The first few weeks of 2015 have seen a lot of Wharf42’s time spent on building out the Meteoroid Program. It’s perhaps time though to reflect on some of the context of this activity in terms of the growing central north island entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Last year, a number of posts to this blog focused on the success achieved by securing the WNT Ventures tech-focused incubator for Tauranga and the Bay of Plenty. That process saw a number of innovation hubs and investor groups in the region coming together and proving that collaboration was a very powerful model. I will be posting a bit more about WNT Ventures in the coming days. Behind the scenes, significant progress is being made.

Dr. Claire McGowan, CEO of Soda, Peter Wren-Hilton, founder of Wharf42, Carl Jones, CEO of WNT Ventures attending Waitangi Day celebrations at Government House

Dr. Claire McGowan, CEO of Soda, Peter Wren-Hilton, founder of Wharf42, Carl Jones, CEO of WNT Ventures attending 2015 Waitangi Day celebrations at Government House

That collaboration model is one that is now extending beyond the Kaimais into the Waikato. If 2014 was the year that finally saw the Bay of Plenty emerge as one of the country’s leading innovation centres, 2015 is likely to be the year that the central north island region begins to share the same epitaph. The portents read well.

2015 will see the start of the build of the tertiary campus in Tauranga’s CBD, driven largely by the University of Waikato and its partners in the BOP tertiary Partnership. Enterprise Angels, the Tauranga-based angel network will expand its presence in the Waikato by scaling up their new Hamilton-based chapter. Wharf42 will make more use of its virtual presence at the Waikato Innovation Park and expect some exciting news from WNT Ventures and our friends at Waikatolink. Venture Centre and Basestation, two recent standout examples of the emerging Tauranga ecosystem will continue to evolve and grow in 2015.

The key development I suspect though will be the increasing co-operation between WNT Ventures and Hamilton-based, founder-focused incubator, Soda Inc. That process is already underway. One initiative, driven by Dr Claire McGowan, CEO of Soda, has seen both Wharf42 and WNT Ventures join Soda Inc to become partners of Tuia Innovation. This initiative is designed to assist Iwi and Maori collectives commercialise research to help improve both the sustainability and the financial return of the country’s significant Maori asset base. This is particularly important in both the Bay of Plenty and the Waikato where the Maori economy plays a very significant role. The challenge now is to engage with other stakeholders across the region to leverage this growing relationship.

This initiative has implications for the central north island entrepreneurial ecosystem. It demonstrates that collaboration can bring greater gains to the wider region. For me, it bears all the hallmarks of Tauranga back in February 2014 when the Bay of Plenty innovation hubs and investor networks cranked up the model that was to help secure the selection of WNT Ventures as one of just three New Zealand tech-focused incubators.

For the wider central north island entrepreneurial ecosystem, that process has already begun. It will become one of Wharf42’s main focus points for 2015. It’s time then to do it.

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