World looks to Kiwi thought leadership


New Zealand’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic created massive interest in Kiwi thought leadership and brought many Kiwis home.

New Zealand led the world in the fight against COVID-19 with a hard and fast lockdown that, for the most part, kept the virus out of the community.

“It caused massive renewed interest in New Zealand,” said Hillfarrance Venture Capital founder and managing partner Rob Vickery.

Vickery established his venture capital fund in Hamilton last year, after a decade in the highly competitive US market. Waikato software specialist Company-X is investing in Hillfarrance’s $40 million venture capital fund.

“The brain gain we’ve experienced of entrepreneurs coming back are building new businesses and pitching them for money from people like me. That’s exactly what we need, otherwise, they would be doing that in San Francisco, London or Sydney.”

“This market is on fire,” Vickery said. “I have never seen so many entrepreneurs in one spot.”

The Waikato is the locus of creativity.

“I have seen founders coming to me with much bolder ideas, more risk-taking. It’s cool, and I feel like the Number eight wire mentality is metamorphosing within this new group of returning Kiwis.

“The Number eight wire is going to just change into something which is more about being frugal with what you’ve got but being more audacious and more creative with the solutions you create.”

The tech sector is the third largest export for New Zealand, according to NZTech, accounting for $8.7 billion dollars of exports. It drives eight per cent of New Zealand’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), a major contributor to this economy and to this country. Company-X is one example of how the tech sector is changing, as Rod Vickery explains.

“It’s interesting how important New Zealand has become to the tech sector, but also how important technology has become to New Zealand,” Vickery continued.

“I was chatting with Microsoft about their driver for opening three data centres in New Zealand. It’s down to the fact that there’s something interesting going on in the market here. It’s an untapped treasure box. It’s largely undiscovered. Even though it’s still important to our economy, it’s still unknown.”

Vickery said he appreciated the technical capability held by the University of Waikato’s Computer Science Department and the skills it is passing on to students.

“The University of Waikato produces graduates who are pursuing ideas in the worlds of artificial intelligence and machine learning and this is a major focus of our fund,” Vickery said.

“They are going to come up with some really cool ideas.”

The University of Waikato is renowned for producing world-leading technologists, including Google Maps creator Dr Craig Nevill-Manning and co-founder of Google DeepMind Dr Shane Legg.

“New Zealand needs to think about how we cultivate more technical talent within our universities that aren’t corralled into building a start-up within a university, but instead get those skills and offer them to employers. The only reason why Los Angeles grew so fast as a tech community is because we had the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), the University of Southern California (USC), and California State University, Northridge.”

Vickery said it is better to have tried and failed than not tried at all and Kiwis returning home after a decade or more bring that psychology with them.

Vickery said it was vital founders were freed from the shackles of excessive governance and given unbridled permission to pursue bold, moonshot ideas that succeed, fail, or fail fast in a capital-efficient way. Figures supplied to Vickery by Waikato law firm Tompkins Wake showed onshore domestic investment into Kiwi start-ups had flatlined to around $80,000 over the last 14 years, while offshore investment was about $4.3 million.

“We’ve got to make that void and fill it more with domestic money,” Vickery said.


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