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Show and Tell: Inspired to innovate and grow your business?

As part of the New Zealand Innovation Council’s new video series, Innovation Heroes - Show and Tell, which will focus on eight specific elements required to achieve successful business growth, some of Aotearoa’s best-known innovators share their stories of innovation and inspiration.

Where does the all-important inspiration, drive, ambition and guts come from to launch a business? We talked to four of the country’s most successful innovators – Jenene Crossan, Scott Houston, Genevieve Knights and Simon Coley – and asked them to describe an object or person that inspired them on their journey of business growth.

For Genevieve Knights, director of Genevieve’s, inspiration came in the form of a close friend.

“I have a long-time friend I went to school with who had some inspiring words for me,” she explains. “It helped me to change my direction in life. I was writing cookbooks and not selling as many as I would have liked. I did kind of know the jig was up, as reality TV stars were the only ones really selling books at that time. She sat me down one day and told me to go back to cooking for people. She said to me: ‘we just want you to cook for us.’ I will never forget it.”

After the life-changing conversation with her friend, she stopped writing altogether and moved into food manufacturing.

“While most would think I would go back to chef work in restaurants after that advice, I had done 23 years in hospitality and was tired of those hours and work conditions … It is important to persevere but also adjust and adapt to market expectation if you want to succeed. Sometimes that means taking one on the chin and moving on so you can move forward and upward.”

Talking to successful people who have been there and done that and distancing yourself from those who would hold you back is crucial, she says. But you also need to trust your gut and “make time for mind searching, spend time dreaming, thinking and planning without outside influence”.

Flossie’s Jenene Crossan says something similar.  

“Lloyd Morrison changed my life,” she explains. “He invested in my company (nzgirl) when I was only 22, with barely any commercial evidence to support why he should – with the exception being he bought into the vision of what I saw feasibleHis faith and support gave me confidence in my own abilities, and carried me forward. I hope to do the same and actively work with a ‘pay it forward’ mentality – looking to support other young entrepreneurs starting out on their journey, giving them advice, an ear and a shoulder.

Nearly 18 years later and that business is a very different one, she says, but for her personally it helped build foundations of listening and learning, and ensured she wasn’t afraid to do something completely new and unheard of.

“Much of it must come from within, with support from a trusted few who you know you can a) listen to, and b) be challenged by. You’re not looking for unconditional support all the time. Your family can give you that. From a business point of view you’re looking for people who can speak candidly and help you see things from a different perspective.”

For Scott Houston, founder of Green Button, inspiration came from The Lord of the Rings.

“Working with Peter Jackson and Richard Taylor as CTO on The Lord of the Rings movies is certainly one of the highlights of my career,” he says. “They taught me that anything is possible if you dream big enough. That led me to found Green Button, and the passion and enthusiasm of the team really inspired me, especially when times were tough or I was on the road and missing my family.”

As well as having the right support network, Houston says you also need the right mindset.

“Every entrepreneur has huge highs and lows and that is part of the journey and probably why we love it so much,” he says. “…You learn that ‘no’ just means we haven't found a way to ‘yes’ yet, and ‘it can’t be done’ is more a matter of how much and how long.”

Simon Coley’s source of inspiration and influence for Karma Cola and All Good Organics is simple: a pencil. “The US was commissioning something with NASA to write in outer space,” he says. “And they spent millions and millions of dollars trying to create a pen that would allow an astronaut to write in zero gravity. [A pencil] was what the Russians came up with.”

That simplicity also relates to his company’s work in Africa, he says. “We don’t need massive technology to improve people’s lives there. We’ve just got to think about what people need, and how we can help them.”

Sometimes, Coley says, the best solution is a simple one and it is often sitting right in front of you. You just need to listen – to your market, to your trusted advisors, and to your own intuition – act on that information and then hold on tight, something all of the Innovation Heroes have done successfully.

Although these four innovators come from very different backgrounds and have very different businesses, they share many of the same traits. To watch the video, download your FREE booklet and get our Innovation Heroes’ ‘Top Tips’ go to innovationcouncil.org.nz.