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Right…a way to crunch a business model from good research ideas Peter Kerr Jun 17

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Here’s an interesting innovation move, one to be applauded.

It’s Startup Weekend Science and Research, in Wellington at Creative HQ from Friday July 3 to Sunday 5.

Interesting because its the first time a non-digital (as such) Startup Weekend event’s been done in NZ (France has beaten us to the draw). Most startup weekends like this are around apps or web-based functions – something that requires developers and designers.

This 54-hour marathon though has tangible products, something physical you can touch as the start point. It is open to all research-based ideas (the criteria for this is at the end of the blog).

SWRsch is to be applauded because it is:

  1. Delving into the unknown – the organisers aren’t quite sure how many people will attend
  2. Likely to lever off some of our country’s other strengths, be they our biological, manufacturing or other service industry areas of expertise
  3. (People still have to eat, move, experience, live and play in the real, physical world. Solving problems in these areas is just as important as in the online space)

It is also a good intiative because it potentially combines the ethos of startup weekends: speed to market, pace of (software) development, minimum viable product and the like; with what will often be a protectable intellectual property position from the research.

Finally, it could be quite exciting to see teams looking to develop deep technology on the Friday night, and frantically looking for someone such as a chemist or electrical engineer or food technologist, rather than desperately trying to find a coder/programmer.

The organisers are really wanting to attact PhD students – people with ideas, people who don’t necessarily want an academic/researcher role in their next career phase – to be part of the weekend.

To state the obvious, getting them along, en mass as a way of acquiring a range of skills over and above what they’ve learned doing their doctorate, is going to be the trick.

Here’s what the weekend organisers are looking for.

What is a research-based idea?

  • To be a good fit for #SWRsch your idea should meet (or come close to) the following criteria:
  • It will be based on a defined body of research e.g. a masters/doctorate project, market research, socio-economic research, data project, etc
  • It will require a degree of research and development to be a marketable product i.e. it is not already at the product stage (you may or may not have done a portion of this R&D already)
  • It will not have been widely commercialised yet i.e. you may have explored one market but think there is more potential to be realised yet

At last…an innovation accelerator aimed at physical products Peter Kerr Jun 11

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Right, something you can get your teeth into…literally – Lightning Lab Manufacturing.

So, instead of a 12 week accelerator to figure out how to take a digital idea out to the world, the same sort of programme but aimed at a physical product.

Great.

As I’ve commented before, we risk missing out on, and leveraging off the biological resource and manufacturing ideas that we (well hopefully) have abounding in our country. Heck, it could even be making and doing something better with the proverbial Number 8 wire! Obviously we need to move beyond commodities (as Fonterra’s milk powder based payout implodes), and these sort of events will encourage just that.

LL/M is now calling for applications from people who have prototypes, or even just an idea for a physical product, and who are prepared to spend three months validating and building their business model before pitching it to investors at a special Demo Day in November.

Like the digitally-oriented LLs, there will be intensive mentoring, networking and business upskilling – but this time for hardware rather than software.

Applications are due on June 26, though as an introductory evening at Wellington’s Creative HQ indicated on Tuesday 9 June, there could be a wee bit of flexibility around that deadline. This is especially so given that another non-digital initiative, Startup Weekend Science and Research is taking place in the capital beginning on July 3 (more on that in another blog).

Of interesting note for LL/M is the move to Wellington by Austin, Texas-based Shawn O’Keefe. He’s been the producer of SXSW Interactive for 14 years, and takes on the Programme Director role. O’Keefe’s bringing his young family over as well – which is obviously not something you do on a whim.

And, as O’Keefe said in introducing himself to us on Tuesday, “let’s make – we have no excuses anymore.” He’s particularly referring to 3D printing, hardware hacking, biometric sensors and the internet of things – among many things.

One point he made is that applicants don’t necessarily have to have a team around them (yet), nor a prototype.

An idea from a individual can then have those elements built around them.

There’s only going to be eight startups selected, from anywhere around the country.

If you get in, in return for 6% equity, teams receive $15,000 in startup financing, and $5,000 research funding from Callaghan Innovation…plus the pitch to investors in November.

Hopefully LL/M is swamped with applications. The organisers are agnostic about where in New Zealand these are from – the only priviso being that teams are prepared to work out of a (probably High Street) lab in Lower Hutt.

I’ll be interested to see how it pans out from a who can actually afford to be there point of view. The digital LL is mostly made up of young, single people – who have much more ability to live off the smell of an oily rag.

I’m guessing here, but suspect that physical product ideas are more likely to be from more mature people, often with families. Taking 12 weeks out of your life on minimal pay may simply be beyond do-able for many of these potential applicants.

Let’s hope I’m wrong on that.

Application forms, which can be filled out in draft form, then returned to for updating and submitting, are at: lightninglab.co.nz/manufacturing

Go on, take a bite out of it.


Wider New Zealand missing out on knowing about our hot and cool Hi-Tech companies Peter Kerr May 28

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One of the downsides of the implosion in traditional news media is that celebratory stories get little or no coverage.

The general public, who in my experience love to hear of clever and innovative New Zealand companies therefore have only a minor awareness of both the scale and importance of the Hi-Tech Awards, whose winners were announced a couple of weeks ago in Wellington.

Now, given the IT savvyness of the audience, there was probably quite a bit of social media chat to do with the awards. How much this disseminates into the wider public; who knows.

All of which is a pity when you look at the facts.

Firstly, any function that pulls a crowd of over 700 people must be doing something right.

Given that over 150 organisations entered the awards, obviously there’s plenty of these companies relying on brainpower rather than muscle to generate wealth.

Equally, any company that receives one of the top nine awards, will be proud to hang it on their wall, and to mention the fact in any dispatches they make to their own customers.

What is most apparent though is, being in the same room as the owners and workers in these smart businesses, is the almost bottleable sense of creativity, possibility and ‘let’s make this happen’ that collectively exists.

In talking to any of the people at the awards’ dinner it is abundantly clear that they think beyond our shores and of satisfying a customer they have clearly pictured in their minds.

The diversity of this thinking is also reflected in the width and breadth of business entries.

Look at the range of businesses who were finalists for the top award

  • Xero- cloud accounting platform
  • Serko – NZX-listed cloud software firm
  • ARANZ Geo – geological softare
  • Shotover Camera Systems – helicopter, boat and vehicle camera stabilisation platforms

All of these companies solve problems, headaches for their customers.

They have no shortage of competition, but thrive because of the competition.

They are exciting, future-focused entities that are obviously great places to work.

They’re cool, or hot – both at the same time.

It is just a pity wider New Zealand isn’t as aware as they want or need to be of these clever people.


Is Startup Weekend missing a middle-aged trick? Peter Kerr May 12

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As one of many simultaneous events taking place around the world, the Wellington Startup Weekend took place on April 10 – 12 at Creative HQ.

Now one of the purposes of the weekend event is not necessarily to create new businesses, but as much to develop a greater awareness among its (mostly young) participants of what is required to foster a successful enterprise.

That Startup Weekend is mostly young people isn’t surprising – they’re often unencumbered, single, only supporting themselves.

It made me wonder, (and I asked co-organiser Dave Moskovitz) if there isn’t some Startup Weekend around the world that is more geared to those of us past the first flush of youth?

Dave wasn’t sure (though hadn’t heard of such a focus).

Many of us middle-aged people are (relatively) unencumbered, have the children-supporting side of our lives behind us and perhaps have a bit of capital.

Just as importantly, we often have good ideas, would like to team up with like-minded people, and have another 20 years or so of working lives in front of us.

Given that a five year life expectancy for a company can be good – well the age of participants becomes much less important.

There’s some interesting statistics (well, as least from the USA) to back this up.

Check out this Huffington Post article, which quotes, among others, Vivek Wadhwa, an academic, writer and entrepreneur.

In 2008, at the height of the entrepreneurial youth renaissance, Wadhwa released breakthrough research that showed the number of founders older than 50 was double the number of founders younger than 25, and the number of founders over age 60 was also twice the number of founder under 20. The average age of male founders was 40, and female founders’ average age was 41. In fact, Wadhwa’s research revealed that the highest rate of entrepreneurial activity had shifted to boomers in the 55-64 age group.

Such middle-aged life and business experience, honed by a Startup Weekend type event could have fascinating outcomes.

It wouldn’t surprise me if it produced some physical products with a strong digital component.

Just throwing the middle-aged start up weekend idea out there.

Maybe there’s downsides that I haven’t even thought of.

I for one would be a starter, and I know a number of others who would be too.


Do Kiwis have a certain je ne sais quoi with regard to Startup Weekends – or is that wishful thinking? Peter Kerr May 05

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Having been lucky enough to be around a couple of startup things in the past few weeks – I’ll take the opportunity to reflect.

The first occasion was a Skype interview at Wellington’s Creative HQ with George Smith, the founder of Glass Jar, an app that helps make group payments (such as in a flat) easier. Glass Jar was one of Lightning Lab’s accelerator graduates from last year.

They successfully pitched at LL’s Demo Day, and then relocated the USA.

George and his teammates spent three months doing the meet and greet with would-be investors in America, and then were accepted into Y Combinator, a Silicon Valley seed investment accelerator.

One of the interesting comments from George was that investors didn’t think much of the Glass Jar idea for the USA (flatmates over there have a completely different way of looking after shared bills).

But they did like the Kiwi team, and it was this that was backed at Y Combinator – which could be likened to being a Lightning Lab on steroids, where the participants are more worldly in a business-sense than some of the participants you see in New Zealand.

Nick Churchouse, the head of customer engagement at CreativeHQ made a passing comment that he quite often hears, and hears of this comment from USA investors. Mind you, given the courage it would take to relocate yourself to the States to pursue an unknown future, and given the can do attitude these coders, designers and entrepreneurs would display, it shouldn’t surprise us.

It is perhaps related to the apocryphal stories you sometimes hear of New Zealanders (often engineers), leading teams in overseas locations. For example, my brother leads the ground team of the International Space Station and helps look after oxygen, waste and water. (Like me, he’s a Southland farm boy by upbringing, with no engineering training as such, but with the ability to keep a team of brainiacs on task with a minimum of fuss).

Then again, all countries, all peoples are going to feel they’re special in this way.

However, as we continue the Startup Weekend business training exercises, our designers, developers and puller-togethers’ ability to work together could be viewed as a specific Kiwi trait, something that should be encouraged, a way to move beyond our sometimes too-self-effacing attitude.

Or perhaps that’s trying to put a gloss on something that can only happen by luck and circumstance.

What does anyone else think?


OS//OS = OS Peter Kerr Apr 13

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The OS//OS (Open Source//Open Society) conference has got itself a new definition – at least for the OS bit.

OVER SOLD!

What a great problem to have.

But maybe the organisers had a cunning plan up their sleeve, because they’ve collared some extra space at Wellington’s Michael Fowler Centre on Thursday and Friday this week (16/17 April) and there’s an extra 50 tickets for sale, over and above the original 300.

At $199 each, for the quality of people speaking about all things Open (except maybe golf) and people attending, that’s a fair bit of bang for buck.

Undoubtedly, the geeks, nerds, developers, designers, IT people and interested others like me will be keen to hear what GitHub, the world’s largest respository of open source code to co-host its first ever event outside America is a pretty big feather in Wellington’s tech cap.

Mind you, we’re pretty spoiled for smart digital events in the capital; so just how many tickets co-organisers Loomio and Chalkle thought they might be able to sell would’ve been anyone’s guess.

Well guess no longer.

There’s a lot of interest – book your tickets pretty damn quickly (shortcut here) if you want to be among the lucky last.

As I post this, half of those 50 extra tickets have already been sold


Open for thinking, open for participation, open for collaboration Peter Kerr Apr 02

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The name of the two day Wellington conference on Thursday and Friday 16/17 April says it all.

Open Source//Open Society (OS//OS).

As a digital immigrant who has, without sometimes knowing why, gone down he android path for my devices, I’m inherently drawn to the open source philosophy.

In a sense, at a time when public participation in democracy is lessening, it is events such as this that continue to hold the flame for non-secrecy and more sharing in society.

It is the antidote to businesses that want us to purchase their own proprietary products – locking us in, holding us to metaphoric ransom.

And given that bits and bytes represent today’s key infrastructure, being open rather than closed around how computing’s coding source is used, by all, can be considered the epitome of democracy.

So I’ll be attending the very reasonably priced ($199) event, which is the first time the world’s largest repository of open source code, Github, has co-hosted a conference outside the United States.

This in itself is a real feather in the Wellington tech community’s collective hat – and for Enspiral and its fellow travellers Loomio and Chalkle who have helped to organise it.

OS//OS describes itself as a gathering of bright minds and communities from open technology, open government, open business and open education.

You can see this in some of its speaker’s topics, such as:

  • Is the Internet a tool for liberation or control?
  • What happens if we work together? What does a commons based future look like?
  • My Dream. “What if…”

At the same time, one of the major benefits of any event such as this is the ability to share, participate and collaborate.

It is an opportunity for peoples’ ideas to mate and spawn new ideas. Given OS//OS’s openness, I expect the “we could do this” discussions to be very savvy.

Finally, a note on the cute name the organisers have called the afternoon tea break on the first day.

As a message maker at Punchline.biz, it appeals as an encapsulating idea and ideal for OS//OS.

What is it called (and check it out in the event timetable here)?

Diversi-Tea!


Why a democratic open-source news and views site needs reinvention and why we should care Peter Kerr Feb 23

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Scoop’s in the middle of an attempt to change its ownership and business structure from individual shareholders to community (to be designed). It has just launched a PledgeMe crowd funding bid.

The metaphor that applies is not unlike the tragedy of the commons. The analogy is that we don’t know what we had until we haven’t got it.

First up, I have a vested interest in Scoop’s survival. This blog is re-blogged from Scoop among others, and I’ve done some work for it over the years.

Second, I am friends with Alastair Thompson its owner. That aside…

Now the ‘old’ models of monetizing news and content on the net no longer work.

Even gatherers, creators and gatekeepers of news, Fairfax and APN, are finding it challenging to make money online.

Scoop’s model has always been where any voice can be heard, a space/place for differing opinions, supported by banner advertising and other means.

That no longer works.

At the same time, like much that exists on the net we’ve got used to the idea of news being free (even if someone/thing has been paying for it).

From NZ Inc’s point of view Scoop is extremely important part of our news and content infrastructure – not only promoting democracy and debate – but curating it all too.

Imagine for a moment, not having its resource, its searchability, its information and knowledge on tap. It is data as democracy, democracy as an accessible right.

But, now Thompson and Scoop are making a leap into the great unknown.

He wants to reinvent Scoop as a sustainable and profitable publicly-owned and directed resource.

What this might be is to be decided.

That’s why stage one of Operation Chrysalis, is asking for $30,000 at least – to allow a three month breathing space, to collectively design that new structure in conjunction with its new stakeholders.

No one has ever tried this before; its pretty ballsy stuff.

From both an individual and collective point of view, not having Scoop would yank out a large part of our modern available knowledge.

Scoop needs to continue – everyone, from politicians to PR companies, news junkies to school projects, special interest groups to bloggers need it to thrive. (Not the least, it is useful and important for my Punchline message making consultancy.)

It will be an interesting metamorphosis.


A picture’s worth a thousand words…or not in our case Peter Kerr Dec 16

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I’m a sucker for a good diagram – a picture’s worth a thousand words and all that jazz.

So I thought I’d see what, if anything, came up in a search about New Zealand’s science and innovation system; diagram-wise.

The image below, taken as a screenshot, is what Google came up with when I searched under ‘science and innovation system, New Zealand’ (selecting the Google images icon as well)

S & I system NZ, Google images

Google screenshot, science and innovation system, New Zealand

To state the obvious – nothing terribly much here to explain what goes on in godzone, not a hint of a plan you’d have to say.

Well, what about a comparison with other countries?

So, I did the same for Denmark, a country that we like to compare ourselves to, frequently.

This is it here.

Google screenshot, science and innovation system, Denmark

Google screenshot, science and innovation system, Denmark

Again, to state the obvious – much more illustrative, many more models and examples of how Denmark’s ideas to products continuum hangs together.

What the heck, decided to do the same for Fiji (a near neighbour we’d possibly like to think we have a bit of a science and innovation lead over).

Here’s their Google search result.

Google screenshot, science and innovation system, Fiji

Google screenshot, science and innovation system, Fiji

Now, there may be some peculiarity in Google algorithm for my searches. (Though I had some of my non-sciencey colleagues search too, and they came up with something very similar).

And, it could be an unfair search term for NZ Inc

Or, it could be that there is no plan.

It could be that we’re doing lots of science, lots of innovation, lots of commercialisation – but it is all adhoc and uncoordinated, relying on luck and synchronicity and who the heck knows what.

I’m also hoping I’m wrong.

If anyone’s seen a plan, please point it out.

It would be a kind of relief to see one.


Bringing Biggs to the party an inspired move Peter Kerr Oct 29

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The appointment of Peter Biggs as inaugural chairman of the new Wellington Regional Economic Development Agency, is an inspired bargain.

I briefly dealt with ‘Biggsy’ as he is commonly known, in a former life.

My observation is that he’s great at doing deals and, even more importantly, making things happen.

That, in Wellington’s case as all and sundry circle but never get any traction around the idea that ‘we need to do something’, is why he will be great in this position.

As a colleague commented once, the job of a chairman is to get down and dirty and be fighting in the trenches.

Arguably, one of Biggs’ main attributes is this figurative hand-t0-hand combat skills that he possesses.

The former Wellingtonian of the Year (2003) is extremely well connected and networked at all levels across government and industry.

One of his mottos (according to one of his former colleagues), once a decision has been made is to “let’s pile into this guys”.

This is exactly what our city and wider province needs – essentially permission to execute something, and a bit of a blow-torch up everyones’ collective rears to make it happen.

As a motivator, a string-pullerer, loosener of wallets and most importantly of all, an enthusiast for a good idea that needs backing, having Peter Biggs onboard is fantastic.

So, welcome back from eight years in Melbourne Peter.

There’s plenty of things we could be doing here, plenty of ideas, some of them potentially big.

We look forward to you helping to kick them off in the new agency.

Collectively (adding to the WREDA’s four C’s – cohesion, confidence, conversion and communication) there’s a region that’s really behind you.

Note: WREDA’s so new, I couldn’t find an URL that directly relates to it. The closest is here.

Note: Feel free to also check out Punchline – Messages that Matter, my new business, based on a Secret SAUCE


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