Strong turnout for inaugural Rotorua Innovation Festival

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Annah Stretton (above) and Darren McGarvie (below): Talking up the need for innovation. Photos/Firestation.

Hundreds of business owners and non-profits benefitted from attending the inaugural Rotorua Innovation Festival this week, said Darren McGarvie, co-founder of Firestation Business Growth Centre, which created the festival.

McGarvie said the range of speakers provided inspiration and knowledge to help them succeed, and strongly believes innovation is the driving force behind successful organisations.

“Innovation is fundamentally critical for any enterprise, whether that be a for-profit, charity or social enterprise,” he said.

“In a business sense it can help ensure that you maintain your competitive edge in a fast-moving landscape. Societally, it means we aren’t satisfied with the status quo of our communities and through the application of creativity, we can make substantial, positive and sustainable change improving wellbeing for all.”

Opening keynote speaker Annah Stretton, better known for her fashion label, said she was now focused on her social endeavours. Stretton spoke about how her success could be attributed to being adaptive and innovative as well as embracing challenge and disruption. Now she is applying that approach to her social enterprises.

There’s a lot of excitement about this [Medical Cannabis] industry as you know. But it will take time.”

– Mark Lucas

Her message was that New Zealand needed businesses with a strong social conscience. The business community was well-placed to tackle some of our bigger social challenges, she said.

It was this belief that had led to the creation of RAW (Reclaim Another Woman), a programme to help women break the cycle and move from a life of crime to one of passion and purpose. The RAW programme is a full wrap around solution to stop recidivist female offenders, by offering intensive support in education, employment, living, and life skills. So far, the results have been impressive, she said.

Medical cannabis evolving market

The evening network event of the festival celebrated 10 years of networking events from business group Rotorua X. Keynote speaker was Mark Lucas, chief executive and co-founder of Cannasouth, a medicinal cannabis research company.

Lucas impressed the audience with his journey, not only of forging a path in an unknown field, but how he shared the business skills he had learnt along the way. He said he was excited about the opportunities that medicinal cannabis offers.

“There’s a lot of excitement about this industry as you know. But it will take time. This is a marathon not a sprint. We’re talking about a big space that’s rapidly evolving. There’s also going to be massive amount of competition. I knew we needed to operate at scale and are going to have to use innovation.”

To get that scale Cannasouth recently listed on the New Zealand Stock Exchange. They are the first medicinal cannabis company to list, although Lucas thinks more will follow.

“I’m excited that there are a many opportunities to improve the economic situations for a lot of different parts of the country [with medicinal cannabis]. And it’s from basic horticulture right through to advanced science and technology software development.”

The festival closed with Tiny Deane from Visions of a Helping Hand sharing how he is tackling the homeless issue in Rotorua and Taupo. Dean is recognised as a champion and solution provider in this space.He saw a need, a way he could help and just got to it. At the heart of what he and his Trust’s team does is treat people with respect.

“Everyone should have a roof over their head and have a safe place to sleep.”

Nat Keddie travelled from Taupo to attend the sessions delivered by Firestation to help launch, grow and scale business and social enterprises.

“It was incredible,” he said. “Jam packed with relevant, useful information on business and social enterprise, delivered by excellent speakers.”

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