What a trans-Tasman bubble would mean for NZ tech

Callaghan Innovation CEO Vic Crone on how closer ties with Australia can boost New Zealand’s local tech ecosystem.

Enabling quarantine-free travel with Australia, in what’s referred to as the trans-Tasman bubble, could be of huge benefit to the New Zealand tech ecosystem. That’s according to Callaghan Innovation CEO Victoria “Vic” Crone, who also co-chairs the Innovation stream of the Australia New Zealand Leadership Forum.

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Callaghan Innovation CEO Vic Crone

“There’s a tightness and a bond that’s been developed through COVID-19. The two countries are charting similar paths, and I believe that there is a renewed interest in us, that we have become more helpful to Australia,” Crone says. “They have been interested in our innovation for a while. They are very curious about how we stand up things like Xero and space, for example. So, the opportunity is that, while the spotlight is on us, we should take advantage of that.”

Accessing Australian capital should be a New Zealand focus

Access to Australian capital for tech companies is uppermost for Crone, who notes that it is a “pretty easy market” for New Zealand companies. “Capital is restricted globally, so the opportunity for us to get in front of Australian investors with our ideas, that’s a big one. And that is actually the biggest impact I think we could have. In an environment where capital is drying up, how could we encourage investment in new ideas?”

She says that new funds to encourage venture capital investment such as the $300 government-backed Elevate fund, won’t be enough to solve the issue of lack of capital for companies with revenues between $3 million and $10 million. “Australia has a lot of capital through its super funds and is probably a little further ahead of us in regards to taking risks around using super funds to invest in innovation—that’s my personal view. It’s ripe for a conversation to sharing ideas and to be attracting that capital, and it’s in a market that is similar to us in many ways.”

Crone notes that often New Zealand companies find that they can get more funding from overseas investors, and that means that “sometimes our entrepreneurs have to go offshore to get the value of it on the world stage. … “Often the world values our IP [intellectual property] more than we do. The world is prepared to pay more for our IP than we are in NZ. And that’s just because we’re an isolated country at the end of the world and we do things on the smell of an oily rag,” she says.

According to Crone, areas of interest for Australian investment are agritech and health sciences. This chimes with the recent Genome Start-Up report which surveyed more than 250 tech ecosystems and identified the same two areas where New Zealand has the potential to be a global leader.

Other areas of possible cross-Tasman cooperation

The other area of common interest between New Zealand and Australia is ensuring there is enough technical talent in both countries, given that immigration is on ice for the foreseeable future. “We already knew pre-COVID that there was a shortage of technical talent in the industries that we need to grow as countries,” she says. “What technical skills will be required from industry in the future of work scenarios and how can we combine our efforts around that. I think for me that is a very emerging relevant area as our borders remain closed to immigration, our technical talent is constrained in these countries, so how can we work together around that?”

Crone is also keen for Australia to join the online Scale Up platform, launched in New Zealand last year, which provides an overview of the innovation ecosystem, currently referencing more than 1,400 companies, 90 investors, more than 145 hubs and 32 multinational companies. If Australia joined the platform it would provide an opportunity to compare its ecosystem with New Zealand’s, as well as those in Israel and Ireland.

Callaghan Innovation working on new vision for New Zealand

Meanwhile, Crone’s firm, Callaghan Innovation, is working on how to facilitate a vision for the future of New Zealand that is based on innovation and technology. It follows on from Visionweek, a series of online seminars hosted by Infrastructure New Zealand in early June 2020.

Crone says they have collated several pieces of thought leadership from a think tanks, entrepreneurs, media commentators and scientists. “There is a lot of commonality around the role that New Zealand can play as a leader in sustainability on the world stage in regards to inclusion and equality, and the need for us to diversify the economy into a digital IP-based economy,” Crone says.

“What we know from the last economic recession is that the distribution of benefit was not equal, and so we’re trying stimulate that conversation on how can we use innovation and tech to grow all aspects of our economic wealth—whether that’s economic, financial, social. and not for people to just see technology as profit for business.”

Callaghan Innovation expects to have an outcome from this research in three to four months’ time. “We’re looking at trying to involve a range a wide range of views. We believe our role in activating innovation is around the process, not deciding the content.”

Crone provided a list of papers being considered as part of this work to Computerworld New Zealand; they range from online opinion pieces through to multi-authored reports:

Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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