Auckland North joins to build innovation district

Auckland leaders gathered at Massey’s Auckland campus for the Grow North summit. Pictured from left to right in a Sealegs Amphibious Marine Craft: Guy Haddleton, Takapuna-based software entrepreneur; Brett O’Riley, ATEED chief executive; Professor Howard Armitage, Waterloo University; Dr Rebecca Gill, Massey University; and Professor Ted Zorn, head of the Massey Business School.

Over 200 of Auckland’s business, academic and local government leaders gathered at Massey University’s Auckland campus last night to discuss how Auckland North can join the ranks of the world’s most innovative cities.

Massey Business School entrepreneurship researcher Dr Rebecca Gill presented the findings of the ‘Grow North’ research project, which outlined the opportunities and challenges to becoming an innovation district.

She said that New Zealand’s prevailing ‘do-it-yourself’ mindset was one of the key things holding Auckland North back and true open collaboration was key to a successful innovation ecosystem.

“While Kiwis are quick to invent new solutions, there is also a mentality that success comes from an independent, do-it-yourself effort,” Dr Gill said. “While this ability is viewed as a national strength, it also contributes to a mindset that leads to non-collaboration, slow commercialisation of innovation and globally naïve strategies.

“New Zealand startups are generally hesitant to develop collaborative partnerships but you really need connections to multiply across sectors and disciplines to create a successful ecosystem.”

Professor Howard Armitage

Cooperation is your 'single biggest competitive advantage'

Keynote speaker Professor Howard Armitage, founder of the Conrad Entrepreneurship Centre at Canada’s University of Waterloo, backed up this finding in his presentation.

“At any given time, in our small community of half a million, we have over 1000+ tech startups. That is a crazy, crazy big number for a small community, so what’s in the water in Waterloo? The Mennonite culture of working together,” he said.

“I can’t over emphasise this – never, never over-estimate how hard it is to get a group of academic institutions, community leaders, investors and businesses to want to try and pull together. If you can pull it off it will be your single biggest competitive advantage over the other communities trying to accomplish the same thing as you.”

Professor Armitage told the audience that the second part of the Waterloo success story was recognising that “the university is the nucleus”.

“This is where where the educational foundations begin, where you take raw material and begin to transform into value-added activity. It’s where you provide the support for new ideas so they don’t have to go elsewhere.”

Flyover of Massey University's Auckland campus, showing the site of the planned Sciences Innovations Complex.

The whole community must contribute

During her research presentation Dr Gill outlined the initiatives she thought would move the development of an innovation district in Auckland North forward. These included bringing together key stakeholders from industry, academia and local government to form a steering committee, establishing an R&D capability database and discussing funding for infrastructure.

Massey University Vice-Chancellor Steve Maharey called on everybody in the room to play their part.

“There is no doubt that the smart, innovative corridor from the Auckland Harbour Bridge up to Silverdale can make a contribution to to Auckland and to the country,” he said.

“But this is not someone else’s project. The whole community needs to come together. The schools around here are fantastic and the young people who go to them need opportunities to put their talents into action here.

“We need to make sure we get healthcare, transport and the leisure sector right. We need to make sure this is the place where not only businesses want to come, but where people want to live because they can find purpose here as part of a smart, innovative community.”

Mr Maharey said Massey University was poised to contribute to the innovation ecosystem.

“We are in shape to start building our Sciences Innovation Complex, which has in it everything from fundamental sciences right through to practical application where it interfaces with social science and business. We want this campus to absolutely be at the centre of this vision.”

ATEED chief executive Brett O’Riley said one of his organisation’s aims was to make Auckland a more affordable place to live.

“The best way I know how to do that is by lifting incomes, and the best way of lifting incomes is to encourage the growth of businesses that are going to lead that charge.

“Today is a logical next step in the journey to becoming an innovation hub for the Asia Pacific but, more importantly, a place where our young people want to live and grow and thrive in the future.”


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