Entrepreneurs are heroes in uncertain times – Let’s Build Back Better

Updated: Oct 22

Speech given by Dave Moskovitz to the Let’s Build Back Better conference in Wellington, 3 August 2020, cohosted by Diplosphere and the British High Commission, Wellington


Kia ora tatou, before I get into it, let’s start with a moment’s silence for the people who have died from COVID – 22 here in Aotearoa, and 690K+ globally.


Zikhronam l’vrakah – may their memories be a blessing.


Ko Dave Moskovitz toku ingoa. I’m the Chair of the Global Entrepreneurship Network Aotearoa New Zealand.


In my day jobs, I’m a software developer, a startup investor and a company director.  


I’m Jewish, and one of the 27% of New Zealanders that weren’t born here. Thank you Aotearoa, and especially thanks Tāngata Whenua.


Thank you to Maty, Laura, and the crew for bringing together this brilliant set of people in the room today. We’re all here to design and build the future we want to live in.


While I’m expressing gratitude, despite the fact that it’s a cold-blooded killer, I want to say somewhat begrudgingly, “THANK YOU COVID!!!”


You heard me correctly. Covid is the forcing function that has kicked us out of complacency and made us do the previously unimaginable. As a country we reacted very quickly to opportunities when COVID hit, and there’s one in particular I’d like to cite. Within a week of lockdown, there were no homeless people rough sleeping out on the street. Yes, we fixed homelessness in less than a week. What the hell were we waiting for before that?

 

If COVID can motivate us to fix homelessness in less than a week, then what can’t we do?  It’s breathtakingly inspiring. What can’t we do? Thanks COVID!


Digital transformation seemed hard a few months ago, but now, even my 92 year old mother is more comfortable taking Zoom calls than meeting people face to face. Thank God she’s not driving her car any more! Thanks Mom! Thanks COVID.

Hygiene: the kids are finally washing their hands before dinner. It shouldn’t have been that hard. Thank you COVID!


In some ways we’re closer to each other than we used to be. At lockdown the neighbours in our street started a WhatsApp group. We now know our neighbours much better than we used to. Thanks COVID!


There are lots more examples of COVID changing the way we think about things for the better.


In these uncertain times, entrepreneurs are heroes.


We’ve just seen how unsung entrepreneurial heroes ended homelessness. Before COVID, they said it couldn’t be done. That’s a common reaction to entrepreneurs. Consider some NZ entrepreneurs who did the impossible: Rod Drury, making accounting beautiful; Peter Beck creating a global space industry centred in Mahia. Shama Sukul Lee’s Sunfed disrupting the meat industry with yummy and sustainable chicken-free chicken, right here in NZ. Thank you entrepreneurs!


What does it mean to be an entrepreneur? Let me define it.

  • You’re passionate about a problem, the more ambitious the better

  • You see an opportunity

  • You figure out a new approach – that’s innovation

  • You gather the resources and support you think you need

  • You take a calculated risk

  • You work hard throwing everything you’ve got at achieving your goal

  • If it doesn’t work the first time (and it rarely does), you iterate, pivot, or give up

It’s not complicated, but really hard to do if you’re afraid of the unknown, or don’t have the means to take risks. Uncertainty is the entrepreneur’s natural habitat. 


We all can be heroes.


NZ is already a hero.


What are NZ’s heroic superpowers? Our Kiwi values.


Let’s look at the values that brought us to the privileged position we’re in now, where we can all meet at a conference like this in a big room, not wear masks, shake hands, hug, even hongi, have a raucous meal together, and take public transport home.

These Kiwi values are:

  • We’re in this together

  • Empathy, or as Jacinda says, Be Kind

  • We’re a team of 5 million

  • Everyone gets a fair go

  • We’re creative and resourceful

  • We’re resilient – we know how to pull our socks up, work hard, and get on with the job

  • We have goldilocks scale – our size is not too big and not too small, it’s just right.

Our government used these superpowers to conquer COVID, when others said it couldn’t be done. Thank you Government! 


They saw an opportunity – eliminating COVID – when others were trying to figure out how to merely suppress it; 


They devised a new approach – get everyone on board and go hard, go early to squash it; 


They gathered the resources and support they needed – Jacinda and Ashley focused the whole country on this singular goal;


They took the risk; and it succeeded first time. Jackpot!


What a demonstration of entrepreneurship. Who ever thought it would be possible to apply for a wage subsidy with MSD of all agencies, and have it in your bank account within 24 hours. Stunning. Thank you COVID!  What can’t we do? IRD – same story. Thank you Amazing Agencies!  And countless others. Everyone pulled out all stops and just made stuff happen. 


Just like entrepreneurs.


If Government can be a hero, so can we all.


COVID has shown us what’s possible. Imagine applying this new energy to solving the bigger problems of sustainability and climate change.


The challenges ahead call on us to become heroes.


According to the Kauffman Foundation, entrepreneurs are the source of nearly all new jobs in the economy.


There is a lot of economic pain on the horizon. Many people will lose their jobs. Some industries will never be the same, and in some cases that might be a good thing. For example, there’s a lot of grieving for tourism at the moment, and while I’m gutted for the people in the industry who will have to adapt, our tourism industry was not built on sustainability, and relies on low-paying jobs. We can and must do better.


We need entrepreneurs to build the next economy, built on true value add and sustainable principles. We can all be entrepreneurs. We can all be heroes. We can all find opportunities and use our life knowledge and sixth senses to find new ways of doing things. We’re a team of five million. We can do things we’ve never done before. 


Even if you don’t like taking risks, you can still support entrepreneurs that are building the New New Zealand.  You can build with your attention – every conversation you have is a doorway to the future. You can build with your wallet – every dollar you spend is a downpayment on the future. You can build by encouraging and supporting others.


The most important thing is to do something – have a go. The only thing stopping us is fear of the unknown.  We may be in the riskiest environment ever right now, making everyone a risk taker. The stakes have never been higher. People and Planet hang in the balance. 

The hero’s journey starts with each one of us. What change do you want to make? What change do you want to be? What risks are you prepared to take? Together, what can’t we do? What can’t we become?


We stand at a unique inflection point in history. At some point in the future, we’ll look back and either celebrate or lament the decisions we made right here right now. Let’s make the most of this opportunity.


If not now, when?


Dave Moskovitz is Chair of the Global Entrepreneurship Network New Zealand


The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Diplosphere's stance.

©2020 by Diplosphere