Guest Post: Hamilton -A Nucleus of Innovation

We love a good innovation story -particularly when it involves Hamiltonians coming up with ingenious ideas that the rest of New Zealand and the world now cannot imagine living without.

A few weeks ago, we wrote about one of our favourite startup characters: a man named Bob who used his imagination to open a delicatessen to service the European market from Hamilton -more than half a century ago. Today, his name is synonymous with coffee around New Zealand.

Another one of our favourite innovation stories is that of Bill Gallagher Senior, who was inspired to invent the -now indispensable -electric fence, when a horse named Joe wouldn’t quit scratching himself on Bill’s car. 

Then there is Mary Jane Innes, the original Hamilton Superwoman and Beer Maven, whose ingenuity was crucial to the development of an iconic Hamilton business.

So when, a few weeks ago, Mr @BrianSquair tweeted that Hamilton is New Zealand’s city for startups, we wanted to know more! An import from Scotland (according to our sources), Mr Squair was in Hamilton as a teenager, and has seen the city go from a bona fide ‘Cow Town’ to one where those same cows have spawned a thriving city of exceptional innovators.

Keep reading for @BrianSquair’s reflections and conversations on the development of Hamilton into a startup city.

The business of farming has changed now, but …the “we can find a way to make it work” mentality, has not changed, and that’s a great thing. -@BrianSquair

On the dreaded ‘C’ Word:

Cow Town eh? Maybe in the last century! Today Hamilton is a hive of innovation and entrepreneurial vibe, pumping with ideas and start-up business momentum.

I remember, as a teenager coming to town on a Friday late night to hang out with friends was the thing to do. Equally, the cockie would come to town dressed in gummys and swandri juxtaposed against his new Holden Statesman (purchased on advice of the accountant in order to minimise tax). Yes – we were a Cow Town indeed! The business of farming has changed now, but here’s the thing -the Number 8 Wire culture, the “we can find a way to make it work” mentality, has not changed, and that’s a great thing.

Brian, aged 18, in Hamilton

Brian, as a teenager in Hamilton

As Ferris Bueller said, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

I put on my Tron-positive glasses every so-often and look around at what’s going on and I’m impressed by the breadth and depth of creativity and idea generation that there is out there.

Make no mistake, I am an unashamedly biased Hamilton fanatic, but it’s an easy bias to hold when one stops and looks around.

On the longevity of the Number 8 Wire mentality:

It seems I’m not the only one that senses this [Number 8 Wire] ‘culture’ connection. Rachel Adams recently confirmed to me this suspicion. As Head of Operations at Soda Inc, Rachel is seeing hundreds of people coming through the Soda Inc programmes this year and she equally suspects the innovation and creativity in the Waikato is the result of our Agriculture and Horticulture legacy.

Rachel Adams, SODA Inc

Rachel Adams, SODA Inc

Agri-tech business ideas and innovations are strongly represented in the pool of Soda Inc ‘clients’. Interestingly, many of these highly successful business start-ups from Hamilton and the Waikato prefer to stay under the radar. Sometimes by design for commercial reasons, and sometimes because they tend not to own and operate ferocious egos!

On Hamilton as a Startup City:

Many Startups are boot-strap based – they have business ideas that they follow through using their own cash, their own resources, minimising their exposure. Others have taken the step to start-up loans and bringing in capital through share ownership.

Hamilton is a nucleus of business innovation and technology entrepreneurship.

We have an awesome legacy thanks to go-getters like the Porters, Perrys, Andrews, Gallaghers, Hawkins and others. Established ‘Once-were-start-up’ businesses like Longvelds, Stainless Steel Industries, Health 2000, Robert Harris Coffee, Torpedo7, Prolife Foods etc provide an extremely encouraging backdrop for the budding innovator and keen starter-upper-er.

Bill Gallagher Senior, who was inspired to invent the electric fence by a horse named Joe, with a penchant for automobiles.

Bill Gallagher Senior, who was inspired to invent the electric fence by a horse named Joe, with a penchant for automobiles.

Nowadays search 11AntsAnalytics.com, We-Are-MEA.com, Ligarpolymers.com, Quantec.co.nz, and you will get a taste for the brilliance we have here in the Tron. Have a look at what Wintec-owned incubator Soda Inc is up to. Then there is Innovation Park where you can grow your existing business in a collaborative environment.

Check out WaikatoLink, the commercialisation arm of the University of Waikato, which is identifying marketable technologies and working with the inventor, innovator and entrepreneur.

Some years ago I was impacted by Tom Peters’ book In Search of Excellence. One thing I remember distinctly was a chapter heading “A bias for action” It seems to me that Hamilton is over-represented by people with a bias for action. This is absolutely brilliant and continues to pull us out from the quagmire of the Cow Town perception.

So,Hamilton: what glasses are you wearing?

_____________

@BrianSquair is a lover of all things Hamilton -he is a Tron optimist and self-confessed idealist. Follow him on Twitter for great chats on the future of Hamilton (and especially if you’re interested in phone-booth-libraries). And never mention Ted Mosby to him 😉

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