Tauranga Welcomes You!

Tauranga Welcomes You!

Aucklanders & Other Kiwis Blog

Kirstin Mead on the Airforce, Antarctica, Afghanistan and Supporting Innovation in Tauranga
26 April 2018
Kirstin Mead on the Airforce, Antarctica, Afghanistan and Supporting Innovation in Tauranga

Fresh out of high school, small town Waikato girl, Kirstin Mead, decided she wanted to see the world, so she signed up to join the Royal New Zealand Air Force. What followed was six years working for the Air Force’s communications department with deployments in places like Samoa, Antarctica and Afghanistan, to name but a few.

This early exposure to vastly different ways of life lead Kirstin to pursue a degree in development economics. She has since put her unique experience and impressive qualifications to good use in New Zealand’s innovation sector, first working with accounting giant, Deloitte, before working at what was then the newly established Callaghan Innovation.

A couple years into her role at Callaghan Innovation, Kirstin was able to swing a move to Tauranga, where she now gets to continue doing what she loves while pursuing her childhood dream of living in the Bay. Here is her story of fostering innovation and living life to the fullest in Tauranga.

Kirstin, tell us about your decision to join the Air Force.

I turned 18 the year after I finished high school and decided that I didn’t want a student loan and I wanted to travel.  I figured I’d be able to do that in the military.

Looking back now, it was a pretty ambitious thing to do, moving out of home for the first time to live in a new town (Blenheim) with a whole bunch of strangers in a completely foreign environment. But almost two decades later, those strangers are still some of my best friends. The Air Force is a wonderful family that you never lose, even when you’ve moved on.

What was your role in the Air Force?

My official role was a communications and informations system technician, more commonly called the ‘comms ops’. Early on, it was heavily communications-focussed – providing radio support for planes – but as technology evolved, we got involved in satellites, computer networks and so on.

What were some of your highlights of your Air Force career?

My two favourite trips were to Antarctica and Afghanistan. My Antarctica trip was for about ten weeks at the start of the summer season in 2003. I worked in the comms team supporting scientists living on the ice; we were their only contact to the rest of the world. We also communicated with helicopter flights supporting the scientists with supplies.

So many memories! I made friends with American scientists. I spent time with divers who went out onto the sea ice, cut a hole and dived into the unknown. I visited world famous huts of explorers like Scott Hut and experienced the 200 metre wide Imax Crevasse. We also spent a few days survival training outdoors in case of emergency – we learnt how to crampon across an icy mountain, dig trenches and made (and slept overnight in) an igloo.

I went to Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom and was based in the Bamiyan province of Central Afghanistan. I was there during the very first democratic presidential election in 2004. My day job included being a radio operator for the teams on the ground, working as their link to support and safety throughout the country.

I spent three weeks on the road living in and out of safe houses and meeting locals in the region. It was an incredibly eye-opening experience: it’s a war-torn country, yet the women and children I met were some of the most resilient and positive I have come across. They were so thankful we were there to listen and support them, and it was incredible to see how happy someone is with a gift of bottled water and a pen. It really gives you a different perspective on life.

What did you do after leaving the Air Force?

After leaving the Air Force, I decided to finally get that student loan and pursue a degree. I studied business management, discovered economics and realised how much my experience in Afghanistan had impacted me. I was keen to learn more about development economics and ended up with a double degree in economics and strategy with a focus on international development.

What was your pathway to working for Callaghan Innovation?

I applied for a graduate programme at Deloitte without really knowing anything about the 'big four' accounting companies. I accepted a role in the enterprise risk consulting team in Deloitte, Wellington where I audited recipients of government funding for research and development.

I liked the idea of being a helper rather than a reviewer, so when I saw Callaghan Innovation was being set up, I followed closely and applied for a role as a policy and planning advisor. I moved to Callaghan Innovation on their first anniversary as a new organisation.

Tell us about Callaghan Innovation.

Callaghan Innovation is the government’s innovation agency, providing any stage of business with a link to the innovation system. They deliver a range of services such as access to experts, science and engineering support for technology and product development, skills programmes to build innovation capability and a range of R and D grants.

What is your role at Callaghan?

After 18 months in an internal role, I moved to a customer-facing role where I helped businesses get the access they needed to Callaghan Innovation. It’s such an interesting and rewarding role being able to help make life a bit easier for New Zealand’s innovation industry.

I spend my days helping exciting tech business access the support that Callaghan Innovation provides: this can be access to scientist expertise and advice,  programmes to increase and encourage innovation and co-funding to help them conduct R&D at a greater rate. 

When did you first start thinking about moving Tauranga?  

Tauranga has always been the dream: growing up over the hill in the Waikato, I spent many summer holidays over this side at the beach. My husband, Shannon, who grew up in a farming town south of Rotorua, is a surfer so beach life was inevitable sooner or later.

It wasn’t until I was working at Callaghan Innovation that I realised I could continue doing what I love while being based in the Bay. Callaghan Innovation have their main teams in the city centres, supporting the rest of New Zealand by partnering with local organisations. The local Tauranga Chamber of Commerce has that contract and we have a business growth team that provides local business with strong support for R and D, capability development and mentors. The job opportunity was the only thing holding us back from moving to Tauranga.  As soon as that came my way, we moved within a month. We arrived in January 2017. 

What vision did you have of your life in the Bay?

Surf, sun, beach, great friends, close to family  - basically, paradise!

What promising things are going on in Tauranga's innovation space?

Tauranga is an extremely exciting and collaborative place. We have the recently announced regional research institute, PlantTech – a horticulture partnership of eight BOP tech companies, Waikato University, Priority One and the NZ Government. The idea of PlantTech is to accelerate innovation using the region’s horticulture industry as a testing ground for new technologies and services and it's great to see the Bay focusing on its strengths.

The Bay’s active participation in New Zealand Tech Week has some great opportunities for those interested in the likes of Agtech, regional economic development and social enterprises. And then there is Tauranga’s very own innovation week festival, Groundswell, set for the last week of August. It celebrates the next generation of Innovators and showcases Tauranga as a strengths-based centre of innovation.

We are also lucky enough to have two incubators located in the CBD, the technology-focused incubator, WNT Ventures, and a new founder-focussed incubator by a partnership with Venture Centre and Soda Inc.

How is Tauranga different to the quiet little city you visited as a child?

There is a lot going on in the Bay – I had no idea how many exciting opportunities there are before moving here. There is so much growth and some interesting companies are choosing to base themselves here which is great for the economic development of the city.

What has surprised you about Tauranga?

I was very surprised at how friendly and open everyone is, how collaborative companies are. I don’t get the strong competitiveness vibe that I have seen in other places. People are happy to meet others and share advice and I think companies have realised that their competition is not  here in the Bay, they are global and if you find your own niche then everyone wins.

What connection have you had with Priority One?

I work closely with Priority One given my role at the Tauranga Chamber of Commerce and I see great value in the approach they have taken to fostering innovation and encouraging some really key investment into the region. I like the macro-economic approach they take and really enjoy working with their passionate staff. 

What do you for fun here?

I spend a lot of time at the beach, do crossfit and yoga and I never get sick of climbing the Mount. We mountain bike Oropi and Summerhill trails (and Rotorua) and we have a lot of visitors whom I love to show around. Moving here from Wellington I thought I would miss the whole culture scene, but I’ve discovered Tauranga has some great things to offer. The Tauranga Art Gallery is amazing and events such as Tarnished Frocks and Divas, pop-up restaurant Kitchen Takeover and Diner en Blanc have been so much fun.

What has moving to Tauranga meant for your career?

Thankfully I have managed to find my dream job in my dream location! I have no concerns about finding future career opportunities in the Bay, there is so much on offer here.

What has it meant for your relationships?

We are a lot closer to both our parents and most of our siblings now so we get to see them a lot more than we used to – family time is much more frequent and fun. Life here is so much more relaxed.


Gets You Thinking Doesn't It?

No-one can tell you when you're ready for a change of lifestyle...but when you are, we'd love to have you in Tauranga!

1. Join us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/TaurangaWelcomesYou

2. Subscribe to our montly e-newsletter to receive stories just like this one about people who have already made the big move you are thinking of making. 

3. Have a story to share? We love sharing your sea-change or homecoming stories. Email me at kathryn@priorityone.co.nz to start a conversation.

Meet Kathryn Overall
Explore www.wishyouwereworkinghere.co.nz


Looking for work in Tauranga?

Send me your CV and a 100 word bio and we will send it out to local businesess who are on the lookout for good people. Priority One is not a recruitment agency, but as the economic development agency for the region we seek to make connections for people where we can. There is no charge for this service.

Email me at annie@priorityone.co.nz.

Annie Hill | Priority One
Communications/Project Manager

Contact Priority One

Contact Priority One

Need help?

Send us your 100 word bio and we will send it out to local businesses who are on the lookout for good people! info@priorityone.co.nz

Tauranga Welcomes You

Tauranga Welcomes You


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About Kathryn

About Kathryn


Kathryn Overall is the friendly voice behind the 'Wish You Were Working Here' stories and Facebook posts.  Each month she chats with returned Kiwi expats,  Auckland imports and New Zealand immigrants who have moved to Tauranga, collecting their stories and advice to share with you. 

CLICK HERE to read her own story of reluctant homecoming!


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