Frances Valintine

BLAKE Leader 2016

Founder, The Mind Lab. 

Through innovative thinking, courage and perseverance, Frances Valintine delivers learning programmes that prepare today’s students for tomorrow’s digital world. Her ability to understand the impact of the digital age and technological advances on future generations has made her a transformational leader, determined to make a difference in schools, in the workplace and in the community.

Driven to transform learning from the inside, Frances has established two leading education programmes. She recognises that with the right form of education and leadership, New Zealand has the chance to be at the forefront of empowering students to succeed in the new digital economy.

Working in the often-challenging education sector, Frances has had to consistently persuade, and influence those resistant to change. As a natural entrepreneur, she is adept at assembling teams of talented people to help her take a vision and breathe life into it.

Frances began her career in education in 1991, promoting New Zealand export education to South East Asia. She then co-founded and led the Media Design School – which became the world’s third highest-rated film school and the largest contributor to the New Zealand creative technologies sector. When it was sold to the world’s largest university group, Laureate International, Frances stayed on as CEO, where she was able to research global impact initiatives benefitting education.

From observation and formal research, she began to question how prepared the education sector was for the future. She recognised science, technology and innovation were key elements of the changing world, and children would be the drivers of change.

Frances began collaborating with global leaders across technology and education to develop a new way to deliver contemporary education for the next generation.

After completing a Master of Education Management from the University of Melbourne as an adult student, Frances self-funded her education model, The Mind Lab.

Launched in Auckland in 2013, The Mind Lab brings together passionate technologists, scientists and educators to lead workshops in creative and digital technologies for children. It encourages students to explore robotics, electronics, gaming, design, coding and animation, and builds their collaborative skills.

Through the success of The Mind Lab, Frances now contributes to a new education model with the education agencies in New Zealand and around the world. There are now 12 Mind Lab locations throughout the country.

Broadening her education focus to include teaching the teachers, she formed a public-private partnership with Unitec in 2014 and developed a postgraduate certificate in digital and collaborative learning. Teachers now receive financial support from the NEXT Foundation to undertake postgraduate studies with The Mind Lab by Unitec.

Since it began, more than 60,000 students and 1500 teachers have been involved in The Mind Lab; many representing the most challenged education regions and demographics. This makes The Mind Lab the largest education facility in New Zealand.

In 2016, Frances founded a sister initiative – the Tech Futures Lab – in Auckland, designed to help technology professionals and business executives upskill to stay relevant in a rapidly advancing world.

Her vision for the future and the implications for education and the evolution of business are highly-regarded and sought-after by leaders and organisations around the world. She contributes to the US-based Talentnomics think tank, developing female leaders in developing nations, and sits on the boards of Education New Zealand, Callaghan Innovation and NZTech, as well as chairing both her education institutes.

A mother of a busy home of teenagers, she also finds time to mentor young Kiwi businesswomen to help them establish new businesses and grow their potential, and has generously given her time to not-for-profit organisations like the Salvation Army, SPCA and the Computer Clubhouse in Otara.

Frances’ work has earned numerous accolades. In 2014, The Mind Lab won Best Engagement of Youth in ICT at the NZ CIO Awards; the Social Innovation prize awarded by the NZ Innovation Council; and Best Start-Up in Asia Pacific, judged by Sir Richard Branson and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak. In 2015 she won the Education category of the Next Women of the Year Awards, and the Innovation category of the Women of Influence Awards, where judges commended her “vision, passion and results in creating a new approach to education”.

Most recently Frances was recognised globally as one of the top 50 “Movers and Shakers” by London-based EdTech Global, along with education legends including Salman Khan (Khan Academy) and Sugata Mitra (School in the Cloud).

And now in 2016, Frances Valintine is befittingly recognised as a Blake Leader.