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Multi-skilled teams building new businesses

Multi-skilled teams building new businesses

A TEAM-BASED programme for building businesses has received top marks from participants in its initial two pilot programmes.

Primed! is a joint initiative between business growth consultancy Ignition Partner and Waikato Management School. It is the first programme of its kind in New Zealand, offering a team-based approach and mentoring to kick-start commercialisation of new products and services.

The 14-week programme is led by Ignition Partner directors Chad Wilkie and John Cunningham, both experienced business advisers, and managed by Waikato Management School’s Enterprise and Innovation Manager Merran Davis-Havill.

“We expect five or six really exciting businesses to go to market in the next six months,” says Primed! leader Chad Wilkie. “More than half of the participants are on the verge of going into business.”

Some people come into the programme with their group already established and a business idea under development. Others would like to establish a business but don’t have a clear idea business idea. The programme helps individuals form teams with complementary skill bases.

“Most programmes educate people individually or create teams in a static environment,” Chad Wilkie says. “We are creating teams in a new environment where innovation and teamwork are happening together.”

That process adds complexity to the programme leaders’ roles. “We need to think through the shape of each team and differentiate leadership from the skill base.”

Participants are drawn from a wide range of backgrounds, including Crown Research Institute staff commercialising research, students aiming to step directly into their own business, business people developing new ventures, and individuals keen to establish a business without a specific business idea.

“Primed! has changed our mindset from conceptual to practical,” says Ilse Wolfe, whose student team is introducing a call centre-based business to New Zealand. “Without this, it would still be an idea. Now, we expect to be in business next year.”

Amita Chand and her husband are well advanced in establishing a horticultural business. They have engineering and science backgrounds and the business skills they’ve gained from Primed! have been invaluable, she says. “We needed the discipline to put a business plan together and it’s definitely given us that. And Chad and John’s real life experience is very useful – they’ve helped us think through issues we weren’t even aware of.”

Scientist Alison Forster is part of a team working towards a Management Buy Out of a Forest Research business. “This programme has been exceptionally worthwhile,” she says. “We haven’t had any business experience and working through this process has facilitated the MBO process and means we will be able to hit the ground running.”

One of the most significant changes among many Primed! participants is a shift in mindset and vocabulary from a product to a business vocabulary, says Chad Wilkie. “That is what is required from the marketplace. Once people get a common language and some frameworks, they often make much faster progress.”

In addition, says John Cunningham, it’s important that each team is action-based.

“The most difficult thing in business is getting things done. So the programme is structured to establish the teams early on then help them move forward.”

During the 14-week programme teams gain skills in business and strategic planning, product development, manufacturing, marketing, human resources, intellectual property, finance and venture capital. They also receive help to develop their business plans. After the programme, those teams that choose to go into business receive support to set up their businesses and pitch for capital, or entry to a strategic alliance or incubator.

Working in teams to develop businesses is not a widespread New Zealand trait, says Merran Davis-Havill. But it’s an important step in helping the country establish a culture of successful innovation.

A further two Primed! programmes will be run in 2005. The first will be held in Tauranga, starting in March. Individuals and groups will be selected for Primed! based on their potential for success. Primed! is funded by New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE) from its Enterprise Culture and Skills Activities Fund. Applications are available from Waikato Management School.

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