Spotlight on Christchurch

Blog post by Helen Shorthouse, 25th September 2017

This is an exciting couple of weeks for Christchurch, especially for the tech scene.

On Tuesday I was at the launch of HMI’s Ohmio driverless shuttles. I’m pretty lucky, having already ridden in their airport autonomous vehicle last year. This time we went riding on the road outside the Art Gallery – waving to amused (or was it bemused?) drivers passing in their cars! At the moment the shuttles are slow, small, open-sided and meant for short-hops around campus, but it won’t be long until they are ubiquitous on our roads and, as a terrible ‘busy multi-tasker’ I am quite excited!!

Why did they choose Christchurch to launch the shuttle?

The funny thing is, when you live in a city you don’t always see the benefits that others do. New Zealand has a government that is friendly to new technologies and already allows testing of autonomous vehicles. We have a reputation for innovation and Christchurch in particular, is becoming known as a test-bed for new technologies to be trialed, with our own City Council actively enabling businesses to use this city as a test-base. We have a world class engineering school at the University of Canterbury producing talent and a well established manufacturing sector known for creating niche products and solutions.

Jumping on to Thursday and it was all go in Wigram Airbase for the annual Canterbury Tech Summit.

Six-hundred and fifty tickets had gone weeks ago and the vibe felt pretty chilled and positive. Maybe it was the embodiment of the Suncorp’s research released last week which found significant differences between Christchurch and the rest of NZ, with Christchurch businesses more comfortable with risk, more adaptable to changing trends, having a positive outlook and having a bigger focus on work-life balance?

I particularly enjoyed the Branding Masterclass with Andy Cunningham (claim to fame being sacked by Steve Jobs 3 times!). Her challenge to businesses – work out who you are and why do you matter? Sounds so simple….but it is so hard!

Other topics ranged from creating team culture, to the technology used in building Team New Zealand’s America’s Cup boat; from Artificial Intelligence and virtual reality, to exporting and design thinking.

Gone are the days when exhibition booths are solely pushing brochures. The engagement was certainly not all ‘high tech’ either, with golf-putting to a photo competition. I am currently working out where to put my $50 worth of bitcoin, courtesy of Cryptopia. A special shout-out to Media Suite who gave cash to 3 charities (YMCA Christchurch, Action Stations and Code Club) with delegates voting by Lego brick!

Ben Kepes wrapped the day up with a keynote challenging us to be that bit different, to focus on what is unique about our country, rather than trying to emulate Silicon Valley. He challenged the tech sector to focus on adding value to what NZ is already good at, such agriculture, tourism, the outdoor adventure scene, rather than competing for something that is unattainable. It was a perfect way to round off the day, bringing the loop back to Andy Cunningham’s challenge to “work out who you are and why do you matter?” Ben’s challenge was that we needed to be: A better version of us.… and then it was off to the bar for networking and socialising.

Rolling on to next week and it is the Social Enterprise World Forum, bringing 1,500 people from around the world to share knowledge, network and discuss how to create a more sustainable future. Not directly technology related, I am excited to see Christchurch hosting an event of this scale, on this topic and with the diversity of people attending. Tickets for this also sold out well in advance, but I love the work they are doing around the ‘Transitional City‘, with 40+ events and activities showcasing Christchurch’s spirit of innovation and creativity, much of which has been born post-quake. These are open to everyone – so the vibe in the city should be quite buzzing next week too.