We asked some of New Zealand's leading business people about their bravest moment in business. In the fourth story of our series for Spark, Founder of The Mind Lab by Unitec and Tech Futures Lab, Frances Valintine.

"Taking on education is a very scary thing to do."

Speaking from her super-cool Tech Futures Lab offices in Auckland's Newmarket, it's easy to imagine Frances Valintine's journey from educator to business visionary as a walk in the park.

That journey, however, has been one of bravery and persistence.


The goal was a lofty one: to transform education from the inside through the development of new education models. To build a place where students could come to learn how to create and adopt new technologies.

Along with education, Valintine has a passion for good design, which clearly comes in handy when it comes to creating an inspirational work space. Walk through her offices and you'll be stopped in your tracks by posters bearing stats that'll make you think twice about your own future:

Nearly half of the jobs in New Zealand are at high risk of automation.
Marriott took 88 years to get to 697,000 rooms - Airbnb took four years to get to 650,000 rooms.

While it's true many jobs that exist today will look vastly different in the future, education is at a crossroads trying to determine how to navigate the transitional period between analogue and digital.

Like any good business, The Mind Lab came about from trying to solve a problem.

"I became concerned we needed to inspire kids to use technology to create and learn, not just for entertainment. Without bold intervention and real leadership we could lose the current lot in the disconnect between the world they live in socially and the world they experience at school," says Valintine.

Some people didn't get the need for high levels of digital integration and digital literacy. Most teachers did.

Valintine: "The Mind Lab established a category of education that didn't exist. When we launched in 2013 very few people were challenging the status quo. It's only been in the past two-and-a-half years that the future of work and education has become a key area of focus."

"When you raise your head above standard practice, everybody has a point of view, and many will argue purely on the basis of tradition and legacy. I soon realized if I was to succeed, I had to put myself in the firing line to do it."

Such bravery comes at a cost. The days before Mind Lab opened its doors Valintine had serious doubts whether people would share her vision.

"It is human nature to worry you may have got it wrong and that you could lose everything. I have a family. I had staff who had left great jobs to work with me. It also meant, if it failed, I could damage my reputation as an educator and technologist."

She needn't have worried. Within five weeks of Mind Lab opening the positive response was immediate. "Schools, parents and students said, 'We've been looking for this for so long!'"

Valintine had hit a nerve. Her punt paid off.

How did it feel to get it so right? "Validation is the most extraordinary feeling. I did know. The people I hired are gainfully employed. Most importantly, I now see labs full of students taught by incredible teachers there to ensure the next generation have the best skills and knowledge at their fingertips," she says.

Awarded the Sir Peter Blake Leader Award in 2016, Valintine is no stranger to being in charge. The Mind Lab, however, gave her an opportunity to create a culture that reflected her views on diversity, flexibility and trust.

"I wanted people around me to live and breathe the philosophy The Mind Lab stands for. The entire organisation is transparent. We don't harvest secrets. There is no hierarchy so ideas, suggestions and actions can be initiated by anyone regardless of their location or role. People should be able to be flexible how they work, when they work, why they work."

"For me," Valintine chuckles, "madness is the person who sits in the same office, week after week, year after year, doing the same thing. That would be my worst possible scenario."

Today the team at The Mind Lab teach more than 40,000 students a year, a number which astounds and delights Frances in equal measure. "Before The Mind Lab, where would these 40,000 students have gone to understand digital technologies? How would the 2,000 teachers who studied with us understand new ways of teaching new technologies? Where would they have learned that?"

For Valintine, success breeds success as is shown by the recent opening of Tech Future Lab, a centre where professionals and tertiary students can equip themselves with technical and business transformation skills in some of the most highly sought after areas in the world.

"You've got to paint the future for someone to imagine it. We've only just begun."

Every business owner has a defining moment, a point where they have a make or break decision. Us kiwis love a good success story, and we want to hear all about yours. Share your brave business journey with us and you could land yourself an exclusive Spark Lab VIP experience.

Spark will look after flights to Auckland, accommodation, dinner at Seafarers and tickets for a premium Spark Lab business event with the opportunity to network with the speaker. They will also include a one-on-one business mentoring session with an Icehouse coach worth $380.

To enter, simply tell us about your brave business story and what helped you along the way. Share your story here http://spark.co.nz/sparklabvip