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Want to build a product or service that thrives on the global market

Covid-19 threw a spanner into the works for many New Zealand exporters. Dr Michelle Dickinson, Founder of Nanogirl Labs and her team were about to go on a ‘world domination tour’ before Covid-19 struck and shut down their business model overnight. 

Find out why New Zealand exporters need to build global first, the opportunities Michelle sees for New Zealand exporters moving forward, and her insights on innovation culture and the New Zealand exporter scene.

  • The importance of listening to the market about what they want or need right now
  • Exploring collaboration and connections between academia and industry to solve problems
  • The difference between R&D and innovation
  • Building for the market that is beyond our shores before we build for the market at home

Dr Michelle Dickinson has spent her career engineering nanotechnology solutions for the tech industry. Now the bestselling author, television presenter and creator of Nanogirl Labs is passionate about creating innovative ways for everyone to have a positive relationship with science and technology.

Our key outtakes from the interview with Dr Michelle Dickinson of Nanogirl Labs:

NZ as a future R&D Leader

  • New Zealand has some incredible researchers, we do it on basically the smell of an oily rag. If you look at our investment into R&D in New Zealand, compared to some other countries, it’s tiny, but we do some incredible things. Our weak spot is understanding and having the right people around the table for commercialization.
  • There is a distinct lack of diversity at universities of people who have commercialization experience – financial budgeting, running big teams experience.
  • We need to break down the walls and the silos and actually understand how different educational institutions work, what those timelines are, and how to interact with them. Taking away some of the formal side of it, and bringing people together is really good. 
  • R & D as a way to drive value for the country – We need blue skies research and we need more collaboration and connectedness around all of those different divisions of academia and industry, so you can figure out what the problems actually are.
  • Israel is an example of how the tech transfer system in universities works incredibly well. A researcher is actually incentivised to take their ideas through to commercialisation and sale financially. 
  • If we can incentivize different models to help people focus and also take away academics’ other burdens, perhaps they can spend a chunk of their time on a project with industry versus trying to still balance everything out.

Innovation vs R & D

  • “R&D for me is very much a core research, looking for something new, trying to find the next big thing. Innovation for me is just a tweak… Innovation can be very quick. It’s seeing something that isn’t perfect or needs a tweak, and just actually need some smart brains around to go, “Have you thought about it this way, or my solution could help you with that.” – Michelle
  • New Zealand is quite regional in its problem solving and its connections and we tend to be quite insular. Auckland is a very luxurious bubble of smart people and lots of universities and so being able to tap in on that is great but somewhere like Gisborne, it might be more challenging to do that. 
  • Changing a mindset or mentality is always going to be driven by the economy. Baby steps needed for shifting towards a new way of working and sharing value.
  • Optimism for a change coming – There’s going to be a groundswell of people now looking to create value for themselves. Through desperation, through people losing their jobs, but being very focused on – what is that purpose and what is that value?

Building for markets beyond our shores

  • We know Kiwis will buy – if you say made in New Zealand, and you’re proud of that, you don’t need to market as much to New Zealand than you do in a new market. If we want to get into new markets, we have to make sure our infrastructure is set up for those markets, first around currency and language. 
  • We need to understand our markets –  There is an assumption that we know what offshore purchasers will buy and how they will consume instead of doing some groundwork or having people on the ground who can help you with that data at the beginning. 
  • Singapore, has a very similar population to us, very tiny landmass, but always thinks about export first, it’s that mindset. It’s that before you do your business plan, ask who is your biggest market? It’s probably not New Zealand. 
  • With COVID, you can’t just go on the ground and walk around and see what it’s like, but you can definitely connect through online means now to have experts in your territories represent you and tell you what’s going on there.

On pivoting during Covid-19

  • Michelle and her team made the decision to pivot their business online in about eight hours and then launched their new product 3 days later.
  • Nanogirl Labs is pivoting each week as the economy shifts – New Zealand has a very different economy right now to the UK and the US. There’s a lot going on in the international markets so there is a need to think about: How do we make sure products fit for all of those countries?
  • Listen to the market and give them what they want right now – Michelle asked herself, “What is it that we do without live events, what is our value proposition, and what does the world need right now? What is the world going to need during lockdown?” 
  • Andy – “It’s the understanding of the emotional drivers behind the parents that makes the platform successful.” Initially Nanogirl Labs thought they were offering a child education product but actually it was a parent-help product. Children don’t buy, parents buy.
  • Michelle – The biggest learning is that we can do stuff that we’ve never done before. 

Three things for Kiwi exporters to do this week to help NZ become more innovative and support collaboration for R&D:

  1. Have a coffee with somebody that you’ve never had a coffee before – somebody who’s really different to you, and just chat about what you do. Diversity of thought is really important and actually for some of those diverse conversations to happen because you never know where the spark plug might go off for somebody.
  2. Digital presence is the key to survival right now – If you don’t understand how people are finding you through digital platforms through Google, if you don’t understand SEO and SEM, find somebody who does, it could really help your business to thrive in an economy where people are looking online.
  3. Be really proud of being a Kiwi – We’ve done really well and we do so many things really well, keep doing it. If there was any time to get people to do business in New Zealand, it is right now. A lot of the things that the rest of the world are struggling with right now, we have. So we have to make sure that the New Zealand flag and billboard or advertisement is shining to the world right now as we let people know where we are and what we do. 

Katabolt’s Export Recovery Series is designed to help New Zealand exporters survive and thrive in a post lockdown world. Learn about the opportunities and insights from New Zealand exporters who are out there in the world doing the mahi.

If you missed any of our previous webinars or interviews, all the Export recovery Series Webinars and Interviews are available to watch here, alongside contact details of all our panelists, and the key outtakes and resources from each.

The Export Recovery Series team would like to acknowledge the invaluable contributions of our friends at Kea New Zealand and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, for helping to make these webinars possible. Thank you.

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