Introducing Donna Hall - Bridging the Gap Between Corporate and Startup


A commonly used analogy compares big corporations and startups to boats. Corporations are the huge tankers, moving slowly, carrying many people and untouched by the ocean currents and waves. Startups are the speed boats, fast, agile, manned by a small team, but easily punished by the cruel nature of the sea.

Donna Hall has spent her time in Dunedin straddling the gap between these two worlds. As a Manager in the Polson Higgs Advisory team, Donna spent her working day in the corporate world, learning about and using business information systems to solve corporate business issues. In her evenings and weekends, Donna flourished in the startup world, facilitating Co.Starters and organising and running Startup Weekends.

This week we sit down to hear what Donna has learned on her journey, and why she made the jump, with both feet, into the startup world.


Why did you choose to apply for the Chief Starter role?

I had been on the fringes of the Startup Dunedin for a number of years as a Co.Starters facilitator and as a member of the Startup Weekend Dunedin committee. I had seen the Startup Ecosystem go from strength to strength over the past 18 months and I really wanted to be part of that journey and help build on that momentum. I also love working with entrepreneurs and innovators. What better way to do that than for a not-for profit that is all about supporting and growing startups right here in Dunedin!

What were you doing before you started at Startup Dunedin?

A good part of my adult life has been spent as a business advisor. Most recently as a Manager in the Advisory team at Polson Higgs. My specialty is business information systems. I spent a lot of my time working with businesses around process improvement and utilizing technology to be as efficient as possible.

What part do you remember most fondly of when you facilitated Co.Starters? Is there a particular moment you remember that makes you smile? 

Co.Starters is such a great programme! There are so many light bulb moments throughout the 9 weeks for the participants and it is a privilege to share that journey with them. I have developed some fantastic relationships with the participants and try and catch up with their progress whenever I can. My favourite part is always celebration night. Startups from week 1 to week 9 are generally worlds apart and it’s a wonderful thing to witness.

What common mistake or misconception do you think startup mentors make?

That you are there to tell the mentee the answer or solve the problem for them. A good mentor will nudge the mentee to find the answer themselves! 

What Startup Dunedin programme are you most excited for in 2019 or have talked about most to other people?

All of them! Let’s start with Audacious launching on the 20th March.  Startup Weekend Dunedin 5th, 6th & 7th of April 2019 - Tickets on sale now!  Co.Starters kicks off in May 2019. And last but certainly not least the Challenger Series! Pheww!!

Do you have any favourite idea(s) you’ve seen come through Startup Weekend Dunedin?

I sometimes feel there is a misconception that Startup Weekend is about tech based ideas. My two favourite examples are zero tech solutions.

Back in 2016 my partner and a very good friend entered Startup Weekend Dunedin, ended up in the same team and came second with a card game called Job Well Done. I might be slightly one eyed but it was a great example of a very simple idea, a card game encouraging families to do chores, that had the potential to be huge. Dave Moskovitz wrote a blog about it on NZ Startup of the Week.

2018’s winner was an eco-distillery called Once Lost. Born from the utilization of waste fruit from Central Otago orchards, Once lost was a simple idea that was easily validated and had sign ups for sales by the end of the 54 hours.

Is there a particular experience or thought that stuck with you after your first Startup Weekend?

I met a young man named Casey Davies-Bell (my predecessor) at my first Startup Weekend back in 2015!  I was there as a sponsor and I was so blown away by the talent in the room, so much so that I signed up for the committee then and there! I truly believe that every single one of us would benefit from the skills learnt over a Startup Weekend. From pitching an idea, building a team, the negotiations, the compromise and the elation of the finish line! Well worth a go! Did I mention Tickets are on sale now?! 

When you think of times of frustration you’ve had in the last month is there a product or service you wish existed to relieve that frustration?

Mine would be a app that the kids could order their own healthy lunch, to their school of choice, each day without my input. I have two fussy eaters. One eats bread, one won’t. One loves veggies, one doesn’t. And the list goes on... No two lunches are the same in this house so it would save a huge amount of frustration for me and my family! 

Do you have strange habits or something you do which you consider absurd/odd?

I love music and have a huge repertoire of song lyrics floating around in my head... lyrics for any occasion… unfortunately from time to time my brain does this little explosion and I will sing a song lyric directly related to how I am feeling about a person or a situation, often when they are nearby! This can be very entertaining for bystanders who are privy to this particular quirk. 

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