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Entrepreneurship in our ancestors' DNA as well

By Anna Campbell

I have just spent two days with a group of entrepreneurs and am feeling inspired and invigorated by their overwhelming energy and zest for life.

The ''just get on with it'' mentality of those two days contrasts sharply with the rule-bound, risk-adverse dynamic I associate with large organisations.

One of my colleagues made the comment that being of Maori descent, he often looked to his ancestors for entrepreneurial inspiration - after all, his ancestors probably arrived in wakas from Taiwan some 5000 years ago - imagine their philosophy of exploration, risk-taking and planning that allowed them to make this journey.

Similarly, I can look to my Scottish and English ancestors for inspiration. Their voyages may not have been as high-risk as those of the early Polynesian explorers, but to leave your family - and in many cases to never see them again - to travel to the other side of the world, to create a better life for yourself and your children, would have been a tremendously difficult decision to make.

From our ancestors, we know that risk-taking and entrepreneurship are in our DNA. For businesses and organisations in New Zealand now, it is important we draw on those roots to continue to thrive and prosper. In the last 15 years, 50% of Fortune 500 companies have disappeared, and the average lifespan of big companies is getting shorter than ever.

Such companies need to be constantly evolving just to keep up, according to a white paper: ''Growing your enterprise at startup speed'', published by ZeroPoint Ventures.

The paper highlights that within corporate New Zealand, a lack of risk-taking willingness has left money on the table.

In recognition of this, many government and corporate organisations have introduced innovation managers, or innovation teams and programmes, yet according to ZeroPoint Ventures, it is a ''mindset of entrepreneurship'', not innovation, which is missing in many large corporates.

How does someone with an entrepreneurial mindset prosper in such organisations? In my view, this requires a creative environment, where there is acceptance of risk and failure and people are empowered, whatever their position in an organisation.

Contrast this to what success might look like in a well-established company, such as a meat-export company, where filling up processing plants to ensure efficiencies of scale and safely exporting products while minimising storage costs and ensuring sales cycles are tight and cashflow is managed are the best indicators of success.

Such businesses are not simple - there are many moving parts and ensuring good processes, efficiencies and safe and healthy work practices are front and centre of the business model.

Why would a CEO or senior executive put their existence and significant pay packet at risk for what it takes for transformational innovation? And are these the right organisations to be expecting transformational leadership and innovation from?

Incumbent food organisations are grappling with this the whole world over. As an example, cellular agriculture threatens the existence of traditional protein companies, be they milk, poultry, pork or red meat. Traditional protein producers, such as Tyson Foods, recognise they can't be the innovators because of their existing structure, so they are buying up and investing in the innovators as fast as they can.

Similarly, in agri-technology, large companies, such as Syngenta, are buying up the innovative tech minnows to gain innovative teams and products.

Ask an entrepreneur, successful or otherwise, how they sleep at night and they will shrug their shoulders wryly. Every-day risk-taking is part of their DNA; it is their job to be living in the future and spotting the gaps, identifying what will be important five to 10 years from now.

It is their job to get their product on the market as fast as humanly possible, so they can pay their rent or mortgage, it is their job to be the face of confidence for their product, while never resting on their laurels. Eyes will dart, voices will raise with passion, always thinking, forever nimble - that is who they are.

Too often we revere those with the big salaries who seem important, when perhaps we should be valuing more of these crazy-sounding founders, including those who fail but get right back up again on a different horse.

To those of you who have developed your own entrepreneurial ecosystem, your own tribe to push against the tide, leaving safety behind and persevering in the face of risk, march on, we need you, we need you for the future of food and agriculture in New Zealand.

I have been lucky enough to be inspired by you and perhaps you will be lucky enough to have your business bought out by the suits - just so you can start another one!