‘Business is Boring’ is a new weekly podcast series presented by The Spinoff in association with Callaghan Innovation. Host Simon Pound will speak with innovators and commentators focused on the future of New Zealand, with the interview available as both audio and text. This week: a Techweek special.
Although Business is Boring is definitely not all about tech and apps, sometimes it will be. Like this edition, where we are talking with a man behind a whole week of tech, and to a woman with an app.
Patrick McVeigh is a big cheese at ATEED, an Auckland Council Controlled Organisation that is charged with transforming the local economy. No biggie. As part of that fascinating challenge they’re pulling together Techweek, 14-22 May. It’s a banner for a bunch of existing tech activities and the cause for a few new ones, aimed at sparking the kind of connections that cause people to start using words like catalyst and disruption willy-nilly.
As part of the week there are events where new entrepreneurs test, prove and launch their ideas, and one of those people with an idea to launch is also speaking to us.
Brittany Teei is a former professional tennis player, who has taken some life lessons from seeing sportspeople without financial skills dealing with an influx of cash, and her observations of how Pacifica and Māori cultural norms can preclude talking about money. She’s taken these experiences and decided to make an app to equip kids with financial skills, acquired in a way they enjoy. It’s called KidsCoin, and we are sure to be hearing more about it soon.
Simon Pound: So Patrick you are the general manager for business innovation and skills at ATEED. What does that mean? What’s an ATEED? It sounds like you’re playing some kind of macro chess game with a city.
Patrick: Yes we sometimes do that. ATEED is Auckland Tourism Events and Economic Development, so we’re a council controlled organisation and part of the Auckland Council Group. We’ve got a particular focus around economic transformation and how the city moves forward. On one level it does what it says on the tin. We work on tourism activities, major events like the Masters Games. We do economic development activity which again encompasses a wide range of things so my team looks after activities around business support, working with existing companies to help them grow their business. It also looks after work around employment activity and skills, so young enterprise initiatives, all about entrepreneurship with young people. Also activities around youth employment, initiatives like Jobsfest which is running in the city next week. A whole range of different things. In the innovation space we’re responsible both for working with partners around innovation infrastructure, like the Wynard Quarter Innovation Precinct, GridAKL.
Also we work out how you start to foster a culture of entrepreneurship within our city
Isn’t that a million dollar question! You’ve been doing it for a while though, around other places like in the UK, is that right?
Patrick: Yes, I’ve been working in this field for 20 odd years since I graduated. I used to work for the London Development Agency. I worked there for five years on a similar range of activity. I think my first role was back in probably 1992 where I was responsible for an innovation plan for Western Scotland funded by the European Commission, and then I moved here about three years ago, following about eight years in economic development consultancy. I came to the city three years ago, recruited in to work in this space and what a great city to come to. I was really pleased to be here.
It must have quite a long gestation period before it comes off, some of this innovation activity. What’s something that’s had a chance to bed in that you’re really proud of.
Well I think actually if we think about the Auckland experience, one of the things I’m most pleased about is where we’ve got to with the innovation precinct, GridAKL. As an initiative it was identified maybe 5-6 years ago as Auckland wanting to build an innovation precinct here to increase its global visibility as a hub for innovation. That all aligns back to the city-wide strategy, but you’re looking at a space within the city that’s a major urban regeneration area within Wynyard Quarter.
People will be familiar obviously with the sort of public realm and the leisure off of there but there’s a much bigger master plan in terms of building new housing and a new commercial quarter which would be a 48,000 square metre space. As you say, building something like that requires lots of different partners. So we work really closely with other bits of the council group, Panuku Development Auckland, but also with the private sector, like Precinct Properties are the developer. But as you said, if you want to build something like that it takes many years, so one of the things that we did was we worked in partnership with the BizDojo which is an existing coworking operator in the city, and we took an old building about 18 months ago and thought we want to give life to this idea of an innovation precinct so we established a hub.
It’s become branded as GridAKL. It was around for about 18 months and at the end of that period ultimately it was going to be demolished for a new housing site. In that period we worked with the operator and the businesses that moved into that space to really show what the project could be about. It was grassroots, built from the ground up. The identity as GridAKL wasn’t something that a council committee decided. It was actually built by the community, activated by the community and one of the most successful things that happened in that space was having event space. We used it to run everything from startup weekends, where we would give the space over to the community to run their start up weekend process, and also there was a whole range of other sorts of technology showcases and meet-ups, podcasts…. -actually your rival podcast has been running out of there for some time!
So a whole range of different activities in that space. We took all the learnings from that and transferred that into the new building that’s just opened which is a refurbished John Lysaght building. When we moved out of the original building in the grid there were 16 companies in there, all sort of technology based operators across a whole wide range of activities. They’ve all migrated into the new space. We’ve brought in other businesses, particularly other coworking businesses with the BizDojo consolidating its activity in that space, and have learnt those lessons. You can go in and you can feel it. You can feel the innovation in the air. Brittany who you’re speaking to later, she was there yesterday, so she can probably share her views of the space and what it’s used for. So we’re really please about that, but it’s just the start. It’s a 2000 square metre building and the ultimate precinct is going to be 48,000 square metres.
Wow. Give us your elevator pitch for Techweek and how does that fit into this.
We’re really excited about Techweek, because if you think about Auckland over the last 5 years, 10 years, it has built some real visibility globally as a destination and as a city with a good quality of life. That’s proven if you look at the Economist Unit, Mercier, you look at Lonely Planet, they all speak about Auckland in glowing terms as a city that’s a destination, as a quality of life city. But what the city hasn’t done so well, and what it needs to do is build a global identity around a business location, a location for investment, a location for talent to come to. So we are operating in a global economy.
Auckland is competing with other similar quality of life cities, the Brisbanes, the Barcelonas, the Vancouvers. We’re competing for talent. We’re competing for investment. We’re competing for new businesses, for entrepreneurs. So for us, it’s about how we start to build a greater global visibility in that space. Yes, things like GridAKL in terms of new infrastructure play a role, but it’s also about demonstrating that you’ve got a really active community and developed ecosystem. The technology sector has been growing significantly in New Zealand and in Auckland. Between 2010 and 2014, it grew by about 26% which is quite significant. A compound annual growth rate of over 5% every year and so you’re starting to see a real depth of types of companies and activities, and a community that goes around it.
So what we’ve done with Techweek is try to bring that visibility to the fore. So we worked with partners across the city and said hey we’ll work with you. We’ll develop a brand, an identity, a kind of mechanism showing everything that the city’s doing in the technology space. So we went out quite wide to our partners and said, if you’re doing stuff in this space, would you like to do it with us this week under this broad banner of Techweek, but keeping your own identity, keeping your own audience. We’ve ended up with over 40 activities running across the week. Really diverse. It starts with Start Up Weekend and it ends with our partners the High Tech Trust with the Hi Tech Awards which is another thing that makes us visible.
We’ve also got the Tripartite which is a partnership between Los Angeles and Guangzhou where we’ve currently got registrations of I think over 500 companies and participants that are coming from Los Angeles and Guangzhou and they’re matched with companies in Auckland to really start building effective trading relationships. For us, having Techweek at the same time again just raises the stakes in terms of people being able to look at the city. You’ll see everything from Coding with Kids, work that OMG Tech do, Brittany’s doing something really exciting that she can talk about during that week. You’re also going to see activations across the city from bus tours to major conferences using some of the delegates that are here for the Tripartite speak about what they’re doing to showcase investment opportunities in the city. So we’re really excited about it, but for us it’s also year one. We want to see this grow. We also want to see it become a platform for other promotion nationally for other cities to engage as well.
One more question before we bring Brittany in. What’s your KPI? What’s the return that you’ve got to get from pulling this together.
So this is very different from running an event like Rugby World Cup where you’re counting the number of people that are coming to the city. How much they spend. All those types of things. It’s very different, because as you’ve said you’re looking to build a momentum, a culture, an understanding of what the economy looks and feels like. So the long term returns from that is all about more people coming to work in some of those key sectors. We’ve got skill shortages in some of our sectors. If we can promote this as a place where talent wants to live, we can help address some of those issues.
But what we will be measuring is how many people participated. What was their experience of the event. Have those events actually helped inform what they might do in business, or whether they consider going into business with themselves. So we’re working with a partner, Satellite, and for every event that’s running there’s the ability for people to log in to the app that Satelitte run through a web platform, and we can gather metrics around the experience they had. Whether they would recommend it to others. What they want to see next time. We’re in this for the long haul, when you’re building these types of ecosystems, and so we will be able to say how many people participated, what did they experience of the event.
The other thing that we’re capturing is just the leverage that it’s created. We’re wrapping a brand and identity, a kind of marketing approach around Techweek, every event that’s running. Some of them are paid for events, so we know that some of the events are either sold out or close to selling out. One of the ones that’s doing really really well is Magnify. It’s a really exciting event that’s going to be running around VR and augmented reality. We’re talking to them about what we’re going to do next. We know that they’re doing really well around ticket sales and we can count some of those metrics in terms of the leverage that’s being created. There’s a whole range of different partners and sponsors coming to the table. Not just around the work that we’re doing. So we’ve got NZ Tech and Callaghan Innovation as part of the overall Techweek as well as the High Tech Trust. But some of the individual events have got their own sponsors so there’s an opportunity for them to showcase what they’re doing. So we have a wide range of metrics that pick up participation and experience but what this is really about is building on that overall ethos around innovation being good for business and that opportunity for everybody to think about entrepreneurship.
And that idea of providing a springboard, that’s very much what you’re bringing to this, Brittany. At Techweek you’re launching an idea that you’ve built called KidsCoin. Tell us the pitch for what KidsCoin is:
Brittany: Well KidsCoin is a tool that can be used in the classroom to help students learn about managing and saving money basically. So what they can do is they can log onto our platform, and do curriculum aligned lessons to earn a virtual Kids Coin dollar. They then have a virtual Kids Coin bank account where they learn about managing their money, taxes, interest rates and things like that, and then the coolest part is they can use their virtual money to buy real goods and services from community providers.
And talking about innovation, where did this idea come from?
This idea came from a lot of mistakes in my own life around money. Also just having good community networks because in my previous life, before moving into software, I was a tennis player, and a lot of the success that I got to in becoming a tennis player, it came from community networks. So it was about trying to find a way to teach people about the value of good habits and attitudes to money and how that results in positive consequences and opportunities in your life.
That’s a very modest way to put it, “I was a tennis player”. You were a professional tennis player weren’t you.
Yes, I was a professional tennis player.
And enjoyed quite some success! How does the software development and the idea of fostering this, how does that fit in with the kind of habits that you picked up as a professional athlete?
I guess in quite a broad way. It’s common knowledge that in sport you build skills while you’re young to become a professional athlete which is what I went through myself. But nobody does it with money. Where do those habits develop? Whose responsibility is it to develop them? Financial literacy is not a core curriculum subject so when does it happen? Unless you have really good role models at home it’s difficult to get that knowledge. So I guess it was a combination of those things and saying, somebody’s got to do something.
It’s cool. Tell us about the genesis of the idea. It was part of a competition called DIGMYIDEA is that right?
Yeah that’s right. So DIGMYIDEA happened end of 2015. I came across it by chance actually. My uncle left a newspaper clipping outside my bedroom door and I thought, wow this looks good. I’ll give it a shot. Then a couple of weeks later I got the reply back that we’d made the top five finalists and got to the attend the Digi Wananga weekend. So the top five finalists came together to develop a pitch and develop their idea and then present it to a panel of judges.
Who puts on DIGMYIDEA and what’s the goal behind it?
DIGMYIDEA was put on by ATEED, Callaghan Innovation and Te Puni Kōkiri. The whole idea behind it was to identify innovative ideas, especially in tech last year, and then give support to develop their idea and take it further. So rather than having a really good idea and kind of going “now what do I do?” It’s actually giving practical support to take that idea and turn it into reality.
How do you take that idea and turn it into reality? What’s been your journey since winning that competition up to next week, where you’ll be launching it as part of Techweek?
There’s a lot of things to do! To give you a broad idea, meeting with some of the mentors that we met at DIGMYIDEA who had a background in industries that we touch on. So bankers, educational specialists, business development and marketing specialists. For example, through DIGMYIDEA I met a lot of really awesome people throughout Auckland who are successful businesspeople themselves. Helping me move in the right direction. Also money. Helping you put money into the business. It’s a crucial element that everyone needs to be aware of if that’s something that you want to consider doing.
That idea of money; money is a dirty word often. That idea of trying to run a business to make a profit, is that something that you found was as celebrated as trying to be a professional sportsperson? Or understood or supported?
Definitely. From my background as a Māori and Pacific Island person, especially in our cultures, we don’t talk about money at home. There’s a lot of cultural boundaries. There’s a lot of family boundaries around it. Being a sportsperson and seeing a lot of athletes who almost get exploited for their talent, you know, they become awesome sports stars but they never get taught about the money side of things. How many times do you hear that story? This athlete was awesome and then…they’re broke. From that angle for me, it needs to be spoken about because it’s reality. It’s something that we all have to deal with.
How have you found that journey towards setting it up as a business? Have you taken things that you’ll be able to pass on in mentorship too? Is that part of the idea of taking KidsCoin into schools?
Most definitely. It’s about simplifying the whole process and saying “look, it doesn’t matter who you are, where you come from, what your background is, if you have the right habits, the right attitude, the right mindset, and you’re aware of your attitudes and mindset, then anyone can become financially savvy.” it’s not limited to your status now.
With the software that you’re building and launching, how can people learn more and get involved with that?
They can jump on and check us out on our website, www.kidscoin.co.nz or our just search up KidsCoin on facebook or twitter, @kids_coin.
What’s the format of the launch as part of Techweek?
Actually we’re really excited about the format. We’re gonna get some of our kids who have been using KidsCoin in the classroom to come in and run some interactive demos. So if any of your listeners are interested in knowing about how the software works and how the kids have taken it on and the benefits that they’ve had then it’s a really good place to come and check that out.
Patrick, how have you found it coming into the New Zealand eco-system, trying to foster businesses? What are our attitudes around business and is it something that is particularly prevalent inside Pacific and Māori culture or is it a general New Zealand thing where we get enough money to go to the beach and then we kind of quit. We don’t really talk about money.
Patrick: I think attitudes are changing quite rapidly, particularly in a city like Auckland. It’s now one of the world’s most diverse cities. We‘re at 1.5 million and broadcast to grow to 2.5 million by 2025. Obviously that introduces a whole new different way of people thinking about things. Lots of different experience, lots of different cultures, lots of different networks. I think that does create a whole different dialogue that we as a city can continue to have about what does business look like and what does the future look like.
One of the things I think is interesting about New Zealand is there’s a lot of very small businesses. Most economies are dominated by small businesses but in New Zealand there’s a lot that are very small and the real opportunity and challenge for us as a country is how do we scale? In terms of scaling, that’s all about looking outward. It’s about building trade and relationships, building new trade partners. It’s the idea that companies need to be born global.
I think what you’re starting to see is definitely a new wave of entrepreneurs within the city and within the country. You spend any time down at GridAKL and you can see some of those companies. Fantastic stories coming out, recently 90 Seconds, one of the core tenants in GridAKL, they’ve attracted over $10 million from Sequoia in Series A funding. These are companies that are thinking and trading globally. It’s really important for the future.
One of the things that I find is people are very open to travel and it’s very common now. People from New Zealand, they’re not daunted by those flights and everybody does it. So it’s actually using those to build trading relationships, to connect back into the diaspora and home communities to do that. I think if we look at how we do that and how we think of our market, not just as the 4 million people in the country but that much broader in Asia, the Pacific and beyond, then you can start to really think about how we scale. The move to a technology based economy – all businesses can be digitally enabled now – that really changes the way we think and trade globally.
I think the opportunity for the future is really exciting. You’re seeing the new wave of entrepreneurs, entrepreneurs like Brittany are really thinking about taking their experience and then thinking about how do you actually commercialise that. But also, in this instance, returning a sort of social good as well. So yup, things are changing, I think we want to see more of that, things like DIGMYIDEA and other work that we do are part of that. We also run an initiative called Idea Starter, which is for getting young people thinking about business competitions. We just closed our latest round of the Idea Starter competition as well. This is about building that culture of entrepreneurship for the future.
How do you capture that inside the Techweek line up. How do you capture the diverse communities of Auckland where more than a third of the people who live here weren’t born inside Auckland? How do you capture that global working environment?
For us this year it was very much about going out to existing communities to say would you like to do something during Techweek. So the curation in the first year has been about bringing together everything that is already happening. But what you can see is that we’ve not necessarily built new events or new activations. We’ve asked partners to do what they want to do. But even within that you see the diversity. The OMG Tech initiative runs across the city and has had some real impact in terms of working with schools and young people in South Auckland. You’ve also got the public facing activity so the work that’s happening at MOTAT during the week in terms of again being able to connect with the general public. So there is diversity built into the programme, and I think that diversity is reflective of what’s already running. The issue and the opportunity for us is building enough noise and momentum around the Techweek idea that gives us more interest for next year so that we see different projects, new projects.
And getting past the existing audience of the kind of people that go to events at GridAKL already. The kind of people that already have an app idea going, and that’s what I’m really interested in Brittany. How do you scale your idea, and how do you get it into the schools, and how are you going to grow what you’re doing?
Brittany: We have a real indigenous focus, so want to use the platform to really promote Te Reo, and by doing that we want to show the kids the value of it and how they can incorporate it into their lives. For example in one of the schools we’re actually developing business subjects delivered in Te Reo, so that way they’re not only learning the language, they will also be able to do business using the native New Zealand language. In terms of scalability we’re looking at incorporating other indigenous languages in the same way so that it can be adapted and changed depending on which country it’s in.
And before the DIGMYIDEA competition, this was an idea that you’d been working on or thinking about for a long time, but before that did you see software development as an avenue or was that something that had been part of your thinking?
No. Not at all!
Well that’s amazing, and how are you finding it, and what was stopping you from thinking it was open to you?
Well I was thinking, kind of like what you said before, that money was kind of like a dirty word and asking people why is it that way. Then that kind of progressed into how can we take something that people don’t like to talk about and find awkward, and then make it fun. If you look around everywhere, every kid has got a mobile device in their hand, so I just thought ‘well that makes sense’ and decided to talk to them in their language and use the devices they were already engaging with in their own time. That way you’re bringing it in in a fun way. And that was what led me into tech. That was it, you know. What would I use? What are the kids using now and where is the world moving. I mean, everyone is engaging in tech in some form these days.
And what else are you excited about during the week? We’ll finish up with a little plug for the activities that are happening next week. So it starts on the 14th and there’s a whole range of events. What are you looking forward to Brittany?
I don’t even know where to start. I’m actually part of Idea Starter so next week we’re going to be looking through some of the ideas. I think for me it’s going to be really interesting to see the youth engagement through Techweek. Just getting some insight, not in any particular area but just getting inside what they’re interested in and which events are popular for our younger generation. I mean I’m not super old but seeing the next generation, and using that to keep developing our business KidsCoin but also looking for opportunities for the future. Whether it’s assisting kids with their ideas, or developing innovative new ideas that can help communities.
Great. Then as a final thought, Patrick, if people are coming to get involved with Techweek, there’s a range of activities, some are paid events associated with things like the Hi Tech Awards, but other things are open for public access. How are you getting that word out to people?
Patrick: The best thing to do is jump on the website, techweek.co.nz. That will give you a whole range of the speakers, so you can look at it in terms of people, you can look at it in terms of days, and it will direct you through to the different programmes that are on. As you say, some of them are free. Some of them are ticketed and some of them are nearly sold out if not sold out. You can also think about GridAKL so during the week and the mornings you’ll be able to drop into the space and see the space if you haven’t seen it before.
Especially if you haven’t seen it before.
Especially if you haven’t seen it before. So come down. There’s a number of different events down there. I think there’s seven or eight events on within GridAKL so you can have a look at those. It’s a good way of engaging with the community. So not just at Grid AKL, but because the thing that excites me is that because there’s stuff happening at MOTAT, you can go in and you can experience OMG Tech at MOTAT. So to your point, people who might not already be involved in this community, this is perhaps an easy introduction to it, and is a good a way of understanding what does tech mean to ‘non techs’, and there’s even a session running around tech for non-techs.