It is fair to say that Mike Riversdale has his fingers in plenty of hacky gov tech startup pies. Part of the startup/open data/government scene since 2007, co founder of Hack Miramar, participant in the first ever R9 Accelerator last year and on the organising team for this year’s 2.0 version of the programme, Mike is a big advocate of creating big stones to throw in the government pond to see how big the ripples can be.
For the uninitiated, The R9 Accelerator is a 12 week programme created by Better for Business and Creative HQ to turn government project opportunities into innovative and impactful solutions by having public and private sector innovators working alongside each other to create gov tech startups. The teams use the Lean Startup methodology to create a Minimum Viable Product for their chosen solution, test, validate, and iterate before finally pitching their solutions as fundable projects to a public/private sector Investment Panel on Demo Day – the last day of the programme.
The accelerator is New Zealand’s first fully fledged gov tech startup accelerator and aims to significantly improve business to government interactions in New Zealand through creating highly collaborative local entrepreneur and government intrapreneur mixed teams, combined with intensive coaching of agile and lean methodology principles. The inaugural programme took place in early 2015 and the 2016 programme kicks off this March.
As a fairly unique member of the R9 family, having now been involved as a participant and an organiser, we sat down with Mike to talk about how the programme has grown from the first iteration, why he got involved, and why you should too.
Why did you get involved with R9 1.0?
I met David Moskovitz through Hack Miramar and then later Amanda Holt who works with MBIE. When the R9 process came in during early 2015 I was talking to Amanda about a whole bunch of other stuff and she suggested I should apply. I had no idea what the R9 Accelerator was so once she had explained it, I ummed and ahhed about it for a while and eventually decided that some of the things I wanted to influence I couldn’t do from outside of government, so it was a chance to have a bigger and bigger effect coming from within government rather than what would be possible on my own.
What was your experience during the Accelerator?
It was a big adventure. One of my biggest concerns going into the programme was who was the team, aka who would I be working with for the next 3 months and in R9 1.0 it seemed as though the teams were handpicked rather than self selected, I met mine on the first day of the programme and luckily we got on.
The first month or two I found invaluable in terms of challenging the assumptions that we had when we started the programme. We were looking at procurement, and ‘make better procurement for government’ is a pretty broad scope to work with. We honed in on one particular problem and talked to people to get a better grasp of what was going on. The problem we focused on was a lack of communication between different groups and we came up with a concept that allowed those people to talk to each other in lots of different ways, tried it out and tweaked it, finally pitching it to a room of public and private stakeholders during a Demo Day event at the end of the 3 months.
What we pitched the Demo Day was definitely a challenging idea – creating a process rather a shiny new app or product – and we decided to leave it there, seeing the programme through to create the biggest ripples we could, but choosing not to pursue it outside of the accelerator. And I am still seeing those ripples in other tech associations, some of the language that we see coming out of government procurement now for example, we go ‘Ooh I recognise that!’ and it puts a smile on our face because it is making a difference and that’s all we wanted to do. So for us the end was self determined, for others it wasn’t so clear cut – two of the other four teams are still forging ahead either full time or part time to continue to work on what they started in the accelerator.
How is R9 2.0 different from last year’s programme?
The best thing about 2.0 is evolution that is happening from the learnings the first time round. 1.0 was always meant to be an experiment and it was a minimum viable product itself in some ways for the sake of trying something new. For me, the team formation was something I really wanted to see grow and evolve, and that is why we are doing the R9 Rev Up! this time round, to give applicants a weekend together to test ideas out and get a feel for the other people/skill sets in the room, and when they hit the accelerator at a thousand miles an hour they won’t be saying ‘Hi my name is Mike’, they’ll be saying ‘Wahoo we are here, let’s get into it’ and be one step closer to getting stuck in. There is also way more opportunities to work on than last time – you have a smorgasbord of options to choose from (and check them all out here).
With the Rev Up! our attitude is all of it works and all of it doesn’t when it comes to the ‘right way’ to form a team – let’s not limit ourselves to one way or another. If you want to come as a self formed team you can, awesome, it makes our lives easier, but be aware that the team must have permeable walls. You could well lose a team member to another team working on something that appeals to them more, or gain one through the same logic, and you need to acknowledge that that is a possibility.
So what actually is the R9 Rev Up?
The Rev Up! is a weekend event that runs from the 29th – 31st of Jan. It will run as hackathon rather than a Startup Weekend in style – we are less worried about the prototypes that emerge as a result of the weekend, and more interested in the people and teams coming together.
You might turn up at the Rev Up! event, you’ll pick your opportunity and at the end of it you’ll have a deeper understanding of your opportunity and a bunch of things that you tried that didn’t work, but still want to go into the Accelerator and try a new path to solve the problem, armed with all their learnings from the Rev Up. They could very easily throw away the work they do in the weekend, but have formed a team in the process. The way it works is teams are formed around interests, and the most important interest is ‘I am interested in working with that person, or that skill set, that is who we need in our team. So there will be a lot of ‘who is in the room’ type stuff. Then the team will need to figure out well, why are we here? Which of the solutions are we passionate about working on? And there is no reason why 2 or 3 teams can’t work on the same problem. The business owners will be on hand to pitch each opportunity (that are all currently listed on the R9 website) so at the very least you can expect to leave with a far deeper understanding of each opportunity, than you arrive with, which will then help you craft your application for the programme.
One of the things that we learnt from R9 1.0, and most startup people know this, but the public sector people found this tough, was that you are constantly pitching, so the skill set that we want them to start practising, right from the Friday evening, is pitching. So we are assuming that if you are a designer you can design and if you are a developer you can code, but we want everyone to pitch and it starts with the business owners of the opportunities, they have to pitch so teams can gravitate towards the 1 opportunity they want to work on. Don’t worry if you haven’t read all of the opportunities before the weekend because we will go into each of them with plenty of depth.
Finally we will provide you with plenty of playdough to use – the R9 team are currently collecting relevant data sets for each opportunity to play with and explore during the weekend.
The Rev Up! has 2 goals:
- to be a vehicle to create cohesive teams that meet the accelerator attributes of what makes a good team (balance of skills/relevant experience/team gels well together etc etc)
- that the team has a deeper understanding of the opportunity and the potential solution
Ultimately going through the Rev Up! will mean that it will be much easier to pitch to a selection panel because ideally you will know what you want to do, and you will have a team to work with, which is much more attractive than someone applying having not attended – not impossible but certainly harder to get through that way. Or you can go through the Rev Up! and decide hey you know what this isn’t for me and walk away without being committed to 3 months worth – no harm done.
What would you tell someone who was thinking about applying for the R9 Accelerator or going to the Rev Up?
In a nutshell R9 is about helping businesses to do better business with government. Even if you don’t think there is a particular opportunity on the list that jumps out at you, you should come to the Rev Up! because if nothing else you will meet people high up in government, you will make connections and you will meet new people and we will feed and water you and it will be fun and there will be a magician and a band. No one believes me when I tell them this, but they will be there.*
And if you are a hacker, a dev of any sort, or a designer I’ll make you sign up to the Rev Up. We just got by with the number of dev’s we had for R9 1.0, and developers were like hens teeth.
This would be the best thing ever for newbies to get work experience, whether they are students, or graduates or just new to coding. It’s rare to get the opportunity to get to sit next to someone who could be from Trademe or Xero or Microsoft for example, and build something in a very hands on way that you can put on your CV.
*editors note: We still can’t figure out if there will actually be a magician or not. You’ll have to turn up to find out.
Find out more about the R9 Accelerator
Find out more about the R9 Rev Up
Find out more about Hack Miramar