What Can We Learn From Our Day Of Barbarism And Shame?

PMWho would have imagined that New Zealanders would ever have to endure such a day of horror and pain? Whether we like it or not, life has changed forever for us. Terror has reached our shores and our hearts are breaking for everyone affected by this despicable act. But how did we ever allow technology to empower this vile behaviour?

I abhor bullies of all kinds. In 2017 my eyes were opened to the brutal reality of distorted social media when I was the victim of an orchestrated and one-sided gang-bang led by someone from the rabid “woke left” who (somewhat ironically) spoke flippantly about “truth in a post truth world”. That experience now seems insignificant compared to what happened in Christchurch, of course. But the lessons regarding the abuse of power and acceptance of a culture of intolerance empowered through online media are not dissimilar.

The same cadre of desparados have gleefully seized upon this grim episode and used it as a clarion call to politicise all manner of perceived ills relating to our social history. I find that highly offensive and insensitive at a time when people are trying to grieve together and build bridges. Yes, we have more work to do on race relations and social equity. But in relative terms we have historically made more progress than almost any other nation on Earth that one cares to name. One madman from outside our country cannot undo this reality; so we certainly should not allow incoherent, petty political activism to divide us.

But thanks to technology, we have allowed the bullies to grow and thrive. Extremists of all hues have invaded our psyche because of out-of-control, propaganda laden platforms that have little respect for statehood, decency or privacy and to whom we have foolishly handed over control of our lives. How is live streaming of a mass murder acceptable in a civil society? Why are extremists left unchecked to promote an online agenda of evil even after complaints have been laid? Powerful AI technology already exists that can quickly flag bad behaviour online and identify suspicious communications. How did authorities not know about this individual?

I have never operated a “FaceBorg” account and these events only strengthen my resolve in this regard. Resistance is NOT futile! We should not allow our political discourse to be controlled by fanatics from anywhere on the political spectrum, nor by faceless American corporations lacking ethics. Why do governments continually fail to act on this? If you think I am a lone voice on this topic – look around and do some reading. Calls for curbs on mega-platforms are growing daily.

We do not always need to agree on everything. But that does not prevent us from engaging in rational debate. Now more than ever we must protect freedom of speech, support an independent and balanced media and promote the lost art of intelligent public discourse. And we must no longer provide platforms for the divisive rhetoric of bullies and intolerant fanatics – irrespective of their political persuasion and views.

I’m pleased to say there is a better way. A few days ago, flanked by heavily armed police, I stood proudly with my teenage son and a few others outside our local mosque and participated in a moment of reflection with the entire nation. It was a small act of acknowledgement, but it gave me hope. Young people have the most to gain by drawing strength from one another and moving forward to build the future world that they want to live in. A world that values and respects both cultural diversity and diversity of thought.

* These are my personal opinions and not the views of my employer or any other organisation that I am affiliated with.

Photo credit: Christchurch City Council

Will CGT Deliver “Well Being”?

The findings of the Tax Working Group are in and (unsurprisingly) the recommendations lean heavily towards introducing a full blown capital gains tax (CGT) into New Zealand from 2021. About the same time, the Prime Minister fronted with her first economic speech of the year in which she clearly signaled that the next budget will be focused on “well being”. Only a very cold-hearted person could deny this is much needed, but there are huge political risks attached to both these initiatives.

Lifting the economic, social and mental well being of youth seems to be front of mind for our government. Quite rightly so, young people are our future. Growing an increasingly impoverished and disenfranchised group in society is in nobody’s interest at all. But equally, ignoring economic realities and the role of business in society is a dangerous road to tread. Young people need jobs and hope and we cannot deliver this in a shrinking economy. The government must continue working on the infrastructure deficit and especially deliver on intelligently supporting economic growth in the regions, where there are many latent opportunities.

This point is important because youth unemployment and social needs are high in our rural areas, smaller towns and cities. Interestingly, farms, small businesses and family owned property holdings are likely to bear the brunt of a full CGT. Not exactly a recipe for economic growth in the provinces. But I think we all know that a comprehensive CGT is unlikely. The political risk is enormous and even the most optimistic of economists agree that, although beneficial in the long term, CGT will crush economic growth – at least initially. So the government needs to be ready to take that one on the chin.

A small blip in the economy could be weathered perhaps, but keep in mind that we are not a high growth economy in the first place. Forecasts (without considering CGT effects) place New Zealand at about 2% growth, compared to 3% average globally forecast for next few years. During my recent visit to Singapore, I noticed there was much hand-wringing in the media that their GDP growth had dropped to 7%! We are not in such an envious position and even a small drop has huge implications on tax revenues, thus cancelling out the resources for “well being” projects.

Another worry is the looming threat to businesses owners. Those who invest time and capital into growing their businesses may now be penalised when they come to realise gains from their efforts. Taxing habitual property traders and business that impact the environment is certainly something we should do, but taxing entrepreneurs for employing people, paying GST and income tax while strengthening the productive part of the economy, is a very bad idea.

Companies that produce high value “weightless exports” such as software are likely to be disproportionately penalised because these ventures tend to be started with minimal shareholder capital investment. Therefore almost all of the value at time of disposal will be subject to taxation. No doubt the government has an eye on the tsunami of baby boomer business owners that will be exiting in droves over the coming years. But who will replace them? In a world with an uncertain economic future, the current no-CGT regime on sales of business assets is one of New Zealand’s few competitive advantages.

Paul Spence is a commentator and serial entrepreneur, a co-founder of New Zealand based technology ventures iwantmyname and Creative Forest and a mentor with Startup Weekends and Lightning Lab. You can follow Paul on Twitter @GeniusNet or sign up for a free weekly digest of startup, tech and innovation related events curated by him through New Zealand Startup Digest.

 

Crazy Rich Asians

SIN City 3If you are a fan of romantic comedies you may recall a scene in last year’s hit movie Crazy Rich Asians in which friends join the happy couple at an outdoor food centre for an evening of laughs, beer and Singaporean food. Amerasian Rachel is trying her best to fit in but is caught off guard by a particularly spicy mouthful of Laksa, much to everyone’s amusement. In some ways this typifies the visitor experience in Singapore. At first it can be hard to find your place in the cultural melange, but there are surprises around every corner and people are friendly once you’ve been properly introduced – so it’s very much worth persisting.

During a recent trip to Singapore I ventured into the Newton food centre where that movie scene was filmed. The venue exemplifies Singaporean society and politics perfectly with a spicy blend of regional cuisine subtly dominated and flavoured by the prevalent culture on the island. But perhaps that is part of Singapore’s magic formula which has been openly founded on the basis of a benevolent autocracy. And I must admit that it was a pleasure to spend a week in a society where trains and planes consistently run on time and there is no trouble from neighbours with barking dogs or idiot boy racers ripping up the tarmac. There are even plans to require registration of e-scooters, because it is simply the sensible thing to do.

The subtle hand of the State is found almost everywhere. Singapore has one of the largest sovereign funds per capita of any nation and many of the most influential corporations are State owned. But that is not to say that private enterprise is discouraged. Quite the opposite in fact. The city state has a very active startup scene and despite some obvious headwinds in the economy and increasingly stiff competition from neighbours such as Hong Kong, India and Dubai – Singapore remains the largest single source of investment in South-East Asia.

Co-working hubs like Found8 can dial you into local networks quickly and The List is a community that keeps founders in touch with all the coolest tech and innovation events around the region. I spoke to Sarah Yen from Simmonds Stewart’s Singapore office during my visit. The Wellington based legal firm assisted South-East Asian business clients to raise $220M in venture funding in 2018, which was double that transacted for their clients in the New Zealand market. Yen explained to me that after a brief lull, global venture funds based in the region are raising capital once again. The legal firm has built good relationships with U.S. based funds like Sequoia which have Asia focused funds for example.

New Zealand startups or growth stage companies seeking capital should not be shy about looking to Singapore, she says. Yen outlined how her firm can easily handle setting up a local presence for clients interested in tapping into the deep pockets of these funds. Taking VC investment is not everyone’s preferred pathway of course, but for those who choose to do so, it can be a hard road in New Zealand. For example the scarcity of follow-on funding has recently led to criticism by Rocket Lab founder Peter Beck in an explanation of why his company had to move to the U.S.

So perhaps we need to be a little more creative in how we engage with offshore funders. Either we need to somehow encourage global funds to engage locally more frequently or we need to develop structures that better facilitate inbound investment, whilst retaining economic value within the New Zealand economy. Otherwise we are doomed to remain largely excluded from the global flow of capital and confined to being an incubation nest for ventures that must eventually fly away and leave us.

Paul Spence is a commentator and serial entrepreneur, a co-founder of New Zealand based technology ventures iwantmyname and Creative Forest and a mentor with Startup Weekends and Lightning Lab. You can follow Paul on Twitter @GeniusNet or sign up for a free weekly digest of startup, tech and innovation related events curated by him through New Zealand Startup Digest.

Photo Credit: Paul Spence

Whatever Happened To Competitiveness?

Having spent a decade helping to build a technology business as well as giving back to the community along the way, I thought that I was making a valuable contribution to growing a more knowledge intensive economy here in New Zealand. I was able to measurably improve my own lifestyle and assumed that we were all heading in the right direction together. But with regional economic development becoming more politicised than ever and national indicators of labour productivity and GDP actually decreasing over the last two years – I now realise that we have a lot more hard thinking ahead of us as a nation if we are to deliver on the clean and competitive, high value economy that we all hoped for.

Lately, in an effort to determine how I can best contribute intellectually to this creative endeavour, I’ve been revisiting some of the traditional macro-economic theory around “competitiveness”. As well, I’ve been exploring some new approaches that are emerging in the development arena, with the goal of bringing together my business experience and the latest in economic development thought leadership. I’m a firm believer that policy and actions should be driven by a combination of practical skills and academic theory.

The World Economic Forum defines competitiveness as “the set of institutions, policies and factors that determine the level of productivity of a country”. Productivity is simply the ratio of outputs versus inputs in an economy. Traditionally a more productive economy generates more wealth and (theoretically) more income per capita and better standards of living for its citizens. In practice, it is more problematic and here’s why.

Firstly because this formula assumes wealth is the only measure of good. Happily, some governments and corporations are now beginning to rethink GDP and put more weight on less tangible measures of progress such as well-being for example. Secondly, social factors can skew apparent productivity. For example wealthy nations with large populations of guest workers who have a much lower standard of living compared to local residents. Also the rise of pan-national states (such as EU) and the drift away from globalism towards regional trade agreements, force us to revisit how we look at competitiveness from a global perspective.

Competitiveness is as relevant as ever, but it is being framed within a somewhat different context these days. Even Prof. Michael Porter, who famously drove much of the original thinking around competitiveness, agrees that the landscape has shifted. Today businesses (and national economies) are highly networked, social and collaborative – meaning that the forces of competition have changed. Furthermore Porter has evolved his own thinking and now dedicates much of his time to promoting social progress as a measuring stick independent of GDP.

The challenge for New Zealand remains the same. How do we drive our economy up the value chain and away from extractive and polluting commodity based export industries? After ten years on the job, I learned that building and scaling a knowledge based business is very hard work. Even for those who do succeed, the returns may not outweigh spending the same time and capital investing in property, dairy farming or planting pine trees. That’s a huge competitiveness problem that we need to solve if we are to maintain our enviable lifestyle into the future.

Paul Spence is a commentator and serial entrepreneur, a co-founder of New Zealand based technology ventures iwantmyname and Creative Forest and a mentor with Startup Weekends and Lightning Lab. You can follow Paul on Twitter @GeniusNet or sign up for a free weekly digest of startup, tech and innovation related events curated by him through New Zealand Startup Digest.

Photo credit: Renea Mackie – Creative Forest

Eighteen

Twenty Eighteen could have been a disaster for me. Instead I’ve used this year to reflect deeply on my own personal motivations and devise a plan for where I’d like to head next.

I dearly wish that a year ago I had read Steve Blank’s explanation of why startup companies outgrow their founders, because I would have then been better equipped to deal with the precipitous decision of our Board, at the start of the year, that it was time for the founders of iwantmyname to step away from operational roles in the company. But what at first seemed like a personal attack steadily evolved during the year into a coherent transition strategy that will both put the company into a stronger position for growth and allow me some runway to work on new projects in the future such as Creative Forest. The major mistake we made as a company however, was in failing to have that conversation well ahead of time.

Notwithstanding all of that, this year we also celebrated surviving ten years together at iwantmyname and in particular we looked back at how we made a big difference in the lives of many others with our charitable donations and volunteer work in the community. Bootstrapping a company from a spare bedroom, with zero capital and turning it into a respected global brand is no small achievement in the highly competitive world of e-commerce. But the biggest thrills undoubtedly came from helping others along the way.

This was also the year my eighteen year old son finished high school and that week bought himself a plane ticket to Europe, as he set off in search of adventure. It gave me an opportunity to consider whether I had done enough to prepare him for the challenges ahead. When I was eighteen, I had my sights set on university. But university education is becoming a commodity and we need a greater diversity of skills in our economy right now. This made me think about how our current education system is failing many of our kids. Which is why it’s so important that we extend our successful Creative Forest trial out to as many schools as possible in 2019.

Renea and I spent some time in Europe ourselves this year, which we enjoyed very much. But it was a further reminder of how isolated our little islands are from the real world and how we need to look outwards for opportunities and knowledge. But in an ironic twist, the streets of Paris we had trod only a few months earlier, suddenly became a battleground as popular frustration boiled over. Meanwhile the Brexit mess continues to unfold and the astounding and sordid political situation in America turned even more septic, with my hopeful predictions of the disrobing of the leadership doggedly refusing to come true. Despite the unwelcome arrival of e-scooters, perhaps New Zealand is not such a bad place to reside after all.

Safe & Happy Christmas Everyone!

Paul Spence is a commentator and serial entrepreneur, a co-founder of New Zealand based technology ventures iwantmyname and Creative Forest and a mentor with Startup Weekends and Lightning Lab. You can follow Paul on Twitter @GeniusNet or sign up for a free weekly digest of startup, tech and innovation related events curated by him through New Zealand Startup Digest.

Against The Space Invasion

When “horseless carriages” were first introduced onto public roadways in the late nineteenth century, horse riders and pedestrians thought the end of the world had come. They were partially correct. The horse drawn transport industry had begun to be completely disrupted as this major paradigm shift took hold. No doubt the purveyors of Lime Scooters and other such contraptions are convinced they too are disrupting the transport industry and making the world a better place. But they are wrong.

Notwithstanding that history has shown that the proliferation of automobiles arguably did NOT make the world a better place; governments of the day quickly saw fit to separate vehicular traffic from pedestrians, which at least limited the amount of mayhem. But with injuries and fatalities from scooter accidents mounting up rapidly today, are we being a little too quick to embrace this latest fad? And it is indeed simply a fad. The notion that e-scooters are somehow good for the environment must be one of the more laughable marketing cons inflicted on gullible social media audiences in recent years.

Let’s be clear. Scooters do nothing to remove cars from the road or reduce carbon emissions. Riders are predominantly lazy hipsters who would otherwise be getting some much needed exercise walking around town or perhaps using local bus services. So public transport is therefore being denied revenue. Scooter power is being subtly woven into the fabric of our ever-growing culture of self-entitlement, by giving the finger to more leisurely and considerate users of public spaces. The message to those of us who previously enjoyed contemplative walks in peaceful settings is – get out of my way – I’m coming through!

This issue is actually a big setback for public health, not a step forward. Couple this with the skyrocketing cost of hospital admissions and ACC claims and we suddenly have a rising civic cost for this stupidity. Limb and hip fractures for an elderly person can be life changing, yet we are quite happy to insert these lethal two-wheeled missiles into our public spaces with little or no protection for walkers. Don’t even get me started on the implications of mixing our rampant booze culture with scooters.

It may already be too late for Auckland, but in Wellington we have fought hard for many years to build and preserve the freedom of public walking spaces, especially on the waterfront. The thought of these areas being invaded by high speed scooters is almost unbearable. The roll-out of e-scooters overseas clearly demonstrates that there will be accidents and that innocent pedestrians will sometimes be involved. Yet our legislators seem disinterested in putting any controls in place. Here’s why.

Ironically, the people who rave about e-scooters are the same people who failed to support locally owned bicycle sharing initiatives. Most politicians are in no hurry to address the invasive scourge of e-scooters for the same reason most of us who foresee the problem are reluctant to speak up. Contrary points of view are no longer tolerated in our politically correct world. Nobody wants to stand against something that is cleverly marketed by its American corporate owners as fun and cool. Perhaps there is a place for e-scooters somewhere in our world, but please not in the places occupied by young children and elderly folk and dogs and skateboarders and cyclists and parents with babies in prams. Those places are full already!

Paul Spence is a commentator and serial entrepreneur, a co-founder of New Zealand based technology ventures iwantmyname and Creative Forest and a mentor with Startup Weekends and Lightning Lab. You can follow Paul on Twitter @GeniusNet or sign up for a free weekly digest of startup, tech and innovation related events curated by him through New Zealand Startup Digest.

Creating An Education Nation

This week I gave my young son a tearful hug and watched him cross through airport security to join the first leg of a long journey to Europe. I found myself, reviewing the previous eighteen years and wondering whether or not I had done enough for him. His mother and I have a solid friendship now, but we separated when he was just two. So co-parenting presented numerous challenges for us for many years. Not the least of those was that (despite his intelligence) my son sometimes struggled within the school system. At times it broke my heart and I often felt like I badly let him down. But what I have found out since we began researching our new project Creative Forest is that the education system is simply not serving our kids well enough in the 21st Century.

Let me state that this article is not about shifting blame or spotlighting shortcomings in  education, it’s about acknowledging that kids have different learning styles, society is changing rapidly and that we are not addressing this fast enough. Our current “modern” form of Western education has origins that date back two centuries. That system arose in the wake of the Industrial Revolution as economies transitioned away from being agrarian and when there was a need for a more literate workforce. Teachers stood at the front of the class imparting knowledge to students lined up in rows. Little has changed.

I don’t mind admitting that this old system served me well personally, because I actually enjoy absorbing facts and was good at sitting exams (one of my few talents). I ended up with three degrees including a post-graduate qualification and was the first person on my father’s side of the family to complete a university education. But now it’s becoming clear that many bright children are not suited to this model, yet there are so few alternatives. It’s time we became an education nation where teaching is properly resourced and we provide alternate pathways that motivate learners. Our future viability in the world depends on it!

Today we are faced with vastly different economic structures, increasing disparities in wealth and exponentially accelerating technological change. How do we equip our children with the skills to navigate these enormous problems? With Creative Forest we take some of the emergent thinking on project based learning and personalised learning and bring them together with a design based ecosystem approach that supports both students and teachers. The open source Creative Forest system delivers success in STEAM subjects, on the basis of personal inquiry, guided by teachers and external mentors. So we use a hybrid setup with the online platform supporting the classroom environment.

Critics of these new methodologies worriedly cite the dangers of eliminating knowledge from the curriculum, but this is a red herring. Learning is not a zero sum game and introducing new approaches does not need to be at the expense of curricula. Indeed bringing forward some new thinking has the potential to enhance how knowledge is passed on. It also opens doorways for kids that were previously excluded and conveys soft skills such as collaboration that they will need in the real world. Thankfully some teachers are already beginning to embrace these ideas and Creative Forest is making progress working with these early adopters.

Meanwhile, thirty hours later we receive a cheerful FaceTime call from my son. He has negotiated several major international airports, landed in Tokyo, Japan, found his hotel then flown on to Osaka the next day, where he interprets online maps to find his way safely across a huge, unfamiliar non-English speaking city, via trains and buses, to a tiny apartment where his buddy is staying. We also hear that he has a job offer awaiting his return to New Zealand. I guess I didn’t fail him entirely in his education.

Paul Spence is a commentator and serial entrepreneur, a co-founder of New Zealand based technology ventures iwantmyname and Creative Forest and a mentor with Startup Weekends and Lightning Lab. You can follow Paul on Twitter @GeniusNet or sign up for a free weekly digest of startup, tech and innovation related events curated by him through New Zealand Startup Digest.

Once In A Lifetime

A series of events unfolded last week that caused me to take a step back and have a rethink about my world view and exactly what drives me to succeed in life. But to preface this story, let me explain that, for a number of reasons, this year has been one of the most challenging in my business career. It has been a year of unnecessary conflict as well as necessary but jarring changes. There have been times when (rightly or wrongly) my capability and core sense of self-worth has been questioned by others and indeed by me as well.

So it was within this tumultuous context that I found myself waiting politely with my partner in a supermarket checkout queue recently. A passing shop employee happened to notice a bank ATM card lying on the floor near to where I was standing and enquired if it was ours. It was not, so she hurried off to deposit the card safely at the supervisor’s station. Now my attention was drawn to an elderly lady ahead of me who was struggling to complete her transaction. Doubled over with an awkwardly curved spine, her skin had the awful gray pallor of someone gravely ill and possibly with limited time left.

Her adult son was trapped in the adjacent queue so, appraising the situation, I waved him across ahead of us. We had just enjoyed a pleasant walk outdoors and were in no particular hurry ourselves. It soon became evident that the poor lady had lost her credit card, so we quickly pointed the man in the direction of where it was being held. The woman was greatly relieved and completed her payment. It was a simple act of assistance towards a stranger in need that any decent person would have provided of course. But what happened next was entirely unexpected and affected me deeply.

The gentleman turned to me and grasped my hand. “Bless you sir, you are a good and kind man”, he said. At that moment I began to realise how easily we lose track of what is really important in life. As humans we strive so hard for material things. We crave money, power, sex and social recognition and yet it all means nothing in the end. The only meaningful aspect of our short lives, is how we contribute to others. As entrepreneurs we are naturally ego-driven and results oriented of course. But this is a feature, not a bug, provided we balance that energy with a healthy sense of humanity and a sense of self-worth.

This week I have also been reading a number of stories about entrepreneurs struggling with their mental health. It reminded me once again that we all must be vigilant in how we balance work and leisure and relationships. I also enjoyed Jenene Crossan’s outpouring about how entrepreneurs simply need to give the best 1% of themselves to their businesses and be surrounded by good people – rather than deplete themselves by giving 100%.

Wherever the road takes me in the future. I hope it will be a place where I can live by that credo and that it will be within an enterprise that demonstrably helps people in some way and genuinely values the contribution of every team member. We only get a limited number of iterations in life – we should make them count.

Paul Spence is a commentator and serial entrepreneur, a co-founder of New Zealand based technology ventures iwantmyname and Creative Forest and a mentor with Startup Weekends and Lightning Lab. You can follow Paul on Twitter @GeniusNet or sign up for a free weekly digest of startup, tech and innovation related events curated by him through New Zealand Startup Digest.

Growing Outwards: Why NZ Needs A More Mature Global Outlook

After three weeks holiday travel, incorporating some of the leading historical and business centres of Europe, it has been quite an adjustment settling back into daily life in the sleepy province of Wairarapa where gumboots and track pants are regarded as the height of fashion in some circles and the main export is unprocessed timber. New Zealand offers many lifestyle benefits, but it is very evident that our cultural isolation threatens to obscure opportunities, unless we learn to take a wider view.

Whilst I will not miss the ever present throngs of humanity and the choking European smog, it was a blessed relief to have a short break from the incessant background noise of sports “news” and the tedious drone of the increasingly dull and introspective media at home in New Zealand. Regularly escaping our little islands and receiving a taste of the real world should be mandatory for anyone in business, education or media or those holding political office. Only by gaining a proper perspective do we truly get a sense of our own irrelevance. Then we can be more effective and realistic in how we engage with the world and with each other.

So much of our cultural focus in New Zealand continues to be fixated on the lower end of the value chain. This is the greatest constraint on raising our aspirations as a nation. By way of example I include, the mind numbing obsession with contact sports, our continuing over-dependence on filthy primary industries as a source of income and a growing preoccupation with political correctness driven by a vocal minority and fueled by a misplaced sense of post-colonial guilt. We must all look outwards together once again and take a bigger picture view.

Only by creating a higher value economy (through trade) and a more informed view of the world can we deliver social equity in the form of better employment and educational opportunities for young people and a welfare safety net for an ageing population. Recent research by the Productivity Commission points to better international connectivity as part of the solution for improving productivity because globally connected firms tend to adopt new technologies earlier and generate better returns. So where do we look for future growth markets?

There’s a free trade agreement on offer with the EU soon, that could be a ray of sunshine. But with the “European project” potentially faltering under the weight of unmanageable levels of migration, ballooning debt and resurgent nationalism, we would be wise to cultivate multiple options. One area of interest is South Asia and in particular India. The sub-continent is currently enjoying the highest economic growth of any region and boasts an emergent and large middle class. We may need to reassess how best to approach this market however. Data shows that NZ exports to India declined in the period 2011-17 and consisted primarily of unprocessed wood products.

The UAE also looks promising as oil prices rebound and their government pump primes with increased infrastructure spending. The Emirates are served by outstanding air links to and from New Zealand and its government has always understood that they must leverage technology to diversify away from reliance on neighbouring oil revenue economies. That’s an opportunity. Perhaps the most interesting challenge then for our technology entrepreneurs is how to create high value, weightless (digital) exports that appeal to customers in regions that are less familiar to us. It takes 25 years for a single pine tree to mature and provide income. With a more global view we can do better than that.

Photo credit: Renea Mackie – Creative Forest

Paul Spence is a commentator and serial entrepreneur, a co-founder of Wellington, New Zealand based technology ventures iwantmyname and Creative Forest and a mentor with Startup Weekends and Lightning Lab. You can follow Paul on Twitter @GeniusNet or sign up for a free weekly digest of startup, tech and innovation related events curated by him through New Zealand Startup Digest.

Not A Drop To Drink

The environment and human development seem to be increasingly at odds. Having recently moved to a drought prone province, the state of the local rivers and reservoirs is never far from our minds. On the other hand we’ve also had a spate of storm damage around the country during the last few months, thanks to a heavy rain and sea swells. So whilst we have a vast surplus of water in some places, others are running dry.

Of particular concern in our own province is that plans to future proof the area against looming fluctuations in water supply have been knee-capped by the government for the sake of political expediency. Given that the region has a growing population, a water dependent agricultural base and an expanding viticulture industry, that’s a big concern. It’s a concern that could be addressed by levying the biggest users, rather than turning off the tap to residential consumers (as currently occurs). But worries over water sustainability are not limited solely to Wairarapa.

The counter argument to investing in water reservoirs is that irrigation fueled intensification of agriculture has demonstrably led to the degradation of waterways and lakes in New Zealand. Even Fonterra’s current charm campaign cannot detract from the facts. Having a prominent sportsperson deliver milk to schools by helicopter is fun, but it won’t enable the kids to swim in the rivers that have been despoiled by Fonterra’s suppliers. By the way, the damage caused by Fonterra’s corporate greed extends beyond New Zealand shores. Expect to hear more about their slow moving China train wreck this year. But I digress.

How we manage our most valuable, life-giving resource may well turn out to be the most important issue of our time. But at a time when central government claims to be interested in supporting economic growth in the regions it is difficult to understand why they are failing to address water security.

Paul Spence is a commentator and serial entrepreneur, a co-founder of Wellington, New Zealand based technology ventures iwantmyname and Polanyio and a mentor with Startup Weekends and Lightning Lab. You can follow Paul on Twitter @GeniusNet or sign up for a free weekly digest of startup, tech and innovation related events curated by him through New Zealand Startup Digest.