rather see NZers investing in local NZ businesses and infrastructure. He would also like to see successes better publicized since ‘success breeds success’ and builds trust to encourage further backing.
Dr Tom Mulholland, otherwise known as the attitude doctor at the Healthy Thinking Institute, told his story about losing his family and company, the experience of which contributed to the development of his new endeavor. His closing was ‘I’m proud to still be here [NZ]!’
Murray Bain, CEO of the Ministry of Science and Innovation, reaffirmed his position on wishing to bridge the gap that has opened up between us and more successful countries such as Denmark. His closing entailed ‘You cant sit in my job and see what I see and not be excited about the potential of this country’.
Sir Ray Avery, founder of Medicine Mondiale, wants to see our R&D productivity (which is many times higher per dollar spent than that of America for example) translate into products. He speculates that we may be investing in the wrong things, things that people don’t want or need to buy, and calls for us to be more customer centric (i.e. look for the niche, find the market and then use R&D to make the product, like LanzaTech for example). NZ has a small research community, with R&D getting diluted, and since one needs a certain size to build momentum his idea is to introduce a NZ Knowledge Bank — an internet communication tool open for all to use ‘so that we can change the way the country operates and show the world how clever we really are’.
Dr. Sean Simpson, CEO of LanzaTech, explained the general idea behind the company converting chemical gases into chemical liquids (such as ethanol) using microbes and their progress to date – which includes plans to expand offshore. He is very confident, stated by ‘when developing a new fuel technology there isn’t a market risk’, but he also put in a call for ‘we have to structure NZ so people want to grow their companies here’.
Hideaki Fukutake, director of efu Investment Ltd, presented a slideshow of SIM-Drive petrol-to-electric vehicle conversion technology; an open source concept they would like to bring to NZ so that the country can reduce its dependence on fuel imports.
Melissa Clark-Reynolds, founder of Minimonos, delivered a speech focusing on the fact that NZ comes across as very clever by OECD standard (has always been in the top10), yet its spending power has dropped over the last decades – contrast this with the US (who have never been in the top 10). She points out that, in her opinion, it’s not the national standards that need fixing, but that the lowest performers require lifting.
Franceska Banga, CEO of the NZ Venture Investment Fund, focused on how we can attact more money into the companies wer have in NZ currently. She proposes we focus on gathering funding from a variety of sources such as wealthy migrants (get them to invest in business rather than bonds and property), Kiwisaver and the NZ Super Fund, Angels, and individuals.
David Irving, the founder of ICEHOUSE, named the small and medium enterprise owner managers as ‘understated heros’ since practical success comes from inside each firm (i.e. from good judgement), and called for a translation of national targets such as ‘top ½ of the OECD’ and ‘match Australia by 2025’ to be made relevant to this group. Also, his idea extends to showcasing small and medium enterprise relevance to locals and to fostering connections with schools.
Rod Drury, founder and CEO of Xero, asked the audience ‘who is signing up to run a public company in 2020?’ to emphasise his statement that ‘We have to be the ones who do it … until we do it, things wont change’. He believes a change in our culture is needed ‘It would be cool if everyone in NZ felt responsible for earning offshore money … its me! its you! lets go out and do some exporting!’.
And finally, the most inspiring talk of the night** was by Derek Handley, cofounder and CEO of Hyperfactory. He asked the audience to project themselves into the future and imagine with him the idea of reading Time magazine, a 2031 edition, with the cover story ‘NZ – Country of the Century’. He went on to describe some excerpts from the story that were too moving for me to capture in my notes, I was completely captivated and suggest people look up the video link. But for those who really are just skim reading by now, it included statements like ‘NZ nailed socially responsible growth … they did it first … its what the world needed … and everyone followed’. Back to the current setting – he went on to address the audience: ‘What we are ultimately failing at here is creating a country that matters on a global stage. You have to decide what does all this mean, and what are you going to do about it?’ and he put out the challenge ‘You have a choice to do whatever of three things: (1) enable the revolution (i.e. latch on to one of the ideas mentioned); (2) join the revolution (i.e. leave the world you are in and join a startup or venture); or (3) lead the revolution (i.e. be one of the 3000 companies the ICEHOUSE wants to assist in getting there).
It felt like a world class event – even from the live-streaming room. A big congratulations to the ICEHOUSE team who organized the event and for the sponsors for their backing. I absolutely appreciated the gathering of minds so passionate about NZs future prosperity and will remember it for a long time to come, as well as act on the challenge. Everyone else I spoke to afterwards was glowing with enthusiasm that will hopefully last long enough for them to follow through on the challenge given to them to contribute by enabling, joining or leading the revolution!
**pronounced as such by all that I had the honour of speaking to after the close