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.

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.

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

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.

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.