The Hon. James Shaw, the New Zealand Government’s Minister for Climate Change and co-leader of the Green Party of Aotearoa initiated a spirited discussion of sustainability and entrepreneurship at Te Ōhaka Centre for Growth and Innovation.
Te Ōhaka is Otautahi Christchurch’s hub of innovation and start-ups and is a partnership founded by Ara Institute of Canterbury, ChristchurchNZ and Ministry of Awesome (MOA), an organization that nurtures new business ventures and ideas through a combination of support, guidance and network linkages.
Mr. Shaw was participating in an afternoon korero with Ara Institute of Canterbury’s Masters of Sustainability students and staff from the Sustainability & Outdoor Education programmes. Also present were some of the founders of Te Ōhaka’s sustainability-focused start-ups, including Andy Nurse and Graeme Pile from Fertigation Systems, PhD candidate Ngārie Scartozzi of EClean, Brendon McIntosh from Brothers Green, Caroline Thalund from Sustainability 360 and Fernando Gutierrez from Ananda Simply Wholefoods.
After a welcome from Jacob Varghese, Ministry of Awesome’s resident start-up expert, Kaila Colbin, co-founder of MOA, spoke about Christchurch’s place in the innovation ecosystem and how MOA is an integral part of this. She stated that Christchurch should not seek to be another Silicon Valley; rather the opportunity exists for the city to set a new standard that the global innovation community could aspire towards.
Andy Nurse from Fertigation Systems and Ngarie Scartozzi from EClean followed Ms. Colbin’s comments with brief background speeches outlining the scope of their ventures and touching on the challenges that are ahead for them. Both ventures are aiming to tackle New Zealand’s serious issues with water quality.
Mr. Shaw then spoke about the Government’s commitment to sustainability as a broad principle that guides national policies in many areas, and encouraged open conversation with the gathered students, start-up founders and Ara staff members. Questions were raised about Government barriers to start-up funding, the difficulties in navigating sometimes- onerous funding application processes and how Government policies may impact the appetite of venture capitalists for investment in nascent organizations and technologies.
Chris Bacon from Komodo Monitr commented that he felt that a key recipient for venture funding should be hubs such as Te Ōhaka, which work to provide numerous start-ups with both a place from which to operate and a demonstrably effective process to follow.
Ngārie Scartozzi, founder and Chief Scientific Officer of EClean is completing her PhD at UC while working out of Ara facilities to ready her biome-based water cleaning system for commercialisation. She is also an advocate for centres such as Te Ōhaka and the benefits of cross-disciplinary collaboration. “My PhD is multi- disciplinary, combining Maori with microbiology. I think the idea of ‘kaitiakitanga’ – being caretakers and guardians of our natural resources and working holistically with the environment – is one that helps to come up with solutions for problems.”
She added that she valued her connection with Ara as it represents “the real world, connected to industry, and connected to employers. Students are getting qualifications that they can take and use to get jobs.”
Jacob Varghese from Ministry of Awesome notes that the very concept of sustainability is key to the approach taken at Ara, MOA, and Te Ōhaka, and indeed Ara offers a Masters in Sustainable Practice.
This multidisciplinary programme is taught by research staff from sustainability, business, engineering, architectural studies, mid-wifery and international tourism disciplines, so as to give students a broad knowledge of the global and local world-views, theoretical perspectives, and debates related to the social, economic and environmental dimensions of sustainability as a cohesive concept.
Jacob comments “The idea of sustainability is one of our founding principles. We aim to create jobs and wealth in a sustainable way because when you think about the long-term viability of businesses, they need to have a solid ethical base that prioritizes social and environmental goods. That way, companies that are set up here create jobs while also helping communities solve some of their biggest problems. We definitely have a responsibility to help address this.”
The venue for the afternoon’s meeting was ‘Kahukura’, located on Ara’s Madras Street city campus. The award-winning structure was designed and built to a high ‘green’ standard and is considered a ‘sustainable building’, complete with grey water waste treatment facilities and photovoltaic panels. The structure, services and materials used within the building are all on display to enable the building itself to serve as ‘learning opportunity for Ara students and other visitors.