Plan to have tourists help economy

The group believes Queenstown can benefit from more than its natural attractions.
The group believes Queenstown can benefit from more than its natural attractions.
Come for the mountains, stay to build a high-value, high-wage economy.

AJ Mason
AJ Mason

While tourism is seen as something of a blessing and a curse by many Queenstown residents, one group believes it can help the town prosper in a different sector.

Start Up Queenstown Lakes (SQL) was on Thursday allocated an initial $220,000 by Queenstown Lakes District Council when it adopted its 2018-28 10-year plan.

SQL supports start-up businesses by offering mentoring, events, and upskilling entrepreneurs.

Astrophysicist AJ Mason, one of the core members, said funding would be used to connect "fascinating and highly-skilled people" who are full-time and part-time residents. And they can also connect to visitors, who in time will begin to see the resort also as a centre of innovation, helping it to diversify from its low-wage tourism-centric economy.

"There’s a couple of serious ways we don’t look like Cambridge or Silicon Valley — a centralised source of high-skilled, highly-technical but potentially not-so-entrepreneurial folks is a shortfall.

"But while we might not have 10,000 students and 200 professors, in any given year we have far more people passing through.

"So many are technically skilled, entrepreneurially skilled, or in that demographic where they could be angel investors."

They can help existing business, create businesses themselves where skilled locals can find work, or fund more start-ups.

The group, which has evolved from The Cube in Wanaka, has 30 mentors and a database of more than 360 people.

It has already held various self-funded events, including breakfast meets and sessions with New Zealand’s innovation agency Callaghan Innovation.

The work has been about creating a "functioning eco-system" between the creative and skilled people and businesses in the community — essentially introducing them all to each other.

"We’re not good at finding each other. It’s about connecting fascinating and skilled folk, changing the connection from wheel-and-spoke into a mesh, so the opportunities can flow from there."

The focus is on start-ups in the short term but a longer-term aim is to attract research institutes, tertiary educators and existing heavy-hitting tech companies.

They move slowly, though.

"As opposed to those, the small nimble, ambitious and potentially extraordinary start-ups are what we’re looking to target."

Mr Mason said the funding, for 2018-19 in the 10-year plan’s first annual allocation, is "incredibly important".

"Across the district, there’s momentum under way but essentially it’s been resourced internally.

"This gives us real resource to progress forward on the opportunities. If it’s a snowball, we’ve finally hit something boulder-sized after pushing a pebble down the mountain.

"Essentially, this is all about the future and what’s next for Queenstown."

Queenstown Lakes councillor Ross McRobie said the aim was to spark entrepreneurs to turn ideas into reality.

"We want to be a business base for ambitious entrepreneurs bringing something new and innovative into the district, not be known as a bolthole for those who have already made it."

A further $160,000 has been ring-fenced by QLDC for other economic development initiatives still in the planning phase.

One of these projects is a collaboration with the Queenstown Chamber of Commerce to help employers recruit and retain staff.

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