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NZ tech crusader advocating education reform

Hamilton – A leading company director says she is committed to advocating New Zealand education reform in technology.

Rachel Kelly, the owner of tech business organiser Sparktank, wants to see more young girls presented with opportunities to enter the technology world, with their parents given the right tools to nurture the path they take.

As part of her Waikato economic development plan, Kelly is in the middle of a big technology start-up project which will help defragment the tech sector and encourage greater growth and prosperity within the region. This organisation will be announced next month.

Since returning from California, Kelly has met dozens of start-up tech entrepreneurs who were struggling to find their public voice and gain market traction. Local incubators seemed to be more about verbal coaching and guiding – not actually getting their hands dirty and doing.

“Since action is part of my DNA, to sit back on the side lines watching them flounder forced me to consider what I could offer – which was ultimately a plug-and-play sales and marketing team for hire. Sparktank secured about $250,000 a year contracts within six months and staff numbers grew.

“There are a lot of amazing tech companies out there who don’t know their voice yet, nor do they know how to walk. I help them find their voice in the market and walk beside them as they start their tech commercialisation journey. The point is, my hands get just as dirty as theirs and I don’t hide behind words.

“I hope to have more involvement within the security and artificial intelligence sectors – helping to bring innovation from NZ into the North American and Middle Eastern markets. I have already helped Kiwi companies such as Flipit, Aeronavics, 2degrees Mobile and Trustpower.

“Other clients include Phenomenex, a multi-million dollar global US biotechnology company and Pinnacle Midlands Health Network, a New Zealand public health organisation which is releasing a new health technology product later this year.”

Kelly has a passion for tech education in schools and workplaces as the key to New Zealand’s future. She spoke at the recent Future of Work Conference in Wellington about technology in the workplace using virtual reality and artificial intelligence.

She says technology is moving at an exponential rate and there needs to be greater industry influence in our education programmes to keep up. New Zealand is uniquely positioned to question the current government model. Governments are designed for scale, not speed, she says.

“We need to find a way to either change the government model in NZ or introduce an arm or governing body that can function at intelligent speed while effectively integrating into NZ government. Together with these workshops and my involvement with these programmes, I hope some of my ideas are heard and I can become more involved through the government or private collectives to action pragmatic solutions.

“Throwing tablets and computers into schools without thought is not the answer. The curriculum should always be about the value the kids can create with technological tools. Technology itself should be invisible. Children should grow up thinking there is more substance to our international voice than an All Black win.”

Kelly has just been appointed as a director of the NZTech board along with managing directors of IBM and Microsoft. In June, NZTech released the Digital Nation New Zealand report which shows that the tech sector is a large contributor to the New Zealand economy with more than 29,000 companies, employing almost 100,000 people or five percent of the workforce.

“These companies created $32b in output in 2015, which generated $16.2b GDP, or 8 percent of the economy. That outperforms both NZ dairy and tourism. Every dollar invested in growing tech sector productivity brings a $3 return on investment.”

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