This article was published on 23 August 2017
Dr Jason Mika reviews last month's amazing Matariki XPonential event
Last month Callaghan Innovation hosted Matariki XPonential in Rotorua, building on the success of the 2015 and 2016 Inspire events. Dr Jason Mika was there, and provides his perspective on how the event encouraged Māori entrepreneurs to be bold and take their business to the next level.
On the brisk clear winter’s morning of 29 July 2017 the Sir Howard Morrison Performing Arts Centre in Rotorua hosted the third instalment of Callaghan Innovation’s annual Inspire event, aptly named Matariki X after the Pleiades constellation whose appearance signals the onset of the Māori New Year. This time, however, adding ‘XPonential’ signalled Callaghan Innovation’s intention to inject growth into the innovation theme. With a ‘sold-out’ sign posted days ahead, demand for what has become a well-crafted ‘dessert,’ had exceeded expectation. Though the ‘proof of the pudding’ is always in the eating, and in this we were not to be disappointed. E ai ki ngā tīpuna, ko te kai a te rangatira, he kōrero. Ki tāku nei tītiro, kua mākona rawa atu te iti me te rahi i ngā kōrero i te tau nei.
The goal: to be inspired to act on our ideas by the exploits of others who are demonstrating what Sir Paul Callaghan described in his vision for Aoteaora as a “hub of smart, export-focused entrepreneurs, where a high quality lifestyle is achieved through excellence in education and R&D.” And from my vantage point that is precisely what we were treated to: entrepreneurs and innovators, the new, the emerging, and the well-established, all giving us their best, in short bursts of cogent, awe-inspiring, and at times hard case kōrero.
The conference opened with a stirring haka pōhiri by the mana whenua Ngāti Whakaue, as honoured guests were called into the centre stage by kuia, Margaret Herbert and Betty Herewini among them. Ngāti Whakaue’s Monty Morrison spoke for the home people and Kura Moeahu of Taranaki Whānui responded for the manuhiri. In his closing, Kura wove together the iconic Kahungunu waiata ‘Tūtira mai’ with the Callaghan Innovation whakatauākī in a way that reminded me of the eloquence of Ngāti Tahu Ngāti Whaoa kaumātua Rawiri Te Whare: “tūtira mai ngā iwi ki te rukuhia ki te wāhi ngaro, hei aha? Hei whaia te māramatanga me te aroha. Mā wai? Mā tātau, tātau e.” The rākau (baton) returned to renowned haka expert, entrepreneur and tourism operator Wetini Mitai-Ngatai as the final speaker. Blessings were offered by kaumātua Monty Morrison, before Callaghan Innovation intern Hinemihiata Lardelli and General Manager of Sectors, Hēmi Rolleston, took to the stage as MCs for the day.
Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick said few might think of councils as ‘mind blowing’ and ‘game changing,’ but she delivered news intent on challenging that perception. First, Rotorua Lakes Council had agreed to become the first bilingual city in the country. Second, the city had turned around 10 years of population and economic decline, with a sustained commitment to long term economic development. And third, the council’s partnership with Te Arawa has been a ‘game changer,’ redefining the city’s relationship with tāngata whenua.
Who knew history and martial arts were prerequisites for a parliamentary career, but they were for the Hon. Paul Goldsmith, Minister of Science and Innovation with responsibility for Callaghan Innovation. Writing about the history of New Zealand business leaders taught Mr Goldsmith that there are no easy pathways to success, only hard ones. And startup companies that grow, both the ordinary and extraordinary, all make a contribution. Science and innovation, he said, are about making things better and making better things. While the job of the state is all about public service, there was no purer form of public service than business because you only stay in business if you give people what they want.
For those unsure about the role of government in our lives, the Hon. Te Ururoa Flavell, Minister of Māori Development, left us in no doubt – it’s everywhere, and it is trying to help Māori entrepreneurs, in small ways and big. Mr Flavell noted support for young entrepreneurs, the Dig My Idea pitch competition, a new Māori business accelerator, the Māori Innovation Fund, Māori social innovation, and trade missions. He urged us to “make it Māori, make it happen;” in other words, get on with the business of business, but do it in a Māori way.
Vic Crone, Callaghan Innovation’s Chief Executive, spoke to the agency’s recent history although its whakapapa extends back to 1926, a mokopuna (grandchild) of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research or DSIR. She outlined Callaghan Innovation’s reframing of its kaupapa as “liberating innovators,” challenging enterprises to embrace the possibilities of technology, and nurturing their entrepreneurial and innovative potential to realise their ambitions. The Māori Innovation Hub at Gracefield science park, the Nuku ki te Puku Māori food and beverage collective, and Callaghan Innovation’s Māori economy team are part of this effort.
Headline speakers included Mind Lab and Tech Futures founder Frances Valintine, recognised as one of the world’s top 50 tech educators; recent Business Hall of Fame inductee Mavis Mullins; former New Zealander of the Year and iMoko innovator Dr Lance O’Sullivan; 2017 Young Māori business leader of the year Blanche Murray; Victoria Park New World owner and Ngāpuhi Asset Holdings director Jason Witehira; Kono chief executive and recent Prime Minister’s Business Scholarship awardee Rachel Taulelei; Sports animation revolutionary Ian Taylor; Global translations company founder Grant Straker of Straker Group; with the closing keynote address by Te Arawa’s primary export to Hollywood and soon to be Avatar star, Cliff Curtis – ka mau te wehi!
We were also introduced to several inspirational newcomers, including: Tarnix Security founder and CEO Tupaea Rolleston; Kākāno Cafe Cookery School founder Jade Temepara; Agrisea executives and husband and wife team Tāne and Clare Bradley; Toby Littin, solving our parking woes and creating revenue for unused space holders through his company Parkable; and Digital Basecamp animators and entreprenuers Te Mauri Kingi and Nigel Ward. Co-hosts Hinemihiata and Hēmi rolled out cameos from some of last year’s stars and some new ones: Plus Group owner and horticultural robotics entrepreneur Steve Saunders, IronMāori founder and social entrepreneur Heather Skipworth, and Crankworx events manager Ariki Tibble. Aranui Ventures founder Robett Hollis beamed in from the USA via video message.
Over dinner two Matariki XPonential guest speakers shared their experiences of bringing Māori culture, language and issues in from the margins to a more central home in mainstream society. Journalist and professional singer Lizzie Marvelley shared the vulnerabilities of writing about Māori issues for the New Zealand Herald, while Air New Zealand’s cultural development manager Andrew Baker highlighted a 10 year mission to normalise Māori language and culture within the company.
The power, passion and punch of Matariki XPonential’s leading lights is undeniable, but for me it was the new and emerging Māori entrepreneurs who stole the show. They are the best barometer of Māori success in entrepreneurship, innovation and enterprise, showing that whatever we’re doing as Māori, coupled with whatever the politicians, agencies and the economy contribute, is working. Integrating Māori values, Māori identity, and Māori aspirations into their thinking and practice, they’re operating with high fidelity as entrepreneurs.
The effervescent Blanche Murray epitomised the inventiveness and determination of the teina (younger sibling), free to do what the tuakana (older sibling) cannot, but doing it for, with and by her whānau because they would do the same for her. Then there was Tarnix CEO Tupaea Rolleston, who sitting at his mum’s kitchen table pondering life at 18, decided to start his own business based on what interests him (computers) and what resources he has (himself largely, and his whānau). In academia, we call this method of entrepreneurship “effectuation” — making something out of nothing but what you have, what you know and who you know. In five years Tupaea has grown his electronic security business to 24 staff with some pretty big national clients. What struck me is that he’s all about giving people careers, not jobs, taking them from low- paying to high-paying positions and giving them challenging work, skills and opportunities. Isn’t that the image of the quintessential CEO, and isn’t such wisdom supposed to arrive around age 40, not 23?
Lastly, Te Mauri Kingi and Nigel Ward have to be commended for Digital Basecamp, where their mission is to grow Rotorua’s digital economy from the ground up and help other aspiring digital natives reach the top. I hope some of their success reflects the Māori innovation pilot programme Rukuhia, in which I was involved.
Not wanting to leave the audience wondering what’s next, Callaghan Innovation’s Māori economy team alerted us to a suite of initiatives and activity to maintain the momentum — a series of local events, Kōkiri, a Māori accelerator programme led by Te Wānanga o Aotearoa, and offering the Māori innovation programme Rukuhia in Te Taitokerau. I imagine planning for Matariki XPonential 2018 is also already underway. Rotorua is a magnificant host, but Palmerston North too can be a great host. Matariki XPonential could be just the ticket to ignite Māori entrepreneurial potential in Manawatū-Whanganui. Naumai, haramai e Hemi mā ki Papaioea.