Last week members of New Zealand's innovation ecosystem came together for the Dunedin and Christchurch 'fishbowl' innovation events. 

These open forum discussions, part of what is to be a nationwide movement, bought together members of Dunedin and Christchurch's growing innovation community. The aim is to build a conversation around how we can foster and support innovation and connectivity in New Zealand.

The Dunedin session was held at the Dunedin Centre, which sits in the middle of an exceptionally beautiful and historic town. Approximately 20 people were in attendance, with a strong academic presence felt from members of Otago Polytechnic and Otago University.

The event started with Ross Pearce from Callaghan Innovation running through Callaghan's 5 focus areas for help and support - access to experts, technology and product development, innovation skills, business collaborations and R&D grants. 

The session was then facilitated by David Stokes and Colart Miles from Velox Innovation. Run according to Agile methodologies, a KanBan board was used to manage the event agenda. Colart also created a live conversation map, which is shown further down and is also now up on YouTube.

David Stokes, Ross Pearce and Colart Miles introduce themselves to attendees.

David Stokes, Ross Pearce and Colart Miles introduce themselves to attendees.

Event discussion feedback:

Competitive Advantage

Attendees agreed that Dunedin has a competitive advantage in it's distance from Auckland, and even Silicon Valley. The ecosystem is small enough that it could successfully build technologies and innovate under the radar. Silicon Valley isn't looking out of their bubble, but places like Dunedin and New Zealand as a whole are able to look in and spot opportunities.

One success story includes CloudCannon. The young company, which originated from Dunedin and which allows web designers to host, deploy and maintain websites for clients, went through the 2014 Lightning Lab Accelerator in Wellington before heading over to Silicon Valley. They now boast thousands of users and manage millions of pages every month.

Successful Dunedin companies are demonstrating the same thinking - they are listening and watching what's around them. Those who fight change will meet their end.

Alas, Dunedin's Fragmented Ecosystem

For such a small community however, the general consensus was there are many disparate moving parts. 

Solutions to help alleviate this were discussed, and included:

  • Bringing the pockets of enthusiasm together to foster greater collaboration
  • Dunedin's Startup Space utilised further
  • Utilising the Gigatown win further
  • Having members actively tap into personal connections deeper to help widen communication channels
  • Helping promote the Young Enterprise Scheme further
  • Tapping into Wanaka/Queenstown talent
  • Succession planning pushed in larger businesses
  • One central noticeboard used

Attracting/Retaining Talent

The statement "I'd be disappointed if all my kids stayed in Dunedin - they will end up in a bubble" came from one attendee. The group discussed the desire to not actually hold youth in Dunedin, but set it up further as an attractive place to come back to. There seems to be a disconnect with students not thinking they have a future in New Zealand, but another attendee noted that his friend is desperate to start a software company in Dunedin, but cannot find the talent.

One potential answer was the child friendly model shared with us by one of the group. By asking the children what they wanted, Leeds in the UK managed to create a extremely child friendly ecosystem, containing the best schools and facilities. Not only would it draw talented parents to the area, but by 2030 the children who benefited from this outstanding environment would be the residents, business owners, and law makers.

Sister City Benefits Not Utilised

Dunedin is famous for it's sister city Shanghai, but there seems to be a reluctance by businesses to take up opportunities with China. It could be because it is perceived as taking too long, is too much effort, and companies don't think they can manage the relationship.

Recap

We asked attendees to give us feedback on the fishbowl format and other event details. The general consensus was:

  • The session successfully promoted conversation
  • Wider advertising was required to bring in a larger section of the innovation ecosystem, especially those who are actively innovating or can influence innovation
  • A list of all attendees was to go out to the rest of the group beforehand
  • Another meeting in roughly a month's time was to be planned

Here is a Conversation Map Colart created live at the event:

And here it is in progress, sped up to 20x normal speed:

We also caught a few photos of the event, the city, and the innovation discussion workings:

If you are based in Dunedin or wider New Zealand, are actively involved in innovation and/or share an interest in greatly accelerating your innovation practices, and can attend these events, please contact us either here or via the Innovation Skills Working Group on Linkedin.

Check out coverage from the Christchurch event, held the following evening.