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NZ, Inc: Sustainability shareholder

Biz whiz Derek Handley reckons sustainability and innovation would make for smashing bedfellows.

Biz whiz Derek Handley reckons sustainability and innovation would make for smashing bedfellows.

Entrepreneur Derek Handley does not do idle thoughts. In 2001, he founded mobile marketing and media company The Hyperfactory with his brother, Geoffrey. Last year, when Derek was 32, the company sold up for something in the region of $70 million.

Derek Handley, seen here with the shiny Sir Peter Blake emerging leader award

Among other things, he’s now the chairman of Booktrack, a company creating ambient soundtracks to enhance the on screen reading of e-books. The new venture is backed by heavy hitters, including PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel and Mark D’Arcy, director of Global Creative Solutions at Facebook and former president of Time Warner Global Media Group.

So when Handley has a brainwave, it may be worth listening.

His big new idea for New Zealand Inc. goes like this.

The X Prize Foundation provides cash prizes to incentivise global innovation on business solutions for the world’s major problems. So what if New Zealand offered a $1 billion prize pool to the winners of the Foundation’s Energy and Environment prizes?

Oh yeah, like New Zealand has that sort of money to throw around. But wait, here’s the clever bit. The prize money is only payable on the successful completion of the challenge. And as part of the deal half of the prize could be in the form of New Zealand paying for a half stake in each one of the amazing new businesses the competition creates. The final condition would be that the winning company’s set up shop here in Godzone.

“This would put the country back on the map firmly and squarely as a country that understands the real challenges in the world,” Handley says. “A country that is committed to the future, instead of just mucking around trying to get through the next three years of the election cycle.

“We are talking about things such as solar paving, turning roads and pavements into electricity generating infrastructure. Electric flying, which would reduce the 200 million barrels a day we spend on aviation as a global community, and ultralight wind turbines that enable us to generate enormous amounts of power without a lot of capacity and mass.

“We can secure the future, inspire the planet and create a country which New Zealanders want to come back to, and where the graduates we produce don’t want to leave because they know that this is where it is happening.”

Handley equates the billion-dollar fund to just six weeks’ worth of what the country currently spends on oil imports, which are set to run out in the next few decades in any case.

“The economy is not in great shape,” he adds. “It has consistently declined over the past 50 years. We have built a country on a lot of commodities and not a lot of IP. A lot of our best and brightest people have left for brighter shores, more money and more interesting lives. And we have been increasingly attacked for our brand as a clean, green country.”

When I called him to see how the idea was going, he said: “Originally it was just an idea. But the more I’ve looked into it the more seriously I am taking it.

“The average response has been: that is such an amazingly simple, yet inspirational idea that makes total sense. Accompanied by: it will never happen. If it can’t happen in some form it’ll be solely due to a failure of my imagination, creativity and persistence.”

He doesn’t seem to have lacked any of those in the past, so who knows?

Andy Kenworthy is a freelance writer who brakes for sparrows.