Our highlights from Blackbird's Sunrise Aotearoa

November 6, 2022

Blackbird VC’s Sunrise Aotearoa made its way back to Tāmaki Makarau last month at ASB Waterfront theatre as a sold out one day conference. For those new to Sunrise, it is all about telling the story of people and companies who are creating epic opportunities and dreaming about a better future in NZ. 

Some of our interviewees (and Storyo friends) like Julia Arnott-Neenee were speaking so we had to attend! The conference opened with Sam Wong, General Partner at Blackbird Bird Ventures, reminding us that “Creating something you believe in is a privilege”.  

The day was split into three chapters and as a storyteller here at Storyo (Hi, Anjana here!), I was thrilled for all three but the second chapter was my personal favourite.

Opening slide at the kick-off session at Sunrise Aotearoa

Chapter 2: Is NZ ready to produce the next generation of innovators, creatives and inventors?

This was my favourite part of the afternoon. And this chapter kinda spoke to the overall theme at Sunrise Aotearoa, the urgent need to focus on Digital Equity and how it ties in with the realities of the education system here in Aotearoa. The panel was facilitated by Vaughan Fergusson, founder of Vend and the speakers for this panel are all women who I’ve been fan-girling for quite some time for the work they are doing to make the present and future better for our rangatahi in the education space: 

Alliv Samson - Co-founder of Kami
Julia Arnot- NeeNee - Founder of Fibre Fale and
Zoe Timbrell - Co-founder and CEO of Pam Fergusson Trust

We started the panel discussion with a question, where the audience was asked to mention in one word what their experience of the education system was. This image says it all. 

Audience response to the question asked at the education panel at Sunrise Aotearoa with majority of themes being "Uninspiring", "Privileged", "Limited".

Clearly there is a lot more work to be done if the majority of us found it uninspiring. 

Some of the key problems identified at this talk were:

  1. The current education system still relies on a lot of rote learning 
  2. There still needs to be a lot done to improve digital access for kids 
  3. Lack of representation leads to lack of access which contributes to continued lack of representation - e.g. Most kids who dropped out of school during Covid-10 were Pacifica girls. Even now we do not have enough Pacific representation in key leadership sectors.
  4. Because it’s become too cool to care, a lot of diversity, inclusivity and equity initiatives continue to be performative, without redistributing power or building power in the margins.

Some really good solution that these incredible wāhine are working on, and urge us to continue leading the momentum on:

  1. Start with acknowledging your privilege & make a conscious effort to remove unconscious bias. 
  2. The talent pipeline also needs to understand that lack of traditional qualifications doesn’t equate to unqualified for the role. 
  3. As companies we have a duty to not just benefit from digitisation but also contribute to digital equity. 
  4. We need an assessment for learning such that it works to an individual's circumstances (think neurodiversity, special needs, mental health struggles, socio economic conditions), not an assessment “OF” the learning. 
  5. Making safe spaces for people who are not part of the homogenous (majority) group to just not survive but thrive.
  6. Ask yourself, are you best placed to solve it? Or is the community best placed to solve it for themselves? How can you empower the community to solve these problems?
  7. Understanding the history of your land. Do the mahi of understanding diversity before hiring diverse folks. 

To say this panel was riveting is an understatement. It was a strong reminder of my own privilege, of having a family that allowed me to chase my dreams and supported me emotionally and financially when I moved to Aotearoa. I was given the opportunity to build my career and take risks, a luxury not afforded to many, always knowing I have the security of my family backing me through the tough times. I have been more intentional with paying it forward to my community in Tāmaki Makaurau, but this was a humbling and powerful reminder to use my time and opportunity to continue to raise my community with me. 

Chapter 3: Aotearoa has great storytellers, but it's time to tell our story.

Chapter 3 served us a smorgasboard of creativity featuring:

Brooke Howard-Smith - Co-founder, Futureverse
Amber Marie Naveira
- CEO and Co-founder, The Granary
Natasha Turner
- Creative Producer, Wrestler
Lorendana Podolska-Kint
- Poet and Author
Oliver Coates
- Student and Game Developer

Brooke kicked off this chapter with all things Web3. And for once this was a conversation that did not put me off NFTs. He spoke about the creator economy and how the metaverse is going to inform storytelling by connecting communities. If this technology gets used to empower the creator economy and invest in underrepresented artists, creatives and communities like he said, sign me up!

Amber Marie Naveira spoke about finding her voice and how art is ultimately the visual expression of your humanity. Amber is freaking amazing and represents all the things that Storyo is trying to embody!

Startup ecosystem and spaces can often resemble a shiny promise-land of opportunities, growth and impact. Unfortunately, it is often tainted with over-capitalistic values of growth over… well anything. We all know a tech company or two that comes up on the news sprinkled with words like ‘nepotism’, ‘sexism', ‘racism’, ‘bias’, ‘unethical’ (hello, Ubers and Facebooks of the world!). 

Hence, we need to really keep ourselves and our startup communities accountable. People like Amber Marie and Julia who raise their voices, their teams and their missions to change the system quo is who we need to support.

I come away from Sunrise, inspired, my metaphorical cup full and I cannot wait to explore and understand the startup ecosystem in Aotearoa better. All while amplifying stories and supporting missions that align so well with ours here at Storyo, and celebrating people who get on dem conference stages to call us out and call us in.