Just when you thought he’d reached the pinnacle, Derek Handley pulls another rabbit out of his hat.
I would list all that he has accomplished since he began his entrepreneurial journey, but my word count won’t allow it.
However, I won’t demean its relevance, all is well worth the mention.
In more recent times, you may recognise Derek from his appearance with John Campbell and Nigel Latta on their television show What’s Next, what you may not recognise Derek for, is all the work he does behind the scenes.
Currently, Derek is an adjunct professor at AUT, a director of Sky Television, a chief innovation officer for Human Ventures, founder of the Aera Foundation and an astronaut in waiting with Virgin Galactic. He was also part of Air New Zealand’s sustainability advisory panel up until October.
Always looking towards the future, he knows where business is heading and the impact it can have. Everything he does now is in support of this movement.
Your home is where your heart is
Though based in New York, Derek has deep connections with New Zealand, and has not spent more than three months away from what he still considers as home.
Derek is a firm believer that everyone on this planet has an ultimate purpose, New Zealand is the keeper of Derek’s.
“At the end of the day people need to realise what it is that pulls at their soul or their heart and for me, wherever I am in the world, that is New Zealand,” he says, the nostalgia shining through as he speaks.
“It’s woven into my existence. There has never been a period that I haven’t been attached to some project, some initiative, some problem.
“Going all the way back; I’ve been on the board of the Arts Foundation, I’m on the board for Sky TV, I was on the board of sustainability for Air NZ, I’m an adjunct professor at AUT, an investor in things like Eat my Lunch, and other startups in the community. I’ve set up a small charitable trust in NZ, I feel like I’m there every day in spirit.”
Even at the beginning of his journey, and possibly without realising it at the time, Derek was out to prove New Zealand’s worth.
In setting up The Hyperfactory – a mobile marketing agency which eventually sold to an American media and marketing group, Meredith Corporation – his purpose was to prove that a young person, from way down at the bottom of the world, could develop a successful global company, in achieving that goal he not only proved what he was capable of, but proved Kiwi’s should never be underestimated.
Though his contributions and successes may seem significant compared to the average Joes of the the world, his journey and progression is no different to the way anyone’s story unfolds; learning through trials and tribulations.
We all experience growth and change as we age, what resonated with our younger selves may no longer seem important as we progress. Rather than resting on his laurels, Derek continues to adapt to that change and frequently questions his purpose and fully trusts his intuition.
His sights are now firmly set on helping others on their journey and tackling as many societal and environmental issues as humanly possible, and he does so through a number a means.
Not just business for business sake
“It’s not who has made a billion dollars, it’s who has effected a billion lives.”
Derek is considered successful with his past endeavors in the old paradigm of success, but he says there’s a new paradigm and if anything good was to come of the recession it would be Derek’s realisation of this.
“Everything that I do now is somehow trying to contribute to some sort of environmental or social injustice,” he says.
“The turning point was in the recession, when I was still building The Hyperfactory and we were running out of money. It was an extremely difficult and stressful time.
“That was when I really started to ask, what is the point of all this stuff? Why am I doing this? The questions really came when I was thinking, this might all disappear, it might all collapse so what does that all mean?”
These questions have led Derek on a ceaseless drive to make a significant and positive impact. But it takes more than one person to make significant change, and more than one entity and thus begins the next chapter.
When you read the headline, ‘Derek Handley Invests alongside Mark Zuckerberg’, admittedly it grabs you and represents the scale of the startups that Derek is empowering. However, it’s the investment in particular which stuck out for me, I believe it perfectly sums up Derek’s direction and purpose – I’ll explain.
Through venture capital network Aera VC, in which Derek is a founding partner, they invested in the African tech company Andela, and as the headline conveys they did so alongside Mark Zuckerberg the Facebook mogul.
“The Andela model is to find the brightest talent no matter where it is in Africa and help them become top coders and software engineers.”
It’s giving people opportunity where they would never have had it before and sets them up for what the future holds – everything that Derek stands for.
Whether it be through Human Ventures, the Aera Foundation, through countless interviews and public talks, Derek is continuously using his experiences to progress the success of others and to better the world we live in.
In an article Derek wrote for the NZ Herald, he explains how the Andela model is relevant globally and suggests there is much talent going to waste.
“How much talent is there hidden in our low decile schools, in the regions or spread across the many islands of our Pacific neighbours that we have yet to discover and unleash, because they don’t ‘stand out’ in the school system, or aren’t provided with the conditions to?”
Upon mentioning hidden talents and his involvement in the Aera Fellowship, a program which enables young New Zealanders to be “immersed into the heart of real-world projects”, there was a definitive switch in the tone of Derek’s voice and I can’t help but sense something exciting on the horizon.
“I think we are at the cusp of a transformation in terms of the representation of young people in leadership roles in society, in the Government and with social issues. And I think I would like to catalyse that and make it move a bit faster.”
“I’m really interested in seeing what could be built, that may recruit far greater numbers of young people, to find places where they can serve. Whether it’s with a non-profit, on a social issue or joining their local council.
“Can we get new voices, younger voices, to really stand up and have them stepping forward to play a far greater role? That’s what is really inspiring me through the Fellowship.”
You’d think with his fingers in so many pies, as the saying goes, that Derek had reached his limit, but it seems there is more than one rabbit tucked away in his hat.
“The most important thing for me is I create a lot of space. The opposite of what you’d expect… but the more space I create the more effective I am everywhere. I’m always trying to create new forms of content and new forms of advocacy and awareness- building on issues.”
And if he’s not tackling the issues he’s investing in those that are.
“There are so many areas that we can be innovating in and trying to address in a way that is crossing the boundaries of what you expect from the Government, what you expect from the non-profit sector and what you expect from the business sector.
“It’s really exciting the road that’s being paved with social enterprises. There is lots of room to grow.”
And where there is room to grow you can guarantee Derek has a mind brimming with ideas. I feel as though we are still yet to see Derek’s ultimate contribution.
By Natalia Rietveld