Fellowship has the potential to develop an entrepreneurial base - John Milford

Edmund Hillary Fellowship chief executive Yoseph Ayele, left, with National's Michael Woodhouse, and potential fellow ...
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Edmund Hillary Fellowship chief executive Yoseph Ayele, left, with National's Michael Woodhouse, and potential fellow One Earth Designs co-founder Catlin Powers, at the EHF launch in BizDojo.

OPINION: This has been an election campaign like none I can remember – be it in New Zealand, during my time in Australia, or in my earlier years in the UK.

It's been frenetic, filled with leadership changes, claim and counter-claim, and promises and bribes that range from appealing and tempting, to downright stupid and irresponsible. 

And with polls to match.

John Milford, chief executive of the Wellington Chamber of Commerce.
David White/STUFF

John Milford, chief executive of the Wellington Chamber of Commerce.

We've been bombarded left, right, and centre – and there's still more than a week to go.

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The chamber doesn't tell its members or the wider business sector which colour to vote for, rather we've given an assessment on the issues that matter to the Wellington region and highlight the direction needed to best benefit business and the economy. 

But with the opening of polling booths this week signalling that the main policies are all out, and with many thousands already casting their vote, it's probably a good time to take a breath and look beyond this personality-driven campaign. 

(My vote, at least, will keep till election day – I have no doubt there are twists and turns still to come).

Along with reducing red tape and tax, and building infrastructure to ensure resilience and growth, the big demand business pointed at the political parties was maintaining a skills and talent pipeline that delivers for employers that is tied to immigration and education settings.

Getting those two tuned right remains a work in progress, but one initiative that seeks to attack the skills and talent issue from a different angle is already showing signs of what's possible if political parties are prepared to be pragmatic about immigration settings rather than promising to cap and restrict numbers. 

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Early this year I wrote here about the Edmund Hillary Fellowship (EHF), a programme that gives 100 entrepreneurs, investors, and start-up teams a platform to incubate global impact ventures from New Zealand and contribute to our innovation scene.

Those selected come here under a special visa and work with Kiwi entrepreneurs and investors on projects aimed at making a difference globally while benefiting New Zealand.

It's all about skills and talent at the highest level.

Based in Wellington, its first advertising push attracted 350 expressions of interest, and from there it was all go.

From those 350, EHF recently selected its first cohort of 30, and to say the calibre is impressive would be an understatement.

Six are New Zealanders who're leading change in their fields, while the 24 from overseas have 421 years of company start-up experience between them.

Some 24 are focused on developing new ventures and growing an "entrepreneurial ecosystem", while the others are investors representing funds with access to a total of US$3.7 billion (around NZ$5b) of venture capital.

Their experience includes co-founding the most influential cryptocurrency company in the world, creating a fast-growing online resource centre to manage a health disorder that affects 10 –15 per cent of the world's population, and investing in and supporting technology companies that have transformed entire industries.

That's a tiny sample of the type of people the scheme has attracted, and it's just scratching the surface. 

No surprise, then, that Yoseph Ayele, the chief executive of EHF, tells me he's very excited at the prospects ahead.

It certainly shows the potential to attract top talent and develop an entrepreneurial base that will endure.

Further good news is that quite a large number of these entrepreneurs and investors want to be based in Wellington during the three years of their work.

While the outcome of the election remains very much up in the air, this is something certain we should all celebrate and support – and trust that September 23 delivers an environment that continues to encourage inspirational and forward-thinking schemes such as this.

John Milford is the chief executive of the Wellington Chamber of Commerce.

 - Stuff

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