Notes on an Unconference

‘What we do in life echoes in eternity’ ~ Russell Crowe’s Scriptwriter (with help from Marcus Aurelius)

Ewing Marion Kauffman came from a small farm in Missouri. He started out as a salesman for a pharmaceutical company and sold so much he eventually made more money in commissions than the company president did. The president in good ego bruised fashion promptly restricted Kauffman’s commissions and sales areas. This was not how Kauffman thought things should be done so he started his own pharmaceutical company that upon exit created over 300 millionaires.

He established the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation with the intent to help people change their lives. His thinking was that education and people building enterprises are the most effective ways people have to realise their potential.

Jonathan Ortmans as longtime advisor to the Kauffman Foundation got them to put their money behind the Global Entrepreneurship Week. Which was so successful with literally tens of millions of participants that the Global Entrepreneurship Network (GEN) evolved out of this event.

Marwan Jamal got involved with GEN back in 2016 in Saudi Arabia helping it get established in the Kingdom. He then moved to New Zealand and did it again, officially launching Global Entrepreneurship Network NZ (GEN NZ) as an independent chapter in 2019 while taking on his PhD research on entrepreneurial mindset development.

This introduction is about as circuitous as my drive from Auckland to Wellington but it leads us to the GEN NZ Unconference and Workshops, held at Te Herenga Waka – Victoria University this week.

Having never attended an Unconference it took me a while to understand that the agenda is set and driven by the attendees, not the organisers. The goal being to create healthier local ecosystems and help people unleash ideas and turn them into new ventures.

Warning: when you have over a hundred deeply committed participants from the length and breadth of New Zealand. Covering everything from grassroots outreach to government treasury fund allocation policy to assessment tools for entrepreneurial capital, get prepared for some serious agenda whiplash.

An emergent property of roaming through a conference with over twelve workshops and twenty discussion groups is that in order to survive you start leaning on each other to get the compressed versions of the things you missed out on. Before you know it “each other” is the primary learning vector. There is this wonderful inversion of relative importance that went from topics being primary to people being primary.

It also seems that pounding peoples brains with an ungodly volumes of ideas and viewpoints it starts to crack apart pre-conceptions as to what entrepreneurial ecology actually is. And what it potentially can be. It was the norm to see people completely lost in the rapid-fire fog of ideas and grinning as if they had just had a big belly rub.

There was a lot of focus on…

  • Broader national collaborations. Not in the sense of one body to rule them all but in the sense of what things can we do collectively, to support the efforts of things done locally.
  • The need to change perceptions of entrepreneurship in broader society.
  • Exposing all New Zealander’s to entrepreneurial thinking much earlier in their educations.

The most common reply to the question of “What did you get out of the event?” was “I’m still trying to process it all.” A large part of the GEN NZ Unconference was about distilling the attendees inputs into a vision and roadmap for getting there.

Expect to see this vision and roadmap with concrete actions coming to an area near you soon. There were rumblings of at least one nationwide event to come.

Much thanks to the organisers, support team, presenters and attendees for a marvellous event.

Global Entrepreneurship Network New Zealand

Global Entrepreneurship Network

You can stop reading here. But please don’t stop the doing. What we do in life does echo in the lives around us.


For the curious, a random selection of personal notes from the last few days…

  • Suse Reynolds likes kicking things off with the energy and enthusiasm of a perpetual 18 year old who enjoys the use of exclamation marks at the end of sentences!
  • She also likes audacious goals, let’s not accept anything less than a few 200 million dollar exits!
  • I’m taking bets that she will actually make this happen!
  • Great to see so many from MBIE.
  • Great to see MBIE supporting Ron Clink and Nathan Berg’s work on putting objective measures around mindset, skills and networks (Entrepreneurial Capital) and the tools to assess it Entrepreneurial Capital Assessment Tool (ECAT).
  • Extra points to Nathan for the term “stick-to-it-is-ness”.
  • Sad to not see more government departments.
  • Intrapreneurship is picking up steam as an accepted and important part of larger organisations. 
  • Extra points to Travis Cornwall who did a zen level summarising of a mind bending post modernist “lets define the meaning of this word session” with a simple raising of hands.
  • Marian Johnson is casually adept at lobbing thought bombs into crowds.
  • Paul Spence and I find great joy in watching deft thought lobbing.
  • NZ Entrepreneur Magazine made an active appearance and is driven by a wonderful power couple.
  • Must make a return visit to Wanaka.
  • Secret handshakes are still a thing amongst the younger generation.
  • Dan Khan might still be the younger generation.
  • Startups should have a much better understanding of the do’s and don’ts of insurance and underwriting.
  • Must talk more to Edmund Barker and Adeline Giacometti.
  • Dave Moskovitz is still the master of naches (the joy you get from seeing others succeed).
  • Colart Miles can navigate any grouping of people and ideas and still manage to find common ground. And he does it on the fly.
  • Heenal Patel would make a great PA to GEN NZ.
  • Songyi Lee has gone next level and built an entire commune of services.
  • Deep Southern New Zealand has a deep love of Vietnamese cuisine.
  • Wellington does good food.
  • Louise Evans, Rachel Butler and Angus Pauley all had unsettling things to say about MLM marketing schemes in the South.
  • Lilia Alexander is still making people look good at the pointy end of an SLR lens.
  • Casey Davies-Bell can and does hold impromptu street-side startup sessions to give hope to the homeless. Is a gracious host. Just don’t ask him about his RoM mechanics in the back squat. Much thanks.
  • Marwan Jamal can and does find great Turkish coffees no matter how late at night. Is a gracious host. Just don’t ask him how the PhD is going. Much thanks.
  • What is happening in North and Central North Island New Zealand? Big gaps in representation.
  • What can we learn from the powerhouses of Tauranga and Taranaki?
  • How do we cultivate more Pascale Hyboud-Peron’s, Katherine Blaney’s, Pauli Sosa’s? Are cloning tools available?
  • Trent Mankelow is on the money spotlighting wellness.
  • I most definitely should not be driving in the afternoons.
  • Thibault Vandermosten shows just how useful improv can be.
  • Yuri Anisimov is way more technical than his exterior suggests.
  • Where were Lingy Au, Rob Vickery, Tip Piumsomboon?
  • Ryan Walker moving from Wellington to Auckland, will probably reignite inter-city rivalries.
  • Jenny Douche wisely advises if you are applying for a Callaghan grant do NOT apply through their website.
  • Do get assistance from people at the Regional Economic Development bodies (they have the experience to navigate the application process) or people like Julian So (Hamilton based). It will save you a lot of time.
  • Grants for things like Freedom to Operate searches can be particularly valuable for startups. You don’t want to be impinging on registered IP if you can help it and a FtO search will reveal this.
  • How long will it take Tony Henderson-Newport and I to establish the Mentors, Coaches and Mates Association?
  • So many interesting people and ideas. Need more road trips.
  • NZ highway patrol are my friends.
  • 1,400kms AKL – WLG – AKL.
  • 👋🏻