Techweek chosen for launch of pilot project to digitally upskill Western Bay of Plenty

Work has begun on a project to digitally upskill youth, small business owners and encourage founders to launch new ventures in the Western Bay. It launches at Techweek Tauranga’s “Digitally Empowering People” event at Toi Tauranga_Tauranga Art Gallery on 11 May and is supported by Google.

Jo Allum, Co-Founder of Venture Centre, the organisation chosen to implement the Digital Enablement Project (DEP) says Tauranga’s Techweek schedule of events will accelerate awareness of the plan. “The goal of the DEP is to ensure that everyone across the Bay of Plenty has the opportunity to access and benefit from digital technologies. Techweek Tauranga events are a fantastic launchpad for this community led initiative and represent the first step towards achieving the project’s goal. The Techweek schedule of events in our city serves the same customers as the DEP project as a whole – youth, small business owners and startup founders.”

Western Bay District Council and Tauranga City Council joined forces earlier this year and committed support to a Digital Enablement Project with the stated goal of nurturing a prosperous region “where everyone has the opportunity to access and benefit from digital technologies”.

The project was conceived in response to a call to Councils from the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment for a plan to create social and economic gains. Councils were asked to submit their plan to enable communities to create this value from the fibre broadband connections being funded by central government.

In January this year it was announced between 2017 and 2024 the Crown will invest $17 million in Tauranga and the Bay of Plenty region to bring UFB to more than 80% of the region’s population. Subsequently, the Councils’ project is now a critical element of ensuring this long term investment begins to result in an uplift to the region’s social and economic outlook.

“It’s a privilege to work on the DEP,” says Jo Allum, Co-founder of Venture Centre. “Our team and the community with whom we’ve been working since 2014, have been actively supporting digital upskilling of young people, business owners and entrepreneurs. The DEP project provides the means to amplify this work – and that of the 100+ talented and creative digital service providers working hard to make sure the future is indeed digital, and entrepreneurially driven, in Tauranga and Western Bay”.

Late last year Venture Centre’s team conducted research including a small survey and interviews with local SME representatives to find out the current state of play. It also provided some benchmark data with which to commence the project. It found that a large proportion of business owners were using digital tools and services, however not necessarily reaping rewards automation, increased custom, revenue, new markets and using the data that digital business tools provide. They were not maximising its ability to assist them to improve their business. It also found that digital service providers believed there were the issues with clients adopting more automation, marketing, and other tools to do business better.

“The answers indicated that often business owners ‘don’t know what they don’t know’, and there is a deficit in the capacity as well as capability to implement technology and work with digital providers to create business gains,” says Ms Allum. “Even when business owners have a website and social profiles set up, online advertising and analytics, accounting packages and a customer relationship management system installed it appears they are not using them to their greatest effect or understanding them enough to feel like they are helping create value for their customers or themselves.”

The Digital Enablement Project officially launches in May, but work has already commenced. Venture Centre is co-ordinating workshops facilitated by local digital service providers, new startup business incubation services and out of school activities for young people from 8 years old.

“I think we’re a really good example of why Techweek is important to New Zealand. The event, its planning, the collaborations between event organisers, industry partners and the Techweek team have really brought NZ’s tech community together. Techweek creates the opportunity to make tangible connections which add value.”

The full lineup of events as a city partner of Techweek serve the same members of the Western Bay community who will be served by the DEP. Starting with Mashup, a business prototype building event for young people which kicks off the weeklong festival and will include NZ’s number one tech podcast “Talking Tech Everywhere” broadcasting live.

Events for small business owners running midweek include a smarter business expo at Bay Court and then an evening event where they can ask Tauranga’s Design Thinking gurus how to approach their business challenges.

These are followed by National Co-working Day where coworking spaces in Tauranga open their doors (and some even shout a coffee).

Then the launch of the Digital Enablement Project at Toi Tauranga, supported by Google, with Ross Young from Google New Zealand alongside presentations from local businesses using digital technology.

And finishing with inspiration for founders with new technologies and research and development projects from Toi Ohomai (including Agtech and Edtech), and startups who have received incubation funding from WNT Ventures (with Mark Wilcox expert on Blockchain, from Nyriad the company building its own silicon valley in the Bay of Plenty) or angel investment from Enterprise Angels to grow into international markets.”

The Digital Enablement Project officially launches as part of the national Techweek festival in Tauranga, May 11th, 2017 at Toi Tauranga Art Gallery at “Digitally Empowering People” with special guest Ross Young from Google New Zealand. Ross will present on Google for Small Business and its contribution to upskilling the community alongside three local businesses who will present on their experience using technology to grow their business.

The Digital Enablement Project pilot runs from Techweek ‘17 until Techweek ‘18.