Introducing World Class New Zealander Privahini Bradoo

World Class New Zealanders are high achieving New Zealanders who are making their mark on the world and defining NZ’s image internationally. These Kiwis are all outstanding and have worked hard for their international success. Kea sat down with World Class New Zealander Privahini Bradoo for a Q&A about her journey, being a New Zealander and what advice she has for New Zealanders going forward.

Privahini has built a career in the USA as a successful entrepreneur, with a passion for merging science and business.

Moving to New Zealand at 16 Privahini enrolled in the University of Auckland, studying Biomedical Science and completed her PhD in Neurogenetics and Drug Discovery – in the process, discovering a new family of genes involved in the survival and repair of brain cells in mice. During her time there she also established Spark (now Velocity) an entrepreneurial initiative to assist students in start-up ventures and Chiasma, building links between the academic biotech community, and the biotech industry.

Privahini won the highly competitive $100,000 Fulbright Platinum Entrepreneurship Fellow scholarship, allowing her to study her MBA at Harvard Business School. Privahini opted to step into the commercial world as an entrepreneur - working for several start-ups heavily focused on clean-tech. She went on to work in Business Development for 

Mascoma Corp, developing biofuel; at Lanzatech Inc, producing low cost alternative fuels; and then at Microvi Biotech Inc., providing low-cost, zero-waste, advanced water treatment solutions.

While making her mark in Silicon Valley, Privahini was appointed as a faculty advisor for Singularity University where she met Bryce Goodman. The pair established BlueOak in 2010. Prihavini presented the company at the first ever White House Demo Day for entrepreneurs, with Barack Obama. The company also won the Harvard Alumni New Venture Competition at Google’s Solve for X Conference, raising $35 million in start-up capital.

As CEO, BlueOak’s vision has been to revolutionise how we treat end-of-life electronics: converting the e-waste of today into a sustainable source of critical metals and rare earths for the technologies of tomorrow.

Privahini was recognised by the World Economic Forum as one of the world’s most influential people under 40 years old, and was also named one of Women 2.0’s ‘Founders to Watch’ in Silicon Valley. Unlimited magazine placed Privahini in the Top 10 Influencers of New Zealand list, she also won the Distinguished Young Alumni Award from the University of Auckland. Since then, her work has led her to become a Young Global Leader at the World Economic Forum.

To you, what do Kiwis excel at in the eyes of the world?

Ingenuity with humility - As Ernest Rutherford once famously said - "We haven't got the money, so we'll have to think".

What will be New Zealand’s biggest strength in 10 years?

Our people, both as drivers of our knowledge economy, but also as global leaders in embracing cultural and intellectual diversity.

What are stand out failures/problems you faced on your journey and how did you overcome/learn from them?

One of the hardest times I've faced was when our executive chairman at BlueOak, John Correnti, passed away in 2014. Losing him unexpectedly was both personally and professionally very hard - John was not just a luminary in our field and a key part of our team, he was also my mentor and a personal inspiration. I still miss him everyday, but we were fortunate at BlueOak to have a great team that was able to pick up and charge on forward.

Through this experience I learnt how critical it is to build institutional memory in a company, but more importantly I learnt how important it is to remember to thank all the people who touch our lives in meaningful ways.

How has your New Zealand background contributed to your journey/success?

My years in New Zealand were some of the most formative of my life. One of my mottos around entrepreneurship has been to "have a fully rational understanding of all the obstacles that lie ahead of me, and a completely irrational belief in your ability to overcome them".

My years in NZ, including my PhD, the creation of Spark and Chiasma, my friends and mentors in NZ, have all helped prepare me towards this motto.


What in your professional career or personal life are you most proud of?

Every part of my journey has had healthy doses of joy and pain, and each step has brought with it a bit more humility than the last – reminding me that my journey is only beginning and I still have a very long way to go. What I’m most grateful for is all the people who I have had the chance to learn from along the way.

What is one key lesson you want to share with New Zealand entrepreneurs/businesses/SMEs?

If you want to be recognized on the global stage, you have to play at global scale. It may seem trite, but it's important to make sure you're always playing the right sandbox.

How have you used global New Zealand connections/networks to help achieve what you have?

I truly have much to thank the global Kiwi network for where I am today! My entry into the cleantech and renewable resources space was in large part thanks to my Kiwi network: the first company I interned with during my MBA was founded by fellow New Zealander, Dr. Colin South, and was focused on converting biomass into ethanol. After my MBA, I went on to join Lanzatech as their VP of Business Development. Lanzatech, founded by fellow Kiwi Dr. Sean Simpson, is a true NZ success story and a global pioneer in the circular economy. I learned a tremendous amount through these experiences and it propelled me to take the entrepreneurial leap myself.

In addition, I have been fortunate to have incredible mentors in New Zealand who have followed my journey and advised me over the years, including Geoff Whitcher, with whom I first started my entrepreneurial journey nearly 15 years ago, and Prof. Peter Gluckman, my former PhD supervisor and a real inspiration.

What are the biggest growth challenges and potential opportunities for New Zealand companies/businesses/SMEs?

I think NZ companies get very, very far in terms of metrics and milestones with much, much less (in resources) compared to what I see in Silicon Valley. I think that is a great thing, a real opportunity, as it builds discipline and a creative, "hacker" mindset.

In this process, however, one needs to be wary of losing sight of the forest for the trees. In order to be a world-class, growth focused company, you constantly need to be thinking five, ten years ahead, and thinking BIG - and by big, I mean global markets, global trends.

We also need to continue to build a robust entrepreneurial ecosystem in NZ, particularly around risk capital at various stages of company growth.

What’s an important issue which needs attention in your industry?

We live in a world of technology explosion. The average lifespan of devices has gone from 5-8 years to 12-18 months. Just think about all the old electronics we all have stashed in our drawers! Over 80 percent of consumer e-waste ends up in landfills today, and most of the rest ends up in developing countries where it is treated in ways that significantly damage human health and the environment.

And yet, a ton of e-scrap contains the same amount of gold at 100 tons of gold ore!

Recognizing that e-waste is both the fastest growing municipal waste stream in the world, as well as a valuable resource, is important.


“Have a fully rational understanding of all the obstacles that lie ahead of me, and a completely irrational belief in your ability to overcome them”

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