Great ideas and random interactions are the catalyst for a great innovation ecosystem, Southland Business Accelerator programme manager Stu Fleming reckons.

The southern tech pioneer should know, being the founder of highly successful Dunedin wireless internet provider Wicked Networks. Prior to that he taught computer science at Otago University, as well as business computing in Papua New Guinea.

“The innovation and entrepreneurial culture in Papua New Guinea was based on deep thinking about their society and motivation around making life better,” he says.

It might be a stretch to compare Southland with Papua New Guinea, but there are parallels in some quarters.

Southland startup entrepreneurs have shown themselves to be  practical, willing to talk about their ideas and open to new ideas, he says.

On the flipside, they sometimes lack the confidence to talk about their ideas, and isolation can be a factor, he says.

“We’re still really early stage in innovation, startup culture. People have got good ideas, they just need some direction in terms of execution.”

It’s his job to facilitate – not to do the heavy lifting.

“My role is not about making decisions for people – only showing them scenarios.”

Business networking opportunities are common in Southland – but not so much around innovation.

“There’s not a natural hub for that discussion.”

His theory is that innovation ecosystems need frequency and variety of random interactions – such as those that happen in a co-working space.

Dunedin has the likes of Innovate HQ, Petridish and Distiller, which each have their own angle on the innovation space. Some are independently operated, some have significant sponsorship and support.

The accelerator programme is one avenue for helping develop this ecosystem, and those who have gone through the programme should be better equipped to succeed.

He says there’s support and money for people with innovative ideas to develop and test their ventures.

The New Zealand investment environment has long gravitated around property, but Fleming says this is slowly changing.

“The money is there for investment, but people need to be convinced an idea can be executed in the real world.”

Funding for entrepreneurial ideas is available in Southland, and well developed startups showing competence, reliability and rigour can access support, he says.

Fleming was a catalyst for the Invercargill-based startup Mimicry Tech, which has been accepted into Mahuki, the innovation accelerator within the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.

The ability to plug into national innovation events such as Techweek’18 have been among other highlights of the pilot programme – and Fleming is also heavily involved in NetHui Southland, happening in October.

He mentions bigger innovation ecosystems in larger cities as a reference point for where Invercargill and Southland should be heading – as he looks forward to distilling the Southland programme, which winds up in June.

One big takeaway is that people need to be coachable and open to new ideas – and not be wrapped up in a vision of their own success.

“The challenge in my role is to find the founder who can accept that role,” he says.