NBR Special Report: Dunedin: University star rates 'let's get in and do it'

The National Business Review, 19 October 2007

By Mark Peart

Paul Hansen is something of a rock star in Dunedin's academic and entrepreneurial communities. The former Treasury analyst was recently promoted to an associate professorship in economics at the University of Otago and he is only in his early 40s.

Dr Hansen has become synonymous with 1000 Minds, the award-winning company he runs with Wellington partner Franz Ombler.

1000minds is advanced decision-support software to help users - businesses, government organizations and individuals - to make decisions involving prioritizing, ranking or choosing from among competing individuals or alternatives.

Based on users' knowledge and preferences, 1000minds creates decision models that can be deployed for fast, effective and transparent decisionmaking.

It can be used from anywhere with internet access and is available in both off-the-shelf and custom formats.

A fully integrated process for tens or hundreds, or even thousands of users to work together or individually is also available.

1000minds customers include Boeing, Auckland City Council, the University of Otago, Wellington Regional Council, Transfund, and Pharmac, which is putting the software through commercial trials.

1000minds emerged from Dunedin's Upstart business incubator. Dr Hansen says figures like Upstart chief executive Norman Evans, and Peter Fennessy, who chairs the Dunedin biotechnology industry cluster BioSouth, are the kinds of business leaders who have helped bridge the entrepreneurial generation gap in Dunedin and are "pushing things along."

"There is a real community here of people meeting and working together. What I find impressive is all the institutional support - from Dunedin City Council, NZTE, the university and Upstart.

"They all seem to have same vision and drive and ambition, and a 'let's get in and do it' attitude, which is really great when you think that these are government organizations and council organizations."

"They're pushing people together and introducing people and putting on functions for people to talk and network."

Dr Hansen says this is a "very Dunedin thing. Everyone knows someone or knows someone who knows someone. There are all sorts of connections."

Dr Hansen says the essence of the collaborative approach is as straightforward as the organizations "showing that they care, or putting on a few beers and a couple of sausage rolls in an evening.

"It's the entrepreneurial spirit, isn't it? You put people in a room together who want things everyone else wants, and they'll find each other.

Dr Hansen says from where he sits, it's "a bit early" to tell whether the true industry leaders of tomorrow are coming today.

"What's astounded me as someone who has come from academia is the level of creativity and passion and generosity that I observe. It's truly: 'let's do stuff and see what can happen,' with the view to making money in the long-term. In the short-term, it's: 'what can we create?'"

Dr Hansen defines creativity in its broadest sense as the skills of putting together partnerships and business models.

"That's something I've had to learn a lot about. I come from a theoretical background and I think creatively when it comes to that."

But doing that in a commercial context, rather than an academic has been a "big leap."

"You're kind of coming home, if that doesn't sound too corny. I've found like-minded people from all sorts of different backgrounds, all interested in doing stuff, who aren't bound by bureaucracy."

He sees himself as a "great opportunist.

"I've got half-a-dozen things that are in some shape or other potentially happening - maybe only one or two will actually turn into anything. It's a bit like gambling - you don't know which horse is going to come in before the race is run."