Entrepreneur Ecosystem Resource Rethink Requested

Square EManifestoNZ PostDuring the last few months a number of us from the entrepreneur enabler community have been working on a manifesto document aimed at making the case for a more coordinated and vastly better resourced entrepreneurial ecosystem. The initiative sprung from a weekly discussion session that began during the pandemic lock-down and was hosted by the Global Entrepreneurship Network in New Zealand.

As entrepreneurs we are accustomed to dealing with uncertainty and frequently making do with limited funding. But as the economic and health crises evolved, it has become clear that as a nation we will need to do a great deal more together to support entrepreneurship. This is more important than ever now because encouraging early stage new venture development will be fundamental to both the economic recovery and preserving our living environment. In fact we need to be embedding transition thinking into every economic policy decision.

Despite claims by officials to the contrary, government support for early stage entrepreneurship is negligible by comparison to our neighbours across the region. New Zealand is light years behind and it’s time we had an honest conversation about it. Singapore and Australia have already injected hundreds of millions of dollars into developing their ecosystems over the last few years, with demonstrable success – particularly in software and deep tech. There are currently over 4,000 technology based startups operating in Singapore and there was around US $10 billion in venture investments made during 2019 alone. Australia’s “deep tech” incubation program turns 20 years old this year and continues to churn out high tech success stories with publicly funded support through the universities.

But how do we make a case for scarce public funds at a time when there are so many other competing needs? The reality is that we cannot afford to delay any longer. Our innovation infrastructure has been left to languish for far too long thanks to gate-keeping and a lack of a compelling vision. This long-standing under-investment now looks like a threat given the challenges we currently face. So it is our role to inform and educate through the Manifesto document.

Fortunately we could make a huge difference with even a modest increase to resourcing. Through the manifesto we’ve suggested five areas [PDF] that could deliver early wins and for which there are already a number of initiatives in play that could very easily be leveraged and scaled up. Building upon our existing innovation infrastructure is the smartest way to grow economic activity and employment.

For example, there are several excellent educational programmes operating within New Zealand that aim to build entrepreneurial and innovative capability, specialising in various demographics from primary school through to postgraduate research level. All of these programmes bring value to the ecosystem and help to create a pipeline of talent. But there is little in the way of coordination between these initiatives. This is a lost opportunity at a time when there has never been a greater need for high value, new venture innovation across society.

One approach would be to provide an overlay to better align our efforts in educating, encouraging and empowering entrepreneurs from an early age. Furthermore, creating an “innovation nation” is the key to solving the most intractable environmental problems that confront us, whilst also generating positive economic and environmental outcomes across society. New Zealand has a unique window of opportunity to show global leadership in this space right now, in order to attract the capital and talent we will need to rebuild better.

Paul Spence is a commentator and serial entrepreneur, a recently exited co-founder of a New Zealand based technology venture, a co-founder and director of Creative Forest and principal at GeniusNet Research. 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. Paul is a co-author of the Entrepreneurship Manifesto 2020.

Environmental Entrepreneurship Focus Needed

fern5The pandemic induced economic crisis has raised awareness that economies remain fragile since the GFC and that we must urgently shift to more sustainable and environmentally sound forms of economic development if we are to survive as a species. As a nation in the spotlight right now, New Zealand has an opportunity to lead with change. But we need a vehicle to drive this process and we must shift the mindset of the nation towards environmental entrepreneurship.

Institutional leaders such as the World Economic Forum (WEF) and the European Investment Bank predict that the next two decades will see a vast migration of capital from traditional industrial verticals to green investments, “responsible” deep tech and “bio-impact” investment, as the “just transition” to a cleaner, low carbon economy takes hold. Some sources claim that this “green shift” could be worth as much as $6 Trillion[1] per annum as infrastructure replacement and the migration to cleaner industries proceeds. The global effects of the COVID 19 pandemic has only served to accentuate the very urgent need for deep structural reform. In fact the WEF argues further that the fiscal response to the resultant economic crisis absolutely must be tied to a greener economy.[2]

Along with this shift comes increasing recognition from global corporations that profit and social purpose are inextricably linked. Socially responsible companies and those that develop engaged, happy and productive learner employees, will capture a greater share of value within the transition economy. Consequently this will invoke greater delivery on environmental, social and governance objectives (ESG) as part of reporting to boards, shareholders and other stakeholders such as local communities. Indeed, the New Zealand government is a signatory to the UNDP Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) of which SDG 9 has a particular focus on “building resilient infrastructure, promoting inclusive and sustainable industrialization and fostering innovation”. At the same time, governments remain interested in endogenous approaches to economic development[3] that value development of human capital, since innovation through creating new knowledge is essential to sustainable growth and wealth creation.[4]

Problem

With rapidly shifting technologies, the reconfiguration of the global economy and consequent disruption of traditional industries, in what has been described as the “fourth industrial revolution”, there is an ongoing need for discovery, evolution and enrichment of entrepreneurial skills, from an early age and throughout life, supported by better connectivity, greater insight and structured exchange of knowledge. Many of the capability building mechanisms required for this journey already exist in their own silos within New Zealand. But there is no unifying framework or plan in place to fully capitalise on this energy.

Solution

As part of the response to our Entrepreneurship Manifesto 2020 document I am calling for the establishment of a New Zealand Centre for Environmental Entrepreneurship (CEE). This would provide a coordinating role in aligning innovation and entrepreneurship programmes nationwide towards delivering a pipeline of talent fit and ready to address the biggest and most important economic opportunity of our lifetimes – our living environment. Partnership with the CEE would be through an application process with successful programmes receiving additional government funding support. A lean and future focused advisory board would administer the CEE. The board would comprise an equal weighting of experienced founders, business academics and government representatives supported by an executive officer. The CEE could be a virtual organisation as well as rotating hosting among academic institutions with strengths in business and environment.

Impact

Success would be measured thus:

  1. By a more coordinated national approach to entrepreneurship and innovation education in general, through supporting high performing enablers.
  2. By implementing micro-accreditation and NCEA credits for entrepreneurship and innovation courses.
  3. By delivering a talent pipeline with an environmental and social innovation mindset (including migrant entrepreneurs).
  4. By raising the status of entrepreneurs as champions of change and opportunity in the global transition economy.
  5. By a growing pipeline of new ventures that address both the SDGs and position New Zealand as a global leader in green transitional technologies.

Possible Focus Areas

  1. Technological responses to climate change.
  2. Alternative energy technologies.
  3. Social housing solutions.
  4. Management and improvement of flora and fauna ecosystems.
  5. Agritech and food security.
  6. Infotech and data security.
  7. Health Tech solutions for pandemic response.
  8. AI and Education.

Funding

Government would need to lead the funding but partnerships with venture funds and global corporations would be sought in return for early access to opportunities generated. A full time XO/Administrator with a part-time board of six and virtual workplace would require a commitment of around $300,000 per annum, plus additional supporting grants to member programme providers of say $500,000 in total. Less than $1 million per annum to focus our innovative talent on huge and challenging environmental problems worth trillions of dollars to the global economy.

References

  1. https://newclimateeconomy.report/2016/
  2. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/05/the-european-green-deal-must-be-at-the-heart-of-the-covid-19-recovery/
  3. Isaac Ehrlich, Dunli Li, & Zhiqiang Liu (2017),The Role of Entrepreneurial Human Capital as a Driver of Endogenous Economic Growth, J Human Capital 11,3.
  4. Maradana, R.P., Pradhan, R.P., Dash, S. et al. Does innovation promote economic growth? Evidence from European countries. J Innov Entrep 6, 1 (2017).

Paul Spence is a commentator and serial entrepreneur, a recently exited co-founder of a New Zealand based technology venture, a co-founder and director of Creative Forest and principal at GeniusNet Research. 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. Paul is a co-author of the Entrepreneurship Manifesto 2020.

Innovation As Infrastructure

For the first time in decades, the government has an extraordinary amount of political license available to expend on addressing key social, environmental and infrastructural problems that have become a handbrake on progress in New Zealand. The dual public health and economic disasters visited upon us have provided an unprecedented impetus to unlock the public purse. It is also a once in a lifetime opportunity to transform the economy towards a cleaner, more inclusive, lower carbon future. Innovators and entrepreneurs must be part of that conversation.

With the exception perhaps of the fibre rollout, it is widely understood that there has been decades of under-spending on key infrastructure which forms the foundations of the wider economy. Resilient infrastructure and fostering innovation also comprises part of the United Nations sustainable development goals, to which New Zealand is a signatory. So as part of recovery investment, we are hearing that there will be government led co-funding for “shovel-ready” infrastructure projects. Debt constrained local bodies are now scurrying to dust off previously paused plans for roads, cycleways, water pipes and much more. Useful works that will provide much needed short term employment – but hardly transformational.

We have also recently seen a proposal from the Greens calling for a $1 Billion investment in the natural environment. The project involves regeneration of wetlands, protection of waterways and restoration of native bush. Apart from providing instant employment, the long term environmental returns would be substantial. The crisis has also illuminated shortcomings and under-investment in the health sector. It is clear that there is room for funding some improvements. There will no doubt be numerous other programmes and waves of investment arising in the future. How can this public investment generate the best return to our economy at a time when external trade is problematic?

With support from government, our innovation ecosystem has grown vastly during the last two decades, so there is plenty of talent available to work in partnership on these problems. Government agencies will require substantial additional capability to quickly deliver on these initiatives and to get cash out the door and circulating within the economy. A collaborative approach involving the rapid roll out of partnerships with local bodies, social enterprises and other businesses will be required. This calls for a bold evaporation of the the risk aversion and gate-keeping that so often derails and delays promising and innovative partnerships with government.

What if we devolved responsibility for identifying, funding and managing discrete environmental projects to regional public-private innovation partnerships? How about an education technology incubator that sits alongside a teacher training institution? What if we had a private sector centre of excellence for IoT and AI tech embedded within the proposed public works agency? How about a FinTech entrepreneur programme engaged with Treasury?

Let’s re-purpose our innovation ecosystem, in partnership with the State, onto solving the really big social, environmental and technological problems confronting us currently. GovTech on steroids, with meaningful funding, actionable deliverables and value creation through protecting and growing any associated intellectual capital.

Christchurch based Carl Pavletich had already been looking at transition processes within organisations when the crisis hit. He realised that, like during the earthquakes, there had once again been a catastrophic transition forced upon us. “Instilling a startup mindset may be our best emergent strategy to adapt”, he says. Paveletich developed Spire, a simple model that guides rapid prototyping of organisational responses and keeps all stakeholders in the loop. This is the kind of thinking that should inform and accelerate engagement between government and the innovation community.

So as the government grapples with how to breathe life back into a dormant post-virus economy, we must ensure that innovation and entrepreneurship are at the forefront of progress. Beyond that, we actually need to rethink how we view the structural aspects of the economy. Glass, bitumen and concrete infrastructure are important, but as futurist and serial entrepreneur Nick Gerritson suggested recently, we all need to start thinking of innovation as economic infrastructure. If the goal is transformational change plus avoiding a terminal economy – the public sector must get onboard with this philosophy, fast.

Paul Spence is a commentator and serial entrepreneur, a recently exited co-founder of New Zealand based technology venture iwantmyname,  a co-founder and director of Creative Forest and principal at GeniusNet Research. 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.

The Unjust Transition

Environmentalists, social entrepreneurs and green politicians have been warning of the need for a “just transition” to a low carbon, less damaging and more socially inclusive economy for as long as I can remember. Unsurprisingly those who advocate for radical change in how we do business, have been quick to point the finger of blame and to frame this unique moment in history as an opportunity for re-imagining society. In fact change was already underway before the pandemic arose. But it takes a long time to turn a large ship around. Redistribution of wealth cannot be at the expense of wealth creation. Blowing the ship out of the water is not the answer.

The dark stain of social inequity has often formed the basis for arguments against our prevailing economic system. Yet even the most ardent critics of capitalism agree that proportionally less of the global population live in (extreme) poverty than a century ago. The looming spectre of climate change has increasingly emboldened demands to discard capitalism and move beyond GDP as a measure of progress. Yet the already emergent transfer of capital away from polluting industries into regenerative, more socially responsible activities possibly offers the greatest hope of a cleaner, more equitable economy. Innovators and entrepreneurs are an important part of the solution. But this will not be enough on its own.

Today’s global public health crisis is symptomatic on every level of how political structures have failed to distribute the benefits and reduce the risks of a globalised economy. The highly corrupt and distorting nature of political systems in China, Iran, Italy and the United States created the breeding ground for this disease and allowed it to take hold worldwide. But plagues and looming environmental disasters are agnostic when it comes to politics. It is how we respond that is most important. Unfortunately failed governments, autocratic leadership and internal competition for resources do not allow for an informed and timely response.

Instead of tearing down the existing economic model, we first need to adapt political systems to a new way of working. There is no place for confrontational and divisive politicking during a global crisis. The lack of a coordinated response to the pandemic has been most notable in federations such as the United States and the European Union. It also illustrates the reasons why we are failing to address the problem of climate change. Self interest and exceptionalism by the militarily most powerful are materially inconsistent with wise stewardship of a globalised, highly interconnected economy.

Paul Spence is a commentator and serial entrepreneur, a recently exited co-founder of New Zealand based technology venture iwantmyname,  a co-founder and director of Creative Forest and principal at GeniusNet Research. 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.

Redeployment Of Capital Needed For A Greener Future

firesThis year has seen extreme heatwaves in Europe, numerous and more frequent devastating tropical storms across all of the world’s oceans and a record number of destructive bush fires in both Australia and North America. Politicians may not agree on the causes, but there is no doubt that climate change represents a huge risk to economies and quite possibly an existential threat to some nations altogether. But climate change action and reduction of CO2 in the atmosphere may require re-framing as an economic opportunity in order to make progress.

For example, industrial scale sequestering of CO2 seems like science fiction right now, but the point at which this technology will become essential may be closer than we think. Developing countries are increasingly switching to renewable energy sources by constructing hydro dams, solar cells and wind turbine farms. How do we redirect funding away from polluters towards such vast projects or to many others that involve greentech solutions to solve global problems like energy, transport and food? The manner in which financial investors engage with impact enterprises requires considerable re-imagining.

Finding new approaches to carbon removal does not absolve humankind from acting more responsibly of course. Government mandated reductions in CO2 production are a starting point, but that alone may be insufficient to heal the atmosphere. The disappointment of the COP25 talks this week unfortunately illustrates that we cannot wait for governments to solve these issues. In the meantime, what can us ordinary citizens do to minimise our own impact on the planet when the problem seems so overwhelming?

In 2015, under the leadership of our former Prime Minister Helen Clarke, a working group at the United Nations delivered the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). These 17 integrated goals seek action across the many systemic issues facing the world, calling for promoting economic prosperity, human health and especially protecting the environment. If you work in government, you will probably have some awareness, as this ambitious programme has slowly percolated within the public sector. But the general public have precious little understanding of this initiative.

So in order to continue to be ambitious and remain relevant, the project needs wider exposure. The SDG provides a framework by which we can all work towards a cleaner and fairer world. At a University of Auckland talk earlier this year, Clarke herself described the SDGs as, “a blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future”. So 2020 is the start of the United Nations “decade of action” now aimed at accelerating progress on the sustainable development goals. There’s never been a better time to think about how business can get involved meaningfully.

The SDGs also provide corporations with a basis to improve how they operate in society generally, especially in mitigating impact on the environment. More and more businesses are beginning to accept that social and environmental concerns must be part of a sound business strategy. This is critically important because it is becoming clear that governmental organisations alone have insufficient resources to aid the transition to a greener more equitable economy. It will require partnerships between public sector and private finance to find a new way forward and in particular a huge boost in impact investing globally will be needed.

At GeniusNet, we want to play our part and have some interesting developments in the pipeline. Watch this space!

Paul Spence is a commentator and serial entrepreneur, a recently exited co-founder of New Zealand based technology venture iwantmyname,  a co-founder and director of Creative Forest and principal at GeniusNet Research. 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.

Finnotec Triumphs Again

finnotec2019After missing the previous two events due to timetable clashes, the planets aligned and I finally made it to this year’s Finnotec event. With some important partnerships now sorted and a bunch of thought-provoking speakers in hand, Binu Paul from Savvy Kiwi, the driving force behind the event, has ensured Finnotec will remain New Zealand’s prime conference for all things FinTech related.

With payments technology being an important aspect of my previous venture, I thought that I possessed at least a rudimentary knowledge of what goes on behind the scenes in traditional financial processing systems. But the high quality speakers at Finnotec soon made me realise that I had a lot more to learn. The annual one day conference has become an important “clearing house” for accessing regulatory knowledge, business networking and a nice showcase for emerging talent in a category that barely existed a decade ago.

I was especially impressed by speaker Cathryn Lyall, who clearly has a huge depth of experience across the FinTech space. A board member at Deutsche Bank UK and with 30 years in a variety of roles across capital markets, including as a market floor trader, ex-pat Aussie Lyall is undoubtedly well placed to be an investor and advisor in Fintech. The big takeaway from her talk was about the urgent need for Fintechs to “create real value” for customers in a crowded marketplace where users already get a lot of their services for free from the incumbents.

So courtesy of Rewired the new Xero co-working space, we enjoyed a number of presentations from some hot new startups that have been making waves in our local FinTech scene. Here’s a quick run-down from the showcase:-

MyCap Markets – A blockchain based private share management offering complete with a secondary market platform. Solving the problem of liquidity for shareholders of smaller, unlisted companies.

Kernel – A data driven approach to index investing with a digital tool kit that helps customers make informed decisions.

Transactional AI – Using AI to analyse consumer spending behaviour and better inform lenders. One of the shining stars of this year’s Kiwibank FinTech accelerator at CreativeHQ and a favourite with the Finnotec crowd.

Planolitix – A financial cashflow diagnostic Saas offering initially aimed at financial advisers. Anything that banishes spreadsheets has got to be good, right?

First AML – Simplifying dealing with the obligatory and burdensome administration around anti-money laundering legislation. Solving a real pain point.

Relay.AI – Back in the day it was called “factoring”, but this startup digitally reduces waiting times for businesses to receive invoice payments.

Overall, a thoroughly informative and engaging day out with a diverse group of highly dedicated players and supporters in New Zealand Fintech. Harmoney, Westpac Ventures, Paymark, Xero and UK DIT deserve compliments for having the foresight to back this event. With a little more community curation and the continuing support of FinTechNZ, this event can only get bigger and better as the industry grows.

Paul Spence is a commentator and serial entrepreneur, formerly a co-founder of New Zealand based technology venture iwantmyname,  a co-founder and director of Creative Forest and principal at GeniusNet Research. 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.

iwantmyname Acquired

iwmnWe are pleased to announce that one of our GeniusNet portfolio companies ideegeo Group Limited was acquired in August 2019 by London AIM listed registrar group CentralNic PLC. Founded by Paul Spence, Timo Reitnauer and Lenz Gschwendtner, ideegeo began in 2008 in Wellington, New Zealand with the goal of bringing much needed change to the domain name registrar industry.

Our retail registrar platform iwantmyname was regarded as one of the most innovative and customer centric in the industry globally. This reputation ultimately drove interest from a number of parties and will ensure that the brand and associated technology will endure. An important feature of the company culture was a commitment to community building, which often saw the founders out engaging at startup events and mentoring other entrepreneurs. That’s a habit that we hope to continue.

Special thanks must go to Dave Moskovitz who provided advice at key points in our journey and also Simmonds Stewart and Avid Legal who supported us through the acquisition process.

Paul Spence is a commentator and serial entrepreneur, formerly a co-founder of New Zealand based technology venture iwantmyname,  a co-founder and director of Creative Forest and principal at GeniusNet Research. 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.

Optimising Our Knowledge Networks

Instructing the Super Fund to channel $300 million of investment into emerging tech firms, as well as a recent call for delivery of a “deep tech” incubator to assist commercialisation of public funded research in New Zealand, illustrates that the government has been listening to the concerns of the high tech business community around the need for greater support in the commercialisation of knowledge. Health, environment, food production, robotics and AI – there are many problem areas in which we can excel.  But whilst a broadening of activity in the innovation ecosystem must be seen in a positive light, new entrants may face an uphill battle.

Some say that government involvement in the sector is long overdue. Not a month goes by without the media reporting the departure of a promising high growth, high tech firm such as Rocket Lab, for example. The paucity of follow on capital and expertise available locally is often quoted as the culprit. Successive previous governments failed to address the problem due to being ideologically opposed to what has sometimes been unfairly branded as corporate welfare. But interestingly the most vocal critics of incubation and government directed investment funding tend to be wealthy and well-connected individuals who have no problem sourcing capital for their own ventures.

Since the public purse is already funding universities and research organisations in one form or another anyway, is it really such a stretch for government to facilitate obtaining an economic return on those investments? Those who mutter in their beards about “level playing fields” should take a look around. We are losing the battle with our neighbours in the Asia-Pacific region with whom we compete for capital and talent. Australia, Singapore and Korea all provide substantial support for startups and the commercialisation of publicly funded research.

So where does that leave New Zealand with its newly rediscovered enthusiasm for investing in science and technology commercialisation? Well there was an additional most welcome announcement this week of new funding for an existing body that has already made considerable inroads into surfacing promising research and turning it into businesses. That seems to foreshadow where government thinking might be heading in terms of who is now best equipped to develop a formal incubation programme.

But research commercialisation is actually a network optimisation problem involving many and diverse stakeholders. A post graduate study that I conducted on this topic a few years ago is still relevant. The most creative ideas and opportunities are found at the boundaries where disparate networks overlap. Hence the direction we are heading with, GeniusNet. It is therefore absolutely essential that we have an open innovation based ecosystem and a diversity of players in the incubation and commercialisation marketplace, if we are to lift our economy up the value chain.

Paul Spence is a commentator and serial entrepreneur, a co-founder of New Zealand based technology ventures iwantmyname and Creative Forest and principal at GeniusNet Research. 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.

Capital Punishment: Is It Time To Accept That Wellington Has A Crisis?

civicLet me begin by stating that I like Wellington Mayor Justin Lester as a person. He’s way more approachable than the previous two incumbents and I respect that he is doing his best to navigate the council through a very difficult patch in the city’s long history. He’s been a business owner in the Capital and will be acutely aware of the many challenges confronting the inner city right now. So when he announced his policy platform for re-election, I must admit to being a little disappointed.

Eliminating homelessness and assisting refugees are very worthy goals and not to be discounted of course. Good luck with all that. But Wellington has even more pressing problems. Because it is now finally beginning to dawn on city dwellers that there are very widespread structural problems which have gone unaddressed for many years. Removing vagrants from the street may become a moot point, if the central city declines into an unliveable wasteland.

Wellingtonians are political animals by nature and in recent years have been very effective at rallying support to challenge poorly planned developments around the city where there was often insufficient public consultation. Shelly Bay and the Queens Wharf hotel are classic examples, as was the Basin Flyover that was knocked for a six and the dog’s breakfast that now passes for the Island Bay cycle lane. The highly questionable airport runway extension proposal has also been defeated (for now). These lengthy battles have been a huge distraction for councillors and previous Mayors, who should have been focused on much more pressing needs, as it turns out. Public advocacy is a good thing of course, but, for their part, opponents to infrastructure projects must also come to the table with fresh solutions to offer, not just blanket opposition. Developers and investors will soon stop calling. Some already have.

Now Civic Square is dying with the much loved library and both the Town Hall and council buildings buggered due to quake damage. This is a heavy loss. The Square was once the lively centre piece of the city. If the wooden footbridge leading to the square has to close, as has been suggested recently, it will be the final nail in the coffin as the central city is cut off from the waterfront. Dozens of at risk commercial buildings in the CBD are already untenanted, unfixable and possibly uninsurable and thousands of older homes around the CBD perimeter are in need of major refurbishment – or demolition. And let’s not even mention the failing transport networks with buses and trains that don’t work, congested arterial roads and the hellish nightmare of simply trying to find a car park in the CBD.

This is Christchurch all over again, but in slow motion. It’s time to accept that the underlying framework of the city is in real crisis now. A crisis that has crept up on the current council, but which has been in the making for decades. A complete re-visioning is needed to future proof the city, also taking into account threats related to climate change. A Christchurch style solution might be the inevitable conclusion, but more likely spread over a longer period of time. Retain and strengthen a few key edifices, bulldoze and start over with the remainder?  Unfortunately I fear that it will take a much broader political will and a lot more time than one election cycle, to get things back on track.

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.

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