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Innovation Heroes: Frances Valintine

Scott Houston, David Woods, Peter Beck and Frances Valintine, will share their tales of the highs and lows of building businesses, and advocating for innovation.

Today, we meet Frances Valintine, chief executive of The Mind Lab by Unitec, which won the Excellence in Social Innovation award at the 2014 New Zealand Innovators Awards.


Innovation Heroes 2015 – Frances Valintine, The Mind Lab by Unitec from NZ Innovation Council on Vimeo.

What traits do you think make somebody innovative?

I think everybody has the potential, but it’s also facing fear and that’s probably the biggest challenge we have. It’s saying, “What if it’s wrong? What if people don’t like it?”

You have to have an amazing amount of self-belief, and also a network of people who will be there to rally you along.

What is one major challenge you have faced?

There have been a number of things in my life where things have got challenging and hugely stressful. There were times when I felt like I could not go on any further, and hit the point where there was nothing more I could do.

Then suddenly you wake up the next day and I always say, “After rain, there’s always sunshine.” The next day you wake up and the sun is shining and you think, actually my life’s not so bad and I can dig in one more time and keep going.

What is your driving purpose?

I want to transform education from the inside to look at new models. I think that you have to disrupt to start to see a change.

Having a purpose and having something that I actually believe in, and that has the ability to make a transformation, is essential.

I have dabbled in other sectors and I couldn’t say I was 100% behind the product or service.

Being in a sector where you really are making a positive change, for me is what drives me. I want my legacy to be something that is positive and I want something that my children look at and say, “Mum did the right thing.”

What and who have been the biggest influencers on you becoming innovative?

I was always a person who believed in adventure and I think you have to find your own adventure.

I knew it wasn’t like the story books when you go off and a perfect scenario unfolds in front of you. I knew there was a world out there, but the only way it would come to me is if I went out and found it.

I’m not sure what instilled that in me. My family were hardworking farming and forestry people. They weren’t academics, they weren’t blue collar workers, they were very much people of the land.

I’d also had a lot of very highly creative people in my life, who were artists and potters and people who sculpted and did really interesting things, which meant that that was also an accessible type of industry for me. It was something that was taken seriously, art forms and philosophy. So the combination of the two was really important.

What are the key ingredients that got you to where you are today?

I have a very high tolerance for fear and a resilience – probably because of my upbringing on a farm in a rural environment.

It was nothing for me to get up in the morning before dark and take a thermos of coffee down to a milking shed across paddocks by myself.  It was never thought that you wouldn’t do that, there was just, if your dad needed coffee then off you go. You would make it and take it.

I think that I grew up in an environment where – like a lot of innovators – you have to find solutions, because there isn’t a shop down the road where you’d pop in and find the piece you need, and you need to find a fix around and that probably helped a lot.

How important do you think is innovation to New Zealand compared to the rest of the world?

My greatest fear is for the country, and NZ Inc in terms of where we are going. If we don’t start rallying the troops now and really understand what the next generation need to have in terms of skills and capability, we really are going to face a tsunami effect of other countries producing some very talented graduates.


This is your chance to mix with a new wave of innovative companies and experience a fine range of kiwi beverages and canapés | 5:00pm – 7:30pm.



For group booking discounts (10+) please contact Andy Blackburn: 09 636 8269, or [email protected]

Innovation Heroes is brought to you by the NZ Innovation Council.

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