Survive or thrive? Startups could provide a choice

by Trent Yeo - May 01, 2018

As a resident you have probably heard the phrase "Queenstown is a bit of a bubble", somehow disconnected from reality, elevated from the mundane but with a lack of what others call reality. The longer I live here, I realise that that is true, but not the whole truth. It is true because no matter how much people say it is changing (and it is), our place is inherently beautiful on a global scale, is friendly (on the same scale) and offers unlimited free accessible nature for outdoors activity. But you know that because you chose to live here.

We still pay taxes, want to belong in a community, want to have good air to breathe and, in my opinion, seek a meaningful existence in our lot in life. And as our region grows from a town to a small city, I think we are seeing some adolescent growing pains. Lots of opportunity through change, but some hot issues that we as a community need to address.

About five months ago a group came together to answer some questions. What would it take to live here and thrive rather than simply to survive? How do we do something that builds collaboration and innovation and inclusion? Could we build this place from one that is great for visiting, to one that is great for building an idea/business? Can we encourage economic diversity whilst leveraging our reputation as a destination?

We informally started Startup Queenstown Lakes, because investing in a startup ecosystem is a multiplier for a community. It will not only provide jobs, better wages and roles requiring high skills, but importantly it helps people to work on things that they really want – a sense of self-determination.

A range of small events both in Wanaka and Queenstown have been well attended and, more importantly, produced a positive response. The reaction has been a mix of excitement, a sense of relief (being crazy together) and, interestingly, a basic question, “where can I fit in?”.

One question for those who are not familiar with the opportunities around startup and high growth business development would be, how does that affect me? Ed Sappin from summarises a few opportunities that consider the social, environmental and economic opportunities.

Entrepreneurism assists:

1. Investing in products and services people need.
2. Providing employment opportunities.
3. Commerce and regional economic integration.
4. New technologies promote efficiency.
5. Addressing environmental challenges.
6. Innovation impacts socio-economic objectives.
7. Innovation happens where there is competition. 

From an initial group of a few, we are now over a dozen in the advisory group, representing skilled workers, entrepreneurs at large, communications, consultants and business growth experts. With the support of these amazing volunteers we have bootstrapped an organisation, put on events and now submit a proposal to scale our work with our council. At the same time we have been discovered and are actively connecting with national independent organisations and government agencies supporting economic development. We are now on the map.

We have formulated a plan to activate and connect the talent in the region; to accelerate activity, projects and people, to reduce the risk of the startup endeavour; and then to attract further talent, investors and mentors to engage to build critical mass.

In an article by Outside magazine about the relationship between STEM (science, technology, engineering, maths), job growth and mountain towns, the state of Colorado was rated fourth in high tech performance and innovation and entrepreneurship. For me personally, our mountain town is still sitting atop a goldmine of opportunity. We have an ability to connect the dots and give our residents and visitors alike not only a chance to be here, but also add real value.

Here's some useful links.

Trent Yeo is executive director of Ziptrek Ecotours in Queenstown which opened its doors in 2009. Ziptrek is a sustainability based tourism business which helps tell a story of Queenstown to thousands of guests a year. Trent is a strong advocate of sustainability focus in tourism, particularly the opportunity for inspiration through the outdoors. He sees this as a vocal and vital role in the business of adventure tourism. His training was in architecture (sustainability) and also outdoor and environmental education. Trent served for three years on the Shaping Our Future Steering Committee in Queenstown, as well as on advisory panels, and as a guest lecturer and speaker on various sustainability, education, tourism and entrepreneurship programmes and events. Those partners include such organisations as Qualmark, TIA, DOC, CECC, QLDC, Enterprise Dunedin, also education institutions such as Otago, Tai Poutini, SIT Polytechnics, University of Otago and many others. Trent is licensee and curator of TEDxQueenstown, worked as part of a small team on TEDxScottBase in Antarctica and is an active ambassador for the TEDx network in New Zealand. #


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