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]


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.


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.


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.


  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.

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.