Vic teaches mastery of a dragon's den

JODY O'CALLAGHAN
Last updated 05:00 10/10/2012
Sarah Gibbs

Sarah Gibbs, left, and Catherine de Groot founded Wellington-born cosmetics company Trilogy.

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Victoria University is offering a New Zealand-first masters degree that will see students start their own company and pitch to a Dragons' Den-style panel of investors.

The one-year master of advanced technology enterprise - starting next January - will bring together graduate students to create startup technology companies.

The programme's instigator, Dr Kate McGrath, says enrolments opened last week and there was already a lot of interest.

Initially, there would be places for about four teams of three to five students with "creative, entrepreneurial streaks". They would take part in a four-week course teaching them to brainstorm, communicate and collaborate to develop the company.

Each company would be given a startup fund of about $10,000, provided both from the university and their fees.

By the end of the year, teams would pitch their business plans to an expert panel of investors - like the Dragons' Den television show, but in a "very friendly and nurturing way", Dr McGrath said.

"You have to involve scientists in the economy; it's not all going to come from accountants and lawyers and the like."

Creative HQ chief executive Steve O'Connor, whose Wellington company supports startup companies, supports the degree. "It is very much giving the students a . . . pragmatic, roll-your-sleeves-up-and-get-your-hands-dirty approach to commercialisation."

Accountancy graduate Sarah Gibbs, co-founder of the Wellington-born cosmetics company Trilogy, said she would have done the course if it had been on offer when she was starting out.

In 2002, she and sister Catherine de Groot started operating from a make-shift industrial unit in Upper Hutt, then sold to Ecoya for $20 million eight years later.

A practical degree would enable students to think across all spectrums of business, she said.

But software developer Rowan Simpson said he did not know any startup founders who had suffered for lack of a postgraduate degree.

He built and in 1999 launched flathunt.co.nz, bought by Trade Me, and co-founded web and mobile applications studio Southgate Labs in 2010.

He says: "Learning about startups in a contrived environment is like the difference between being a contestant on Survivor Amazon and trying to survive alone in the Amazon."

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- The Dominion Post

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