From small beginnings

As a kid growing up on a dairy farm in the Waikato, the National Fieldays at Mystery Creek was a Seriously Big Deal.

We talked about it for weeks and farmers would save up any big machinery purchases for the Fieldays sales. There was a giddy pleasure in traipsing through the mud towards the tractor racing, collecting plastic bags full of pamphlets and sniffing out the free sausage sizzles.

I was always intrigued by the inventions, and that hasn’t changed. This year’s Fieldays starts June 14 and some of our clients will be going public with amazing creations aimed at making life easier and more profitable for farmers and orchardists.

Last week, I was reminded of the innovations on our doorstep which improve productivity on a daily basis. One of our clients, Eastpack in Te Puke, uses QR codes to locate any individual pallet on its 15 hectare site in Quarry Road. And the company’s fruit is sorted by grading machines developed by Compac – a company started by the son of a kiwifruit grower in response to his family’s need for better grading technology.

Looking through Eastpack’s operations reminded me that, while the Bay of Plenty may be best known for tourism, horticulture and our incredibly successful port, this is also a thriving innovation hub.

And then there’s Trimax Mowing Systems – a workplace defined by its entrepreneurial spirit.

In his spare time, Global Marketing Manager Karl Stevenson co-founded Design Thinking BOP so he and fellow innovators could share their knowledge, insights and enthusiasm for design. Karl embodies the Trimax way – thinking creatively to stay at the forefront of innovation. Trimax’s creative urbane vibe is not what you’d necessarily expect from a company which creates huge tractor-pulled mowers, but the engaged workforce and its impressive export success show what a thirst for innovation can do for your staff, and your bottom line.

Perhaps Tauranga attracts innovation because of its size? The city is large enough to offer a decent scale of success to a new business, but small enough to have nurtured a give-it-a-go mentality which is so vital to innovation. The Bay has given birth to a host of huge companies, such as Comvita, Zespri and Ballance, and countless exceptional medium-sized businesses, such as Page Macrae, Heilala Vanilla and Kale Print. The Tauriko Business Estate is growing fast and then, in home offices and co-working spaces across the city, there are all the small, grunty, start-ups launched by people who wanted to be their own boss (and surf at lunchtime).

And there is still so much room for the local technology and innovation sectors to grow. We regularly hear from people with amazing skillsets in engineering, IT, the traditional sciences, food technology, and marketing – and they’re often looking to be part of something ambitious and exciting, and see where the ride takes them. If they’re lucky, they’ll jump on board when the company is small and find themselves part of a great idea that goes gangbusters.

The Bay of Plenty and Waikato have always been known for their traditional rural strengths – agriculture and horticulture. But along the way, our farming forebears’ appetite for hard work and much-lauded No8 Wire mentality seem to have laid the foundations for a new era of innovation in regional New Zealand. And that’s a Seriously Big Deal.