Better collaboration was the goal for more than one hundred representatives of Aotearoa’s burgeoning startup ecosystem, who gathered this week in Wellington to share ideas to help more Kiwis start and grow their own businesses.

Attendees at the two day event, held at Te Herenga Waka – Victoria University of Wellington, included entrepreneurs and startup and economic development experts from around the country.

A wide variety of organisations dubbed ENO’s (Entrepreneur Nurturing Organisations) attended including startup incubators, entrepreneur support programmes, universities, central government and regional economic development agencies, and investor groups.

More than 25 discussion topics and workshops, determined by attendees, ranged from developing entrepreneur support programmes, founder wellbeing, startup funding and resources, diversity and inclusion, to inter-regional collaboration and how to stimulate more “grass roots” entrepreneurial activity.

Subject experts included Suse Reynolds (Angel Association NZ), Ron Clink (MBIE), Professor Nathan Berg (University of Otago), Marian Johnson (Ministry of Awesome), Luke Ball (Creative HQ), Jenny Douché (Callaghan Innovation) and Pascale Hyboud-Peron (Venture Centre) among others.

Marian Johnson
Marian Johnson, CEO at Christchurch based Ministry of Awesome.

The event was organised by members of GEN NZ, the New Zealand chapter of international entrepreneur support organisation, Global Entrepreneurship Network. In 2020 GEN NZ members collaborated to create a 5 point entrepreneurship manifesto outlining key strategies identified to help New Zealand stimulate, start and grow more highly productive businesses and jobs.

Startups have been identified as an important driver of economic growth and job creation with research indicating that new businesses account for nearly half of all new jobs on average across the OECD, and nearly all net new job creation in the US.

Startups have also been identified as playing a vital role in innovation and societal development and while startup births, growth and funding have taken a hit globally due to COVID-19, they will almost certainly play a key role in post-pandemic economic recovery. Economists have been quick to point out that some of the worlds most valuable companies trace their startup roots to previous economic downturns.

Suse Reynolds
Suse Reynolds of Angel Association NZ discusses the growth of angel investment in Aotearoa.

For those thinking entrepreneurial skills are only necessary for those wanting to start a business, entrepreneurial thinking by employees has become increasingly valued within larger and mature organisations such as Government departments and multinationals. The term “intrapreneurship” has emerged specifically to describe the movement.

GEN NZ spokesperson and event co-organiser Marwan Jamal said that the number of attendees this year was up 100% on their inaugural unconference held in February 2020, an event reported to have had a galvanising effect for many members of NZ’s startup community.

The increase in 2020’s post-event startup ecosystem collaboration, meant that when COVID-19 threw the business and startup world into disarray soon after, there were several nationwide initiatives launched to support startup founders and small business owners within weeks. Events such as the Hack The Crisis lockdown hackathon, founder mental health support and education programmes, business assistance groups and New Zealand’s first nationwide Startup Weekend.

Jamal says that while there are collectively many programmes, experts and organisations available to help Kiwi business owners in the startup phase, there was room for improved collaboration and sharing of knowledge and tools between organisations.

“Our hope is that by bringing people together like this we can increase our collective impact for New Zealand’s startup founders and innovators,” said Jamal.

“Even though we have only been doing this a short time we believe we are starting to have an impact.”

He says that multi-directional feedback between the entrepreneurs looking for help, and the support organisations providing help and funding from both the private and public sector was important for improving the effectiveness of New Zealand’s startup ecosystem.

Emergent themes and opportunities from the event which concluded Wednesday, included the need to teach entrepreneurial thinking to all New Zealanders from a young age, repositioning outdated public perceptions of what it means to be an entrepreneur, and how to ensure entrepreneurship was more accessible to New Zealanders of all backgrounds, genders, ages and ethnic groups.

Ron Clink and Nathan Berg
MBIE’s Ron Clink (L) and Professor Nathan Berg from University of Otago discuss the importance of a nations “entrepreneurial capital”.

Richard Liew is founder and editor at NZ Entrepreneur Magazine

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