Entrepreneurship champion recognised in honours list

05 June 2017
Geoff Whitcher 72dpi
Geoff Whitcher: champion for entrepreneurs

The fact we need to innovate to drive economic growth is now taken as read  – New  Zealand even has a Science and Innovation Minister.

But this consciousness was born of a long, slow shift within business and government that had a watershed moment in the early 2000s, with the two Knowledge Wave Conferences. Geoff Whitcher was a key organiser of those conferences, and has dedicated his professional life to turning the conferences’ vision for a prosperous knowledge-based economy into reality.

Now he has been recognised for his services to business and education with his appointment as an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the 2017 Queen’s Birthday Honours List.

Named by Metro magazine as one of Auckland’s most influential business figures, Whitcher has bent his considerable talents to helping establish an entrepreneurship “ecosystem” – the expertise, organisation and other elements needed to support entrepreneurship.

He joined the University of Auckland as its Commercial Director of development in 2000, and helped set up business incubator IceHouse. He was also a driver in the creation of a range of formal and extracurricular programmes at the University designed to help New Zealand’s transition to a knowledge-based economy.

The programmes were designed to produce a new breed of graduates who not only have technical skills but are innovative, entrepreneurial and business savvy. They include:

  • Velocity, the country’s leading, student-driven entrepreneurship programme, launched as “Spark” in 2003 (alumni have launched 118 ventures, attracted more than $203 million in investment, created more than 460 jobs, and sell products and services into 37 countries)
  • Chiasma, a professional student-led organisation that builds bridges between academia and the wider science and technology industries
  • The Masters of Bioscience Enterprise, which aims to produce graduates “bilingual” in the languages of science and business
  • Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) at the University of Auckland Business School, which now supports both Velocity and Chiasma and is engaged in many other activities that promote innovation and entrepreneurship
  • As CIE co-director, Whitcher helped develop the Master of Commercialisation and Entrepreneurship, the country’s only master-level degree programme for working professionals seeking to commercialise research, inventions or ideas; and a short course for PhD students on research innovation and commercialisation.

Whitcher has mentored dozens of students over the years, many of whom have gone on to do MBAs at top international universities, and/or launch successful start-ups. Among them: Fady Mishriki, founder of wireless power technology firm PowerbyProxi, and biotechnologist Dr Privahini Bradoo, who founded toxic e-waste recycling business BlueOak Resources.

Known affectionately by his mentees as the “godfather” or “grey ghost”, he quietly nurtures, extends and connects behind the scenes.

Last year, Rhodes Scholar Alice Wang, successfully nominated him for a Rhodes Trust Inspirational Educator Award (he was one of 18 recipients globally).

She wrote in  her nomination: “Geoff had a vision of building a better New Zealand through developing the potential of young people, and has touched the lives of many young entrepreneurs and students.”

The Dean of the University of Auckland Business School, Professor Jayne Godfrey, says: "Through a lifetime of distinguished service to entrepreneurial education and business development, Geoff has transformed the University of Auckland by instilling an entrepreneurial culture and spirit of innovation and enterprise. He has powerfully impacted the lives and professional careers of countless individuals, transforming the way entrepreneurial thinking is understood and fostered in this country."

Before joining the University, Whitcher’s business career was primarily with Unilever in New Zealand and the United Kingdom, and then Fletcher Challenge in New Zealand and New York.  Among his highlights:

  • establishing the Placemakers building materials chain, today a $1.2 billion business
  • pioneering investor relations particularly into offshore markets, driving the first listing of a New Zealand company on the Australian stock market (ASX), and the first on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE)
  • becoming the country's first Equities Relation Manager, raising more than $2 billion for several New Zealand and Canadian companies

Whitcher also has extensive corporate governance experience, including positions on the Boards of Fletcher Challenge in Canada and in NZ, Affco Meats, Alliance Meats, and Farmers Mutual Insurance.

He says the honour is immense and hugely unexpected, and a reflection of many people’s efforts. His years at the University of Auckland have been incredibly rewarding.

“I’ve been privileged to work with many of New Zealand’s best and brightest – people you’re immensely proud to be associated with,” he says. “I’ve helped them graft entrepreneurial and commercial skills onto their academic qualifications and encouraged them to be the best they can be.”



Nicola Shepheard Media Relations Adviser
Tel: 09 923 1515 Mob: 027 537 1319 Email: n.shepheard@auckland.ac.nz