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Innovation Accelerator – Empowering Change and Challenging Perceptions

Tui Te Hau on empowering change and challenging traditional perceptions of the role of a museum with Mahuki – the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa’s Innovation Accelerator. Mahuki is part of a growing trend amongst museums to partner with industry and entrepreneurs to fast track innovation and adapt to a dynamic and increasingly digital world.

About the author: Tui Te Hau is Innovation Hub Manager for the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. The start-up community is the grassroots of innovation in any city and Tui has been involved in Wellington’s innovation eco-system since its beginning. For almost two years, she has been leading Mahuki – Te Papa’s innovation accelerator. Tui’s background includes working for NZTE where she headed up the Maori Enterprise Team supporting major primary exporters into offshore markets. She went on to be New Zealand Trade Commissioner based in Melbourne and on her return to New Zealand headed up NZTE’s exporter education programme. Tui then spent over a decade working with start-ups and headed up Wellington’s Fashion HQ business incubator and was the former Chief Executive of Creative HQ. Tui was responsible for the establishment of the Lightning Lab, New Zealand’s business acceleration programme.

Since its inception, Te Papa has offered a bold, innovative experience and challenged expectations of what a museum and art gallery can be. This global leadership was reinforced with the launch of Mahuki, the world’s first innovation accelerator for the cultural sector.

Mahuki is a Maori word that means perception and the wellspring of inspiration. It epitomises the need for vision and to see beyond the existing and usual in order to innovate successfully. The purpose of Mahuki is to support the development of innovation solutions for the global culture and heritage sector. Backed by Te Papa Tongarewa, it is located in a purpose built facility in New Zealand’s National Museum.

Mahuki is part of a growing trend amongst museums and cultural institutions to partner with industry / entrepreneurs in order to fast track innovation and adapt to a dynamic and increasingly digital world. Our bold goal for Mahuki is to provide innovation leadership and support to the global culture and heritage sector and to unleash the assets of New Zealand’s national museum to contribute to New Zealand’s future social, cultural and economic prosperity.

Mahuki Overview
Mahuki comprises three work streams; an accelerator programme (our core programme), graduate programme and tertiary / outreach engagement.

The accelerator supports up to 10 start-up teams who are based on site for 4 months to develop and validate their proposed solution for the cultural sector by supporting them to validate their market opportunity, build early product versions, win initial customers and prepare them to secure external funding.

Mahuki provides $20,000 to each team to enable them to focus their time and effort on the programme to accelerate their activities. This funding also helps us attract a diverse range of teams that reflect the diversity of New Zealand. In exchange for the value of the programme, Te Papa has an option to take 6% equity in the teams. Over time this could contribute to the sustainability of the programme.

Our graduate programme continues to support the most promising ideas / teams from the accelerator programme.

The outreach programme is where we run a series of short duration innovation events with tertiary students, the entrepreneurial community and special interest groups. It also encompasses an active intern placement programme and in-depth research. Our outreach programme helps us to identify future talent to participate in our accelerator programme.

The cost of the entire Mahuki programme is offset by sponsorship raised. In addition, the physical space has enabled Te Papa to earn additional revenue through commercial hire in the accelerator programme downtime.

How we set up Mahuki
Te Papa considered a range of models prior to setting up the Mahuki programme. This included business incubation, an in-house innovation unit and co-working. We also undertook extensive market validation with over 300 entities in the innovation and start-up eco-system throughout New Zealand to understand the market landscape and need. This included contracted research and workshops with other NZ and international accelerator / incubator programmes. Based on this research we determined that despite the number of general accelerator programmes operating in NZ our goals would be best met by a dedicated programme committed to generating sustainable outcomes in our sector.

Challenge Areas
When we talk to entrepreneurs about the opportunities in the culture and heritage sector we emphasise our interest in experience and enterprise solutions. Innovation that will help us tell our stories in new and exciting ways and others that will help us run our businesses more efficiently.

“When we talk to entrepreneurs we emphasise our interest in experience and enterprise solutions. Innovation that will help us tell our stories in new and exciting ways and others that will help us run our businesses more efficiently”

The experience opportunities include gaming, animation, virtual reality, mobile design and 3D modelling. Enterprise solutions are significant and include content management, digital storage and surfacing, ticketing, insights and analytics, collection inventory and storage and so on. There are also opportunities in the learning innovation space as museums and libraries in particular are playing a greater role in the delivery of educational content.

During our market research we identified that many entrepreneurs were building solutions for small problems or problems that didn’t exist. Given this, and our desire to inform entrepreneurs about the challenges / opportunities in the culture and heritage sector, we issued a list of challenges and asked teams to identify how they addressed one or more of these.

Our initial twelve challenges were:

1. Create new museum experiences – How can we use new technology to create brand new experiences that bring our collections alive?
2. Create personal visitor experiences – How can we use innovation to tailor the experience to different individuals?
3. Reflect our increasingly diverse society – How can innovation and creativity help us to reflect our diverse society in new ways?
4. Create innovative connections to support learning – How can we help connect schools and tertiary institutions with the curatorial and scientific work we do so that New Zealand’s biodiversity is more accessible to students and all the public?
5. Inspire young people in science and technology – How can we connect young people with the expertise, knowledge and collections of Te Papa to inspire young New Zealanders, especially girls and Maori and Pasifika, to engage more deeply in science and technology.
6. Achieve a “create once, publish everywhere” approach to content delivery – How can Te Papa streamline its content creation and publish it in a central location that allows that content to feed into all the formats we use, including audio guides, wall labels, social media, interactive digital displays, apps, web page content, books, etc?
7. Create a virtual Te Papa – How can we build a virtual Te Papa experience for New Zealanders living outside Wellington?
8. Connect Maori with taonga (treasures) – How can Te Papa connect iwi, hapu and whanau (indigenous communities) with taonga, tangibly or intangibly, to revitalise culture and heritage as well as support collaboration and reconciliation?
9. Support artists and enable creative responses – How can we utilise new technologies to support creative responses from artists and visitors both inside and outside of the gallery experience? How might this be used as a template by other museums/galleries and the education sector?
10. Share our collections in a virtual world – How can we make our data, research, collections available in a virtual world to support learning, sharing of knowledge, and access to our content and collections in new ways (e.g. 3D visualization and printing, etc.), and do so in a user-friendly and scalable way?
11. Enrich the museum experience for less mobile, hearing or visually impaired people – How can we use innovations in technology to deliver a full sensory experience for these visitors?
12. Increase visitor access to museum content – How can we create new and relevant ways for visitors to access the content and interpretations of our science collection?

In our second year, we added to these challenges with the following:

• Audiences – we are interested in solutions that address issues of accessibility and inclusion, improve the experience for families, help us reconnect with disengaged millennials and support our activities in promoting STEM learning subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics)

• Technology – we are open to supporting teams who are pushing the boundaries of technology e.g. VR and AR 2.0.

• Sports – we issued two sports specific challenges; How can we use new technology to create experiences that bring our sports history alive? How can we share our sports collections to inspire the next generation of New Zealander’s?

Lastly, we recognised that teams may have other ideas that we haven’t thought of.

Selection of Teams
We take a portfolio approach to the selection of the teams. We would like a mix of for-profit and social enterprise teams and are open to applications from student teams. The key criteria for selection of teams is the calibre, resilience and ability of the team to execute. It is highly likely that many of the original ideas the teams came in with will change once they have more understanding and knowledge of the sector.

The Programme Delivery
We took a lean / agile approach to the development of the Mahuki programme where we were iterating and adapting the programme as we were delivering it. This enabled us to be responsive to the needs and progress of the teams and enable us to incorporate opportunities as they arose. It meant that we were problem solving on the run and operating within a high degree of ambiguity.

This is out of step with traditional museum practices, which are by nature driven to present a highly polished and completed outcome prior to external participation / presentation. We consider this approach to be appropriate in an innovative / entrepreneurial context and provide the greatest chance of producing enduring success as opposed a durable solution – as we are constantly adapting and responding to changes and variations in teams, ideas and market conditions and so forth.

Why an Innovation Hub?
Overall, cultural entities are complex businesses with difficult operating environments and many are undergoing digital transformation. In order to stay relevant, the cultural sector needs to adapt and innovate. Changing consumer experiences have resulted in audiences increasingly demanding experiences ahead of products, and placing more importance on social relationships and personalized services that meet an individual need and are delivered en masse.

“In order to stay relevant, the cultural sector needs to adapt and innovate. Changing consumer experiences have resulted in audiences increasingly demanding experiences ahead of products, and placing more importance on social relationships and personalized services”

Technology has never been more prevalent and accessible. Simultaneously, the Experience Economy is booming, with cultural institutions like Te Papa looking to increase their participation. Mahuki brings these variables together, finding the best ways to engage with entrepreneurs and suppliers to deliver sustainable business benefits rather than bespoke service contracts.

The outcomes of Mahuki support cultural institutions like Te Papa to: speed up the innovation process, meet visitor expectations and remain relevant in an increasingly digital world; keep delighting our audiences when they visit in person or digitally and enable them to go deeper into our collections – beyond what is on display; achieve operational efficiencies and identify commercial outcomes and new revenue streams; build the innovation capability of our staff; and provide leadership and solutions to other NZ museums.

The original objectives for establishing Mahuki were:

• To be a source of innovation and transformation for Te Papa and the culture and heritage sector in New Zealand and globally
• Lift the understanding and capability of vendors we work with and increase the potential pool of vendors
• Capture the value from projects so that they can be easily replicated if appropriate as opposed to numerous bespoke projects
• Identify and support commercial outcomes for Te Papa, the teams, the culture and heritage sector
• Recognition of opportunities for future Wellington wide collaboration e.g. Peter Jackson’s Movie Museum that will be built across the road from Te Papa

Te Papa has a mandate and obligation, under the Te Papa Act, to lift the capability of the institutions in New Zealand’s culture and heritage sector. Mahuki is a sustainable way for Te Papa to address their transformation and audience engagement challenges through innovation that is distributed through the creative tech business sector in our communities.

This is complimented by our goals at Mahuki to: lift the capability of New Zealand firms by leading the development of New Zealand’s first entrepreneurial programme targeting the cultural sector, we aim to lift the capability of New Zealand firms to better deliver and meet the needs of this vertical in New Zealand and beyond.

We also endeavour to support the wider New Zealand GLAM sector. The GLAM sector is undergoing digital transformation. Many have limited budgets, can be slow moving and have traditionally not been viewed as being ready for transformation by external vendors / businesses.

Through the Hub we can help lift the digital capability of the New Zealand GLAM sector as a whole and support other New Zealand cultural institutions to access innovation and firms they can use who understand their needs and have been vetted through our programme. The Innovation Hub also builds new skillsets for Te Papa staff including business skills, mentoring and coaching of teams, entrepreneurial programme development and management, investment and so on.

The first programme of Mahuki influenced Te Papa to accelerate its digitisation programme in order for us to fully engage with VR, AR and other technologies.

How do we measure success?
At a macro level, Mahuki has resulted in two key outcomes for Te Papa; Firstly, the creation of an ecosystem where dozens of entities and hundreds of individuals have been motivated to think about Te Papa’s and the sector’s needs and innovation goals. This ecosystem will grow in size and value every year. Secondly, the creation of new, valuable networks for Te Papa for example with the investment community and new types of engagement with existing communities.

The key that indicator of positive ROI is the number of deployable solutions developed as a result of the programme. Seven out of ten teams from our first programme have a commercial agreement or pilot with an anchor customers and two of the teams have raised private investor funding so far.

At a programme level, Mahuki has attracted significant cash and in-kind sponsorship support and we were successful in securing funding through Callaghan Innovation, New Zealand’s innovation agency. The longer term impact of Mahuki in terms of sustainable business development and contribution to the wider cultural sector will take longer to present. Our choice to take equity in the teams will also take time to see if we realize a financial benefit.

Three years is the international benchmark for assessing the value of these types of programmes. Te Papa has committed to this timeframe as well as rigorously assessing the impact and value on an ongoing basis. The results of year one in terms of deployable solutions, the impact on our culture and capability and the opportunities to provide value and leadership to the wider NZ cultural sector, exceeded our expectations.

What did we learn?
Te Papa’s winning aspiration is to be a center of innovation for museums and galleries. Standing up an innovation unit within core business is difficult. Our approach to this has been to think about organizational innovation in terms of strategic horizons. In Horizon One, the work we are doing is optimising the core business. In Horizon Two, we are looking for adjacencies – either bringing current business value to a new set of customers in a different manner, or new value to the same customers. Horizon Three is about looking further ahead to the innovations that may be a game changer for our business in future. At Te Papa we’re working across all three horizons with Mahuki focused on horizons two and three. Mahuki has enabled Te Papa to pursue innovation that would not occur under business as usual.

“Organisations succeed in surfing change because the organisation’s leadership were prepared to take risks to try something new; because their people were empowered to apply their expertise to a different kind of problem; because they could spend less time and money getting to the right answer, because they discovered a new way to create and extract value”

Doing something new is inherently risky, because you don’t know what the answer is – you have to work it out as you go along, and that inherently feels uncomfortable.

Organisations succeed in surfing change because the organisation’s leadership were prepared to take risks to try something new; because their people were empowered to apply their expertise to a different kind of problem; because they could spend less time and money getting to the right answer, because they discovered a new way to create and extract value.

The learning outcomes from Mahuki are diverse. Mahuki has influenced Te Papa to accelerate its digitisation programme to future proof our ability to incorporate virtual, augmented and mixed reality in future activities. We thought this was a couple of years away but realised from the Mahuki teams that it is imminent. Mahuki has spotlighted many of the barriers for Te Papa to easily incorporate innovation in our business such as decision making cycles and we have begun work to address these. At the same time, Mahuki has inspired and motivated Te Papa staff and got them excited about new technology platforms and so forth. We are constantly refining the Mahuki programme to ensure it continues to add value to Te Papa and the teams that participate.

Through Mahuki, Te Papa has made a bold investment, recognizing that innovation is experimental and higher risk than core business. Even though we undertook extensive market research, Mahuki has still been a lesson in trusting our instincts and building a program iteratively. Now that we have completed our first program our instincts proved right and we are already reaping rewards. Some of which were unexpected, like the deep insights and research the teams have uncovered and shared with us.

Mahuki has also challenged traditional perceptions of the role of a museum. We saw the potential for Te Papa to play a new role and leverage its assets, international brand and networks to contribute to our nation’s economic and creative prosperity. With its first year completed, Mahuki has proven the demand for an accelerator programme for creative technologies focused on the culture and heritage sector that offers tangible pathways to customers, national and international markets.

In Mahuki, Te Papa has gone out on a limb – but we also did that 20 years ago when we imagined a new bicultural museology unseen in the world before. To reap the rewards of innovation, you have to be prepared to take risks.

Tui Te Hau
Innovation Hub Manager, Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

Published 30 January 2018


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