Community Investment & Programs

I’ve been reading Richard Florida’s book Who’s your City?, from Whangarei in New Zealand, at the same time as reading a number of niche magazines such as The Listener and Idealog, where the local conversation surrounding innovation and overcoming geography to boost productivity and economic activity, is taking place. It’s fascinating to flick between Florida’s discussion of a “spiky” world, where centers of innovation such as San Francisco, Berlin, London and Tokyo are growing ever stronger in their development of creative and entrepreneurial communities, and compare it to the conversation happening in New Zealand at the moment, which is all about finding ways to create prosperity by encouraging innovation and business development, despite the country’s size and geographical remoteness.

The New Zealand Institute argues that if New Zealand is to become as prosperous as Australia by 2025, then 300 businesses providing high value commodities will need to launch every single year in the interim. For that figure not to seem absurd, there needs to be a huge amount of dedicated investment into R&D for proprietary technologies and processes, careful development of robust programs that support entrepreneurship and talent-creation, -retention, and from the Global Lifestyle Project’s perspective, -attraction.

Through our lens, the primary question up for debate, is “How can cities such as Auckland or Wellington position themselves as global hubs, inspiring creativity, attracting world-class talent, and then providing practical support to help entrepreneurs (domestic and visiting) build sustainable businesses, whose models become long-term success stories?”

Clearly there are a number of interdependent factors at play, and numerous reasons why people would or wouldn’t want to work from New Zealand. The quality of life is excellent. The environment is stunning. The opportunities to create wealth are genuinely huge, if you are prepared to get behind an idea and defend it relentlessly. However, it is miles away from everywhere, there is a lack of specialist talent with at least 25% of “home-grown” skilled professionals living and working outside the country, and the cultural convention to reject outward displays of confidence or achievement, while derived from a tradition of humility, is in radical contrast to the extroverted character of many of the world’s great centers of innovation.

Nevertheless, there is a huge opportunity for New Zealand cities to do more to encourage the creation of new businesses with unique consumer propositions, who could make their mark on the global scene – think Icebreaker, or the reputation of New Zealand’s wine industry.

New Zealand is also the ideal destination for Global Lifestylers, primarily because the standard of living is so good and the country is bursting with inspiration. It is also a country full of entrepreneurs. Most people that we’ve spoken to have, at some stage, produced something innovative in their garage, and many people report that they are self-employed or were the founders of successful small businesses. Nevertheless, few would label themselves “Entrepreneurs”, and rarely express the interest, or demonstrate the know-how, to scale effectively to the levels necessary to impact the country’s economic output and ranking.

That said, there’s no shortage of talented Kiwis, who have acquired serious business acumen abroad, and who could prove to be an enormous resource to entrepreneurs back home. Without going to the extreme of pushing for expat Kiwis to return permanently and en masse, there is a clear opportunity to engage them for shorter periods of time, and make it easier for them to recommend their country to their peers, as somewhere to invest time and money. It isn’t difficult to attract interest if you can create an effective showcase of local activity, with clear opportunities for outsiders, Kiwi or otherwise, to identify where they might add value, and realize meaningful financial returns as a result.

Currently, there is well-publicized Government assistance for companies doing a minimum of $20million in sales, through the Better by Design program, and there is also a growing angel investment community, active in the start-up space. However, there is a definite gap, into which companies in the middle of those extremes are falling. It is they who need access to skills and international networks, in order to bring products to market overseas. It is here that the Global Lifestyle community and associated programming is so important, to create effective ways of introducing businesses “in need”, to international Global Lifestylers “in want”.