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Vaughn Davis reviews July’s Moxie Session in The Wellington effect at The National Business Review.

Wellington punches above weight in tech innovation. The reason is simple. Wellington has more innovative people per square metre than any other city in the region.

A compact central city helps.

When I lived in Wellington I would leave my desk and walk along Lambton Quay to get coffee or lunch. By the time I was back I’d have three solid tech news stories. Every day. Without fail.

This doesn’t happen in Auckland. It can’t happen in Auckland. There’s interaction, but on nothing like the same scale and it has to be organised.

Wellington interaction, culture

In Wellington interaction is a natural part of everyday life. Culture helps. Go see a band, a movie, the theatre, have dinner, take small children to the swings and I guarantee you’ll run into interesting people.

Ian Apperley says much the same on his blog:

Lambton Quay is the longest meeting room in the country, what should take five minutes from one end of the street to the other, can take three times as long as you run into people from all walks of the local ICT industry.

Auckland has no quick answer to this. Intensification may help, but only if all the right types of people agree to cluster in the same places.

Another key to Wellington’s success is not just the number of worthwhile contact per square metre, but also the number of worthwhile tech contacts per thousand citizens. From a brutal tech innovation point of view, Auckland carries more dead-weight.

Moxie Sessions are held in Auckland. Two of the three speakers: Will Charles from UniServices, the commercial arm of Auckland University and Brett O’Riley from ATEED are Auckland innovation professionals. We met at Vend – a poster child for Auckland innovation. Most of us at the table live and work in the city.

So it felt odd discussing Wellington and how New Zealand’s capital punches above weight. Even odder when you consider the relative technology innovation performance of Victoria University and Auckland University.

Auckland is a big city, even by regional standards. It needs to become more Wellington-like if New Zealand is to be more innovative. Can we do anything to make this happen?

Any top-down way of fixing the density issue is difficult, expensive or horrible. Do you want someone to mandate that all tech entrepreneurs have to work in a particular area? That would be the fastest way to get them running to Wellington or worse, overseas.

3 thoughts on “The Wellington effect | from the Moxie Sessions

  1. It’s about incentives, and cultivating the right attitudes, build a tech innovation ‘park’ (It’ll be a some building in CBD I think to give convenience) and hire the right mentors, subsidise the right projects and make sure cultural, intellectual, musical events are happening in the area to foster creativity and keep everyone happy.

    Of course, writing it is way easier than doing it or even putting a vague strategy on paper, but if they want it they can do it. Partner up with some venues in the area to make sure you can get people excitied about living around there. You will obviously want to target it at graduates and even post-graduates for facilities to let them make their dreams come true.

    That is where innovation and just generally being a happy person comes from; doing something you are passionate about. If you can create a passionate area in Auckland where most people you meet are satisfied with their jobs and keen for a quick chat, well then you’ve just given the best productivity boost to that area that you can.

    • Australia spends a fortune on incentives. I’d argue the country doesn’t get much of a return. At least proportionately. It’s more about the politics of ‘supporting innovation’ than the practicalities.

      What’s more important is setting up the right conditions for innovation and leveraging advantages you already have. Wellington does this well. It’s much harder for Auckland.

      • By incentives I mean setting up the conditions. I don’t mean here’s a company car and a credit card, I meant here’s a place where you’re guaranteed good food, entertainment regularly, community events, and so on.

        Yeah, it’s not an easy thing to do, and is not going to pay off instantly, plus even perfect setups can fail.

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