How creating more connections between people can help NZ Scale-Up

Business is Boring is a weekly podcast series presented by The Spinoff in association with Callaghan Innovation. Host Simon Pound speaks with innovators and commentators focused on the future of New Zealand, with the interview available as both audio and a transcribed excerpt.

Connections can be the difference between a venture taking off or stalling. Having the right network, introductions, access to funding, experience, even sharing suppliers, all these things may seem to be a matter of luck or environment, but they don’t have to be.

We’re a small country with limited resources, so it is vitally important we make the most of what we have, and if we look to other small advanced economies, there are actually ways to foster and grow these connections. Ireland and Israel both have programmes designed to spur more interaction, collaboration, connection and growth, both run in part by the government and both very successful. These programmes were the inspiration for Scale-Up NZ, a new Callaghan Innovation-backed platform to get more happening between the innovation ecosystem.

What do all these words mean, how exactly does it work, and how can you get involved?

To answer these questions we have Rosie Spragg, project lead for Scale-Up NZ, and Craig Simpson, an entrepreneur many times over, working in data science blockchain and solar energy, who share with us the benefit for the industry.

Either download this episode (right click and save), have a listen below or via Spotify, subscribe through iTunes (RSS feed) or read on for a transcribed excerpt.

First up, let’s meet you! Rosie, what’s your background? How did you come to be leading a project of this kind of interest and breadth?

Kia ora! Ko Ngaruawahia tōku papakaingā and my journey really starts there. Growing up in a small, somewhat rough town, my ambition was to do something positive in the world and change the world in some way. That somehow sparked a 10-year career in the telecommunications industry after working in government and placed into a telecommunications regulation team, and I really fell in love with the power of technology to connect people, and that’s been a consistent theme through my career. I’ve worked in a number of different roles in telecommunications, as an analyst, insight, strategy, mergers and acquisitions, but towards the end of my career I was involved in programme delivering, programme managing the build of ‘internet of things’ network and that really sparked my love of delivering projects.

So when the opportunity to join Callaghan Innovation to deliver what, at that time, was called a super-connected platform, it sounded pretty exciting for me and so I joined there about a year ago to come and make Scale-Up New Zealand a reality.

That’s so cool, and so moving from delivering projects where you were linking up physical things like the internet of things into linking up humans and businesses and ideas.

Yeah, it was really interesting for me to move from an infrastructure type role and the physical networks that are required to connect us to actually think about how do those virtual networks also help to connect us that run on top of that infrastructure.

How has it helped to come from something that, you know, is generally the metaphor for these kinds of things to the real thing? How has that helped?

It’s great to have an understanding of the importance of the infrastructure. Networks in general, whether physical or virtual or personal, have a lot of similarities and where you get the value is where you get the scale of the network, and that’s what really excites me about Scale-Up New Zealand. It’s in the name but the value will come when we get the scale of New Zealand businesses and entrepreneurs using it and on it, and that’s when we’ll unlock the gold from the platform.

Let’s meet one of those entrepreneurs now and then jump back into how it was you came to kind of form what this network would be. So Craig, you’re one of these entrepreneurs, tell me your story. I watched a wonderful LinkedIn video the other day where you told a story of coming back from quite an amazing extraordinary near-death experience as a young person.

When I was 14, I had an unfortunate shooting accident with a friend and nearly died. It changed my life, when you’re a young man and nearly die. I tried to go back to school and life had changed completely for me so I left school very early and went off and started living life. Which is fantastic, however, without a real education I moved from job to job and there was a point where you have this situation where I have no education and I had an injury – normally a person without an education would get a labouring job, which I couldn’t do. So ACC sent me on a computer training course, and what started my entrepreneurial career was a connection – I was on this training course and I said to the trainer I’d love to do something after this, and he goes, “Well I know somebody who owns a computer store in the next town, why don’t I connect you up with him?”.

So I went and connected up with him, and he couldn’t give me a job, but said I could work for him. And ACC said, “We’ll pay for you to work for him for a while.” Turns out that this was a retired executive who had started this computer business and I did my MBA with him, and two years later he said, look, I want to retire completely. For the value of the stock, you can buy this business off me. At that point, I was 21. At 21 I took over this business and had been trained by an executive, but it all started from this one connection.

If I hadn’t been connected to this person, I’m not sure I’d be here today.


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