When Shaun Hendy offered me the chance to write a blog for this project, I jumped at the opportunity. I have been working for interesting and innovative organisations who trade in knowledge for over 10 years, and before that I was a patent examiner – so the opportunity to explore innovation from a different angle, with interesting data from Figure.NZ seemed like a cool thing to do.
The thing that I didn’t expect was unexpected knowledge. Figure.NZ have an interesting collection of graphs, and drilling through the stuff that came up in my searches, I happened across some very interesting facts about the innovation space that surprised me, and challenged my assumptions. This is a bit of a rambling journey where I have grouped my discoveries into three main areas – Wellington and the tech sector, girls and knowledge, and (to keep it totally on topic) innovation in NZ.
Wellington and the tech sector
I have been living and working in the Wellington Region for the last 25 years, and I think it’s a pretty great place to be.
So when I came across this graph, representing the percentage of the population employed in the tech sector last year, I felt a sense of pride. We have the largest percentage of people working in ICT compared to all other regions – INCLUDING AUCKLAND!
At Viclink we often deal in the high tech manufacturing space, which is also represented in this graph, and it’s interesting to note what a small percentage of the Wellington population is employed here.
So why is this interesting?
Despite only 5.6% of people in the Wellington region working in the tech sector, it provides 9.8% of the GDP of the Wellington region, as shown below. That’s almost double – a pretty productive sector. Further – even though only 0.9% of the population is employed in the high tech manufacturing sector, it was accountable for 5.7% of the exports from the Wellington region. That is quite significant, and tells me that we are doing things here that the world wants. Our companies might be little, or we might be doing only a few things, but they are having significant impact.
What is even better is knowing that the high tech manufacturing sector is set to grow. Substantial effort is being put in by local councils and government bodies to support the growth in this area. Viclink has some exciting startups and partnerships being formed. One of these is a deal between researchers at Victoria University and Milestone Science and Technology Ltd, based in China, which will see the creation of three new companies including one in Lower Hutt to develop and manufacture HTS products using components sourced from other New Zealand companies. If we continue to maintain this approach to our new partnerships, startups and projects in this space, we can achieve some pretty amazing things
Girls and knowledge
Whilst my personal background and qualifications are in commerce and biotechnology, I have largely been working with teams in the physics, maths and engineering spaces since 2005, most recently in a university context. These areas of science are typically male dominated. With communications part of my role it meant ensuring that the amazing female researchers who were working in that space got plenty of airtime.
So the graph below came as quite a surprise to me. It clearly demonstrated that in New Zealand the boys are substantially outnumbered by the girls at a ratio of almost 3:2. Digging a little deeper into the data, this ratio has been pretty steady between 2007 and 2013.
The prevailing view in many science subjects is that the number of girls were dropping off at PhD level, and in general this is not true either. The graphs below show that yes, it was indeed true that girls outnumber boys at undergraduate level. However even at PhD level there are more women enrolled overall than men.
What does differ is the field of study males and females are choosing, as shown below.
Women are shying away from anything to do with technology, computer science, engineering, etc. This is reflected in the lack of gender diversity in tech startups and other related fields, and this lack of diversity gets a lot of media coverage. I see this annually with only about 20% of the participants of our annual Victoria Entrepreneur Bootcamp being female, and very few of those being from a technology background. Instead these women have usually studied subjects such as biology, health, design, or commerce.
However there has also been quite a bit of media lately recognising that Wellington is becoming known as a great place to be a female founder of a tech company. Part of this success can be attributed to meetup group known as the Female Founders Exchange, a group of fantastic female role models who support each other to succeed.
So for those female students who are choosing technology subjects and want to be an entrepreneur, Wellington is not only a great place to be a tech startup in terms of having a thriving tech industry as noted in my first segment, it is also the best place in NZ to be a female founder.
Innovation in NZ
As the Entrepreneurship Manager at Viclink, my role is primarily about encouraging the development of entrepreneurial skills in our students. I was excited to discover that New Zealand is the second easiest place in the OECD to be an entrepreneur.
One of the key outputs of a university is people. Students graduating with knowledge in their chosen field and ready to apply it in their chosen career. We see entrepreneurship as a possible career pathway for innovative students.
People are just as important in innovative businesses as shown below. The three most important sources of ideas or information underpinning innovation are people related – staff or customers. And whilst the biggest barrier to innovation is cost – the next three are all related to lacking key personnel with the skills necessary to implement the innovation.
At some point in my life – I was a patent examiner. And I find it very interesting (but not surprising) that access to IP is not a particularly significant barrier to innovation, nor is it strongly represented as a source of innovation, except in the sense that it’s the knowledge, skills and ideas of people that allow both the generation and implementation of innovative ideas. To me this reinforces the importance of our role in ensuring our graduates are well prepared for life in innovative roles.
So what did I learn?
The process of going through the Figure.NZ graphs and exploring data that related to innovation and my role reinforced a few things to me.
I run a programme supporting the development of young entrepreneurs, and have always talked about our focus being on the people, rather than the ideas or startups themselves. Once the individuals learn the skills to start businesses, they can apply it again and again to all their future ideas and innovations. What I discovered here validated our approach, and the importance of people in innovation. Turns out that NZ is an easier place to become an entrepreneur than other countries, and here in Wellington we have a healthy tech sector, making it this legitimate career choice for graduates.
Women are underrepresented in the programmes that I run. Although some have suggested that this may be a factor of marketing and messaging – the majority of our startups are in the tech space. I have long thought that there is a strong correlation to the numbers of students coming through these fields of study, and it’s nice to see evidence of this. However, it also presents an opportunity to connect those women who are studying tech subjects with the well-established networks in the tech industry, and continue to inspire young women into this space so it can continue to flourish.
Finally – the tech sector in Wellington is interesting, productive, and generates significant export revenue for the region. Its growth is well supported, and we at Viclink are excited to be contributing to that growth with a promising pipeline of projects, partnerships and startups in this space.
Emily Grinter is Viclink’s Entrepreneurship Manager, responsible for developing, co-ordinating and delivering a range of programmes and initiatives (including the Victoria Entrepreneur Bootcamp) that will help to foster an innovative, entrepreneurial culture across every faculty at Victoria University of Wellington.
No stranger to the University, Emily has studied at Victoria (she holds a BSc in Genetics and Molecular Biology, and a BCA in Management) and worked there, firstly as the Centre Manager for The MacDiarmid Institute for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology, and more recently as a Research Funding Advisor for the Research Office. Emily has also worked for Industrial Research Ltd (now known as Callaghan Innovation) as a Science Support Co-ordinator, and as a Patent Examiner for the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand.
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What are the high tech industries punching above their weight?
Good to hear that the Founders Meet Up group is being so encouraging in bringing more women forward to have a go.