Last week saw the first in what organisers hope will be a succession of events aimed at highlighting the contribution older members of Tauranga's community can contribute by inspiring innovation.

More than 120 people attended the forum, sponsored by Priority One, Tauranga City Council and the Elders' Forum, with science innovator and philanthropist Sir Ray Avery providing the keynote address.

"The focus of the event was on making sure the retired have an important place to play in the continued economic viability of our community," said panelist Graeme Elvin, a partner in law firm McKenzie Elvin.

"The strange thing about our society and ecosystem is that, if you were starting a business, you'd have an exit strategy, but we don't do that with our own lives in terms of retirement," said Sir Ray in an interview after the event.


"The vibe in the room in Tauranga is that there were a lot of people who'd got to the stage where, like the Rolling Stones, they were 70, but they still felt about 29 and were ready to rock and roll, which is tremendous.

"My key message was that New Zealand truly is the land of opportunity. You can do things here that you can't do anywhere else in the world."

Sir Ray cited examples such as Auckland's Bill Buckley, founder of Buckley Systems, which makes machines containing powerful electromagnets used to prepare 90 per cent of the world's silicon chips used in mobile phones, iPods and LCD TVs. Sir Ray's own background includes rising from a poor childhood in English orphanages and foster homes, before developing an interest in science which saw him develop low-cost intraocular lens technologies, which now provide 13 per cent of the world market.

"Observation is the key to innovation," he said. "People who invent stuff don't have to be practised in the art - they can be older people who just see stuff."

Businessman Jon Mayson, who chaired the panel discussion, said just because people were older, it did not mean they should be sidelined. "For me, retirement is not the word to use, if it means you're switching off the communication switches and turning off your brain. Retirement is an opportunity to do what do you didn't have a chance to do while you were working full-time."