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Entrepreneurial Leader of the Year Award

Wendy Kerr

Finalist of the Entrepreneurial Leader of the Year Award

"Unleash your potential with the University of Auckland"

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Wendy Kerr leads the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) at the University of Auckland. Its mandate is to unleash the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship among students and staff to ultimately create a more economic and socially prosperous New Zealand. Her visionary leadership has enabled maximum impact through convincing staff at the University of Auckland to release capital and energy to create facilities, human resource, programmes and other initiatives for the support of entrepreneurial students and staff at the University of Auckland. When Wendy first started at CIE, it was a small centre with only 2 programmes in operation, a small team of 4 and no physical presence on campus. Wendy’s entrepreneurial leadership approach has involved running the University’s innovation and entrepreneurship centre like a start-up. She has had a single-minded vision, assembled a team of driven and entrepreneurially-minded staff, known the value of quick-wins to propel long-term goals and has attracted funding to scale-up. Through being agile, responsive, taking risks and being prepared to fail, Wendy demonstrates to her team and students what it is to be entrepreneurial. Under Wendy’s leadership the CIE has expanded to a team of 14, created a prototype innovation hub, a full-scale state-of-the-art innovation hub and maker space and an incubator. She has also led the creation of initiatives and programmes that have resulted in a 320% growth in student participation.

Key People

Wendy Kerr
Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship,  The University of Auckland


My team at the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Staff at the University of Auckland Business School, The University of Auckland’s Innovation Working Group and the benefactors who empowered the creation of initiatives at the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship: Sir Owen G Glenn, Beca, Chau Hoi Shuen Foundation, Hynds Foundation, Li Ka-Shing Foundation, PwC, Tony Falkenstein, Charles Bidwell


Wendy Kerr - Director of the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Wendy with students at Unleash Space

Wendy and staff from the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship take a selfie

Wendy speaking at TEDX UoA about the fourth industrial revolution and the future of work

Wendy and team at the future site of Unleash Space,the University of Auckland's innovation hub and maker space

Wendy at Unleash Space


Impacting lifes

New Zealand women make up over 50% of the population yet female-owned businesses only make up a third of all New Zealand businesses. Women are New Zealand’s largest minority, grossly underrepresented in entrepreneurship. Wendy has worked hard to encourage women to participate in entrepreneurship programmes, increasing representation of women from 23% to 52% of participants.

Holly Dixon in a psychology student who was shy about pursuing her idea for an online platform to turn relationship science into actionable advice. She recently participated in our Velocity programme, won the social entrepreneurship category, took part in our VentureLab incubator and with mentorship is pursuing her venture idea, Togetherly. Holly says: “Wendy is devoted to ensuring the potential inherent in the hearts and minds of young people is realised.

Under Wendy’s leadership, the University has become a place where everyone – no matter their age, stage, and background – is able to activate the creative and innovative parts of their brain, refine and iterate ideas, and ultimately create solutions to challenges society faces on a daily basis. More than that, however, Wendy has ensured that it is a place where it is OK to take risks, be vulnerable, and be open to the personal growth that comes with taking an idea to market. Wendy and her team have provided me with the most life-changing learning experience I have ever had (and I have been at university for 7 years, so have had a lot of learning experiences).”


Lessons learned

Being a leader first and foremost means building a community of people who are all striving to achieve the same purpose. In order to inspire others to expand the reach, scope and presence of the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship it was essential to be able to distil the Centre’s ambitious vision into a soundbite to enrol senior stakeholders across the University and members of the wider ecosystem for their support and to unlock resources. Always be selling. Wendy engendered massive support and awareness through actively building networks and selling the story of the Centre’s vision to many.

Love what you do, your vision and your team. There is a saying in New Zealand: ‘He aha te mea nui o tea ao. He tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata. What is the most important thing in the world? It is people, it is people, it is people.’ Create a team culture purposefully, and nurture that culture to ensure your team have the best environment for them to excel in. This means respecting your team members for their individual strengths and diversity of knowledge and opinions, allowing them to be vulnerable and open when they are experiencing difficulties, and empowering staff to make decisions and have full ownership of their projects.

Spend time with your students. They are energetic, inventive, resourceful and fun. Whenever Wendy needed a boost, she would go and hang with the student teams in the maker space. Being around the communities that you serve is uplifting and inspiring.


What's coming?

Wendy continues with her leadership role at the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and her leadership of the development of the wider University’s innovation and entrepreneurship strategy.

Our 2019 targets have been reached, and we are looking ahead to see how we can achieve our ambitious 2020 vision to have 10% of students involved with the Centre. Like a start-up, it’s not just the product or service that creates success, it’s the team that brings the strategy to life. Wendy is looking at how the team can support one another as they launch new initiatives and continue to experience high growth, with the inevitable stresses and strains that that brings.

We recognise that we have been very fortunate with the resources we have received to build such a large centre of innovation and entrepreneurship. Our overarching objective is to enhance the capability of others for the economic and social betterment of New Zealand. As such are now looking to work with the Government to create a plan to share our learnings and insights with other university innovation and entrepreneurship centres.

Unleashing the potential in New Zealand means striving to ensure that no one is left behind, serving the needs of minorities who may have barriers to participation. Wendy is increasing her Te Reo Māori lessons so that she can more fully understand her heritage and work on embedding Tikanga Māori (Māori values) into the Centre’s culture and work so that we are more inclusive of our indigenous community.



Team growth under Wendy


Programs growth under Wendy


Growth in student participation

$NZD 9.6 mil

Sponsorship growth

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