Building Communities ad Lightning Lab with Nick Churchouse


Nick Churchouse is the type of guy who everyone calls by his last name – he’s a doer and a connector. He has been involved in the business ecosystem for over 10 years, 7 of which have been with Creative HQ. He’s at the helm of a lot of things around here – the initiator of Venture Up, part of the crew that launched Lightning Lab, started Startup Garage and is an active member of the Startup Weekend Wellington community. While doing all this, he is also super-invested in the people around him and is devout about bridging disparate communities. Who better to talk to about how to build and nourish engaged communities? We spoke about what community means to him and his why.

To Churchouse community is only relevant with context, as it’s such an amorphous word. “I think about community as having reference, relevance, and reliability – in other words, your community is a reference point for who you are as a member of that community. They are relevant for your purposes in terms of there being some shared goals or characteristics as your common ground.” But the third R is the most necessary element to cultivate assurance in your community – being able to rely on your people. Churchouse reckons “this could be anything, such as turning up to a meeting, sharing resources or knowledge, or simply relying on others to greet you in the street.” This mutual investment is the “currency of the community”

Looking at the last ten years we asked him what changes he’s seen in the community and how he thinks it’s going to evolve moving forward. “The changes I have seen are cyclic, and probably not different to how other communities evolve. New themes, new members, changes in dynamics and so forth.” In true Churchouse fashion, he turned the question around and puts the challenge of evolution back to the community, asking us to think about what we can achieve in the next ten years and who we want to be in 2027. “The future will always be a rolling opportunity to do more with what we have got – build better and more efficient community connections, build more awareness and insight of our own awesome people and capabilities.”

He’d like to see some more big picture stuff happen in terms of the how we evolve our community. He’d like to see more confidence and inbound sales around our NZ Inc intellectual property, less worrying about who’s saying what in Silicon Valley. How does Churchouse see this all coming together? “This will be a step change in self-confidence around our local communities and their capabilities. We need global awareness and local excellence in our ambition, execution, and storytelling.”

Churchouse has recently moved from being Head of Customer Engagement to being the Head of People and Practice for Creative HQ and it’s clear that community has always been at the heart of what he does. So what’s his why? Nick narrowed it down for us to two things, “the generosity and social investment – from this diverse group of people.” The Wellington startup / business community is tight-knit, people care and are invested in each other, he says. “I have seen this time and time again over the past 10 years in an innate sort of immune system that protects the community against elements which don’t help it.”

Those who are in it know working in a startup is an incredibly hard gig. The compromises are great and the benefits are few, and often there is only a sniff of something awesome in the future. Everyday Creative HQ works with this community, and Churchouse knows more than most about how community can impact an individual. “Having a community which you can relate to, and rely on is often the difference between survival and madness (or more clinically diagnosable versions of same). The rise of shared spaces, coworking and the ‘startup cult’ has roots in this need to be among people on a similar journey. A community is critical to these individuals and is something we could do more of in New Zealand around SME owners.”

And what about community’s impact on innovation? It’s two-fold, he says. A good community should support and nurture talent and ingenuity, but for true innovation, you need challenge, pressure and a culture of high expectation. “Communities lacking self-awareness and ways to both support AND challenge their members could be the very thing getting in the way of achieving something truly impactful by instead nurturing ordinary ideas.”

Building engaged communities means also taking the responsibility to nourish them. It means tending their roots, feeding them and then standing back and making room for them to grow. Churchouse relates it to having children, “you give them as much as you can afford to, introduce them to new experiences and learning, and encourage the right mix of aspiration, self-belief and mutual respect. And then trust that they’ll do good things with it.”

“Creative HQ and our peer organisations across New Zealand have a responsibility to invest in the foundations of our startup communities, facilitate the evolution and then watch with pride as they flourish.”

Throughout October Creative HQ is focussing on “Community” hearing from experts, staff and alumni on the topic. Last month we focused on “Leadership“. Make sure you’re subscribed to our newsletter to get all this useful information in your inbox at the end of the month.

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