Tech takes centre stage as showcase week draws large turnout

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Te Waka chief executive Michael Bassett-Foss says Waikato tech success stories are making it around the world.

Waikato tech success is drawing interest from around the world, the region’s economic development agency boss told a large audience at the launch of Techweek 2019 Waikato.

Our success stories are making it around the world,” Te Waka chief executive Michael Bassett-Foss said at the start of the nationwide week, which ran from May 20-25.

“We know that because we’ve got investors from overseas, innovators and firms contacting us and wanting to set themselves up in Waikato because of the good stuff going on here.”

But he also said that the tech sector had been one of Waikato’s “better-kept secrets”.

“Techweek is about showcasing innovation that’s good for the world from around Waikato and throughout New Zealand,” he said.

“It’s about inspiring businesses, youth, the wider community, and it’s about building capability around New Zealand. We’ve got some good stuff going on in Waikato in the tech sector, but it has been one of our better-kept secrets.”

That looks to be changing. About 360 turned up at Claudelands for the launch and Live Local, Work Global Expo organised by Te Waka and CultivateIT.

The week-long tech showcase drew 1000 more attendees than last year, organisers said.

It featured more than 70 speakers at a diverse range of events around the region, including breakfasts in Matamata, Tokoroa, Cambridge and Huntly, a small business retreat in Raglan and a Māori Showcase Youth event that drew 600 school students.

CultivateIT operations manager and Techweek Waikato project lead Jannat Maqbool said she was pleased to see a lot of new faces, thanks to heavy social media promotion.

“The theme for Techweek across NZ this year again was Good for the World but what had changed was focusing less on showcasing and more on building capacity and even more so on inspiration, to demystify technology for every day New Zealanders.

“So it was great to see that the increase in attendees, around 1000 more than last year, was largely made up of people you otherwise wouldn’t see attending a tech event and younger members of our community.”

Waikato has had the fastest-growing tech sector in the country for the past two years, and

Maqbool said the success may partly come back to the region’s can-do attitude.

“I think, and this is just a personal opinion, it may be because we just get on and do things. We hear that overall there is a lack of venture capital investment in New Zealand and yes there is room for more collaboration and to avoid reinventing wheels to generate greater value and impact, but overall we are just really good at putting our heads down and getting stuff moving.

“We seem in most cases to work out in time who it is we need to talk to and consult, and we just get on with it.”

CultivateIT has an important part to play, making connections and leading collaborative projects around the region.

Bassett-Foss paid tribute to the organisation, which in partnership with Te Waka is coordinating the delivery of the digital and ICT programme of work for the region, as part of the Waikato Economic Development programme

“The tech sector itself is significant; it not only employs a whole bunch of people and generates a whole lot of GDP but in economic development speak we call it a cross-cutting theme. It actually supports all sectors and helps all boats rise on the rising tide.”

Maqbool said technology as an enabler is fundamental to achieving key economic development objectives.

“Supporting this we are likely to see an increase in the visibility of technologies such as machine learning, artificial intelligence and sensor technology – as part of applications supporting increased productivity and improved decision making for businesses, in devices and software we all engage with on a regular basis providing information and delivering efficiencies, and adopted through smart cities initiatives such as the Smart Hamilton programme led by Hamilton City Council,” she said. 

“There are a number of initiatives in progress behind the scenes in these areas that are slowly but surely driving us forward as a region.”

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