Building Entrepreneurship in Palmerston North New Zealand

By LINDA MCCARTHY

In just the few weeks we have been here, we have learned that Palmerston North is a hub of activity for entrepreneurship. It is remarkable how much education and business development focus is centered on creating and distributing something new.

For example, the publicly-funded Youth Entrepreneurship Scheme (YES) program provides a formal education for secondary school students centered on the development of private enterprise. Massey University’s School of Engineering and Advanced Technology offers degrees programs in areas that will help develop new ideas, technologies and processes such as:

  • Food chain technology
  • Industrial management and innovation
  • Logistics and supply chain management
  • Manufacturing and product development
  • Product development

Like Missoula, Palmerston North has more than one economic development agency leading the efforts to build the economy. The City of Palmerston itself is quite involved in economic development initiatives, and it’s important for local governments to support and fund programs that build the economy, the tax base, employment and more. Missoula Mayor John Engen has taken a strong leadership position in the development of the Missoula Economic Partnership.

Destination Manawatu leads the efforts to bring visitors to Palmerston North, and visitors often turn into residents and business owners. Destination Missoula also serves as the front line agency to bring people to our Montana’s second-largest city.

Vision Manawatu is focused on working collaboratively for the betterment of the region and is working to implement a 10-year strategic plan to help Palmerston North lead environmental innovation and sustainable practices; serve as a world center for food innovation; and realize the strategic advantages of the city’s central hub location.

Innovate Winner Peter Vullings

Innovate Winner PeterVullings

Finally, the Bio-Commerce Center is focused on turning innovative ideas into thriving businesses by providing management support and mentoring, connecting investment dollars to business concepts, and assistance in navigating from concept to commercialization. Five board members and nine staffers have developed this 7-year-old organization into a ‘go-to’ agency that can serve as a model for Missoula. In addition to building start-ups and incubating businesses, the BCC also serves as the region’s tech transfer agency and has built the Manawatu Investment Group Angel Fund, bringing investors and their dollars into the fold.

One of the BCC’s most interesting and relatively recent programs is Innovate, a program that uses competition and development resources to develop entrepreneurs, help them connect to industry leaders, mentors and investors, and help new ideas turn into businesses that will benefit the region as a whole. Essentially, Innovate is a competition offering about $40,000 in prizes (including $10,000 for the winning concept as start-up funds) for the next great entrepreneurial idea. The BCC saw just over 350 entries in 2012, only the third year of the program. A panel of judges comprised of local entrepreneurs and investors filters through all the entries and selects 10 finalists to present their ideas in person. With the goal of turning ideas into reality, the BCC then offers a 10-week market validation program for those 10 finalists to help further develop and clarify the market, the customer base, potential problems and solutions, and other concepts to help turn that idea into a viable business. I anticipate that part of the program matches some of the training provided by the Montana Community Development Corporation and its Small Business Development Center (SBDC).

Vullings Scooter

The winner of the 2012 Innovate competition was this stylish electric scooter designed by Peter Vullings and his now ready-for-market businessV-Electric.

The winner of the 2012 Innovate competition was featured at last week’s launch of the 2013 competition with more than 50 community leaders and investors at the BCC’s headquarters in the historic Old Dairy Factory on Massey’s campus. Both Tom and I were fortunate to have been invited, and we met several prominent business and government leaders there. The winning business concept was a stylish electric scooter designed by Peter Vullings and his now ready-for-market business V-Electric. Interestingly, Vullings has an engineering degree from Massey and develops technology applications for mobile devices (think gaming) for a living.

One can’t help but wonder what a program like Innovate might produce in Missoula, Montana. Imagine if an annual competition produced 350 entries or 10 business development concepts annually. Imagine if that one business concept turned into one or three bonfide businesses in Missoula. Would it be worth the investment?

It’s possible The University of Montana’s John Ruffatto Business Plan Competition already has the parts and pieces in place, but it cannot truly match the Innovate program because only college students are eligible, and only 30 nominations are submitted. That said, there have been several competitors who have moved into development of business in Missoula and beyond. Maybe Missoula should consider an additional program similar to Innovate to help build entrepreneurship. After all, one of the primary economic development goals for Missoula is to increase innovation, entrepreneurship and high-impact small business support.

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Linda McCarthy has served as Executive Director of the Missoula Downtown Association since 1999. Prior to that, she served as a Sports Information Director for Grizzly Athletics for 10 years. She is a two-time graduate of The University of Montana, where her husband, Tom Gallagher, is a professor in the Applied Computing and Electronics Program at Missoula College. Her daughter, Maddy Gallagher, is an outgoing and kind 11-year-old who has spent all of her school years at Lewis & Clark Elementary. They can be reached via email at: tomlinda@centric.net.