New Zealand has all the basics to help businesses thrive – the challenge is to step it up a notch.
Professor Claire Massey, head of Massey University’s School of Management, says there's a good national network already of economic development agencies.
"The challenge is to do what we are doing now and do it better."
Says Massey: "We have got the infrastructure, we have good roading and all of those basics. We have a minister for small business. We have portfolios within all of the big agencies that look at small business and entrepreneurship." And while those portfolios don't connect as well as they could, she says it is a huge undertaking to oversee.
Businesses don't like change at the government level and take a long time to adjust accordingly, but the impending creation of the new super ministry – the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment – could be a boon.
She anticipates a slowdown as the merger is completed and the various agencies settle in, but says there's potential to create stronger links "between all the parts of the puzzle".
It's not always about funding, she says, and there's no straightforward answer.
"If there was a bottomless budget we would probably do things differently but there isn’t, and it’s not always about money. You can have a lot of money and spend it and it doesn’t go anywhere," she says.
"It's not like Condition A plus Condition B = Intervention X. This is about education."
Educating businesses is the aim of the upcoming International Council for Small Business World Conference, whose organising committee Massey sits on.
The theme of the ICSB conference is Leading from the Edge – something she says was a very deliberate decision because it reflects the challenges and opportunities for a country like New Zealand that is geographically isolated.
"It’s a huge event – we are anticipating some 400 attendees listening to around 250 presentations – with an extremely broad programme. There are 18 tracks, or topic streams, and each includes papers by world experts in their fields. There will never be this much expertise in New Zealand again.”
The event will bring together business educators, researchers, policy makers, practitioners and experts in entrepreneurship and SMEs from around the world in Wellington (it's the first time the conference has been held in New Zealand).
The conference tracks include indigenous entrepreneurship, education and training, social and economic development, small business management, new venture creation, and female entrepreneurship.
The Leading from the Edge track will focus on pioneering entrepreneurial behaviour during challenging times – an issue that is particularly relevant to New Zealand after the Canterbury earthquakes last year. And the other session with a uniquely New Zealand flavour is the indigenous entrepreneurship track, which is in the programme for the first time.
"Probably half the papers in the whole conference will be around better businesses that deliver better returns to people," she says.
"There aren’t as many on family business which at some conferences has been a really big focus ... it's a sign of being really conscious that we can help small businesses to perform better."
Massey says it's not a conference for academics, but an opportunity to see and hear from people who are "writing the books we all read" and pick their brains.
Keynote speakers include Professor Saras Sarasvathy from the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia, media commentator Rod Oram, and Robert Sun-Quae Lai, chairman of the APEC Small and Medium Enterprises Working Group.
There will also be a Doctoral Consortium, where PhD candidates can present their thesis proposals and an optional Public Agencies Forum that will explore ways for government to better engage with the small business sector.