It’s hard to believe that it’s over two years since I first posted articles to this blog asking the simple question. Can Tauranga replicate Boulder? For those of you who might have missed them, you can view the original posts below. They are as relevant today as they were then.

Can Tauranga Replicate Boulder? – Part 1 (Introduction)

Can Tauranga Replicate Boulder? – Part 2 (The Role of Local Government)

Can Tauranga Replicate Boulder? – Part 3 (The Role of a University)

Can Tauranga Replicate Boulder? – Part 4 (The Role of the Investment Community)

Can Tauranga Replicate Boulder? – Part 5 (The Role of Leadership)

Two years ago, my posts focused on the nascent innovation ecosystem that I could see beginning to evolve in Tauranga and the wider Bay of Plenty region. It was very early days. We are talking about a period of history that existed before Basestation; the Ignition co-working space was still a hangover from its previous incarnation as Bayley’s; WNT Ventures was an aspiration and no more. There had been no CBD sign-off for a University campus. And across the city, there was more fibre in All Bran than there was underground.

Lighting up Tauranga's Entrepreneurial Ecosystem

Lighting up Tauranga’s Entrepreneurial Ecosystem

Yet the unmistakeable signs were there. Across the region, entrepreneurs were beginning to build the foundations of what I called then and call now, ‘The Tauranga Model’. Steve Saunders and his team at Newnham Park were establishing a number of highly innovative businesses focusing on AgTech, robotics and horticulture. Ian Macrae had established Titanox and TiDa, bringing high value 3D specialist material manufacturing to the Bay. Over in Katikati, Triodent was developing world beating dental equipment technologies. Bill Murphy was transforming Enterprise Angels to become the largest angel network in the land. Priority One, the regional economic development agency, was beginning to talk about the Business Case for Tauranga. And the good folks at Venture Centre were launching initiative after initiative, building opportunities designed to support very early stage entrepreneurs start their own business.

These then were some of the early foundations that have helped Tauranga build one of the most dynamic, innovation-driven ecosystems in the country. There were many more. And in doing so, the region has gone a long way to answering that question I first asked over two years ago; ‘Can Tauranga replicate Boulder’?

In Brad Feld’s book, ‘Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City’, he talks about how the ecosystem’s ‘leadership’ in Boulder is made up by a number of entrepreneurs. Part of its continual evolution is generated by the ever growing number of new entrepreneurs emerging and taking an active part in the different aspects of the eco-system. This version of Rinse and Repeat brings in new ideas and new thinking. This is happening in Tauranga today. There is an increasing level of entrepreneur collaboration across its different and growing number of innovation hubs and sectors.

The single most obvious example of this is typified by WNT Ventures; one of three tech-focused incubators in the country. WNT came about because of a deep and collective collaboration between a number of the region’s key entrepreneurs. It has not only created an opportunity to build significant new tech businesses in the Bay based on complex IP generated by New Zealand’s universities and crown research institutes, it also firmly establishes the city and the region as being one of New Zealand’s leading innovation hubs. It demonstrated in very real terms, the leadership mantra that we see in Boulder.

The growth of the city’s co-working spaces is helping drive this sense of collaboration. Open plan offices hosting a number of different start-ups build the energy that is needed to sustain most entrepreneurs. Today, Basestation and Ignition are bursting at the seams as the demand for more such space grows. There are now 5 co-working spaces in Tauranga. That number just keeps growing.

Taking a broader view, what differentiates Tauranga from many of New Zealand’s other cities is that so much of the drive to build the city and region’s dynamic innovation ecosystem has come from the entrepreneur community. Venture Centre is a great example of this. The initiatives we see here are not ‘council-driven’. This backs up the Boulder experience. What though lies ahead?

In my next Tauranga Model Revisited post, I will look at where I think the city’s entrepreneurial ecosystem is headed. I believe we are approaching a crossroads. Manage that process and like Boulder, there will be no stopping some of the amazing opportunities that this city can build on. Stutter and some of the new dynamics beginning to appear on the horizon may begin to undo some of the significant progress made in recent times.

Those dynamics need to be addressed. The next 12 months will help determine just how successful our entrepreneurs can be in building the future.