A few of the regions most successful and promising companies came together last Monday evening at the first ever Tauranga Innovation Skills event. Held at the new high-tech Robotics Plus co-working space at Newnham Park, around 30 people partook in what was to be one of our most enthusiastic sessions yet. A huge thank you goes to Tina Jennen for helping to bring together such incredible people, and Alistair Scarfe for allowing us into his brand new facility!

The goal of these sessions has been to trial an open, loosely coupled think-tank designed to bring together the nations top CEO's, engineers, entrepreneurs, managers and domain experts to collaborate and share knowledge about product commercialisation barriers. However innovative we kiwis are, our problems are often more deeply connected than our responses. Previous events have included AucklandDunedinChristchurch, and Auckland again. Our initial goal is to have these think-tanks happening on a regular basis in every region of New Zealand. 

The Outstanding Venue

Newnham Park Innovation Centre is a horticultural-based business park, home to a number of award-winning innovation focused companies. All enterprises operating from the Te Puna, Tauranga based hub have positioned themselves within high-growth, high-value primary industry niches. These include research and development, horticultural management consultancy, innovation and science, processing and export, robotics, marketing, and product development.

Co-founded by top entrepreneur Steve Saunders and exporter Rob Jeffrey, Newnham Park was formally opened in 2010. Its continued expansion to accommodate rapid growth has included the new facility and co-working space for Robotics Plus, and we were lucky enough to host the Innovation Skills event right there. Robotics Plus is a very exciting company, headed by Steve and Alistair Scarfe, and is making huge headway in robotic technology for orchards and fruit processing.


Companies represented at the event included Comvita, WNT Ventures, LIC, Trimble Geospatial, GEA, Callaghan Innovation, Locus Research, Heilala Vanilla, Venture Centre, Plus Group, NZTE and Robotics Plus to name a few.

"These events go a long way in fostering the collaboration New Zealand's innovation community so desperately needs. I've been lucky enough to attend a couple of Innovation Skills events now, in various regions, and have seen the same positive impact at each session."

- Gregor Steinhorn, Innovation Analyst at Comvita

The calibre of attendees was fantastic, and the session was a great opportunity for people involved in the local ecosystem to network.

QUESTION: "What is one innovation challenge your company faces?"

When registering for this event, we asked each person to answer this question, in order to form the discussion topics for the session. Instead of choosing the most popular theme and using that for the discussion, we narrowed down to five main themes from the answers submitted:

1. Going Global

  • Speed
  • Compliance

2. Managing Innovation Alongside BAU (Business As Usual)

  • Revolving doors
  • Sales & growth etc

3. Innovation Pipeline

  • Validation
  • Deal flow
  • VOC

4. Innovation Enablers

  • Knowledge
  • Agency support

5. Innovation Targets

  • Waste
  • Digitisation

We then asked the group as a whole to verbally choose one to focus on...

Winner: Managing Innovation

To structure feedback appropriately, we decided to identity the stakeholders involved, discuss all problems, and then potential solutions.


These are parties we chose as being the most directly affected by the management of innovation.

  • Managers
  • Project Managers
  • Bean Counters
  • Customers
  • Staff


  • "Manage" innovation? Should you do this?
  • How can you also create sales growth?
  • Companies may have limited resources
  • Cycle - get stuck working the existing customer set - no growth
  • Time poor
  • Ideas w/t no market - difficult to back
  • What is innovation? Different views
  • Focusing on the outcomes and risks, missing opportunities
  • Over management - cultivate fearlessness
  • Look beyond ROI - wider impact


Many of the solutions offered by the group are real examples they have worked on in their own organisations:

  • Create a formal process, because innovation is a process - take a systems approach
  • Situational awareness - is there a need for the innovation? Or are you building something no one wants?
  • Help to make staff happier and more satisfied in their work - recognise their day-to-day input
  • Make innovation 'Business As Usual'
  • Give innovation a space to grow - either time put aside or a dedicated space
  • Learn to do it better - actively take up innovation learning opportunities
  • 'Opposuant' (new word)
  • Think of innovation like an acrobat plane - flexible but disciplined
  • Google 20% - previously Google encouraged employees, in addition to their regular projects, to spend 20% of their time working on what they thought would most benefit the company
  • Magic = bringing chaos back to order
  • Tuesday lunch sharing - helps increase staff happiness and collaboration. Creating a space allowing for interaction is critical 
  • Greater awareness of the skills of people in the team - where are their strongest talents? Celebrate and utilise these

Event Likes & Changes - Net Promotor Score Feedback

After the main discussion we asked for 'likes and changes', and to act as an additional tool for gathering feedback we deployed a very simple Net Promotor Score survey. Extensive research has shown that an entity's NPS acts as a leading indicator of growth. A NPS can be used as part of a measurement framework that is tightly tied to customer happiness (read feedback and more info about the NPS in our previous blog).

Main points taken from NPS and on-the-night feedback:

The real responses to the survey, based on a little over half of attendees replying:


  • Fishbowl format for collaborative discussion
  • Everyone got a chance to sit in the centre
  • Opposing views are great
  • Well managed and friendly
  • Networking and collaboration opportunities with other likeminded individuals was great


  • The fact it was the first one - there needs to be more of this regularly
  • Introduce topics as a starting point only
  • Send the submitted questions to choose from through before the event - a day or at least a few hours
  • Ban the buzzwords - enablers, pipeline, innovation, BAU
  • More targeted subject matter - topics were too general

NPS of 59

In general terms, any NPS over 30 is considered good, over 50 is great, and over 70 is excellent, so the result of 59 reflects the great verbal feedback we received on the night.

The real responses to the survey, based on around half of attendees replying:

Overall the event was fantastic, and 75% of attendees suggested it was worth doing again. Based on the discussion, we are now looking at how the Innovation Skills initiative can potentially address some of the issues raised.

Here are a few snaps taken from the day:

If you have any additional feedback, please don't hesitate to contact us.