There are so many components in successfully scaling great tech ventures. NZVIF’s Franceska Banga identifies a number of them in this article where she compares Silicon Valley with NZ. Essentially we all have a role to play!

Silicon Valley. Rightly or wrongly it’s the totem pole by which countries judge their transition to a more technology-based economy. But while many want to create the next Silicon Valley, replicating its confluence of factors is not easily done.

There are some features which helped create and continue to make Silicon Valley unique. It helps, for a start, having nearby two top universities – Stanford and Berkeley – with Stanford’s famed electrical engineering department especially important. So, too, does having huge pools of investment capital nearby.

But what might surprise many about this bastion of private enterprise is that it grew out of a long-term partnership with private enterprise supported by decades of US Government contracts and subsidies.

Its 60-plus years of growth has seen three technological waves.

Post World War II, federal Government money to develop new defence and aeronautical technology established the valley’s foundation and the first wave.

Darpa (Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency), created in 1958, is credited with playing a significant role in the development of the earliest version of the internet.

From that base came the second superconductor and PC wave of the 1970s and ’80s, followed by the internet, social and mobile media technological wave since the mid- 1990s.

The venture capital funds, which today underpin so much valley innovation, also enjoyed decades of Government support.

The Small Business Investment Act of 1958 established federal funding for US venture capital firms. In its first decade, the programme invested US$3 billion into young firms – over three times the amount invested by private venture capital funds.

The programme still exists and in 2013 it provided US$2.2 billion of funding investment. Many of the valley’s most dynamic tech companies – Apple, Compaq and Intel – have been backed by Government funds.

While our tech sector shouldn’t try to mimic Palo Alto – our market is very different – there are many reasons to believe we can build a credible and sustainable tech sector that is economically significant over the long-term. Over the past 15 years there has been significant progress in building New Zealand’s technology landscape.

The annual TIN100 survey shows that over the past eight years, revenues from New Zealand’s top 100 technology companies have jumped from $4.7 billion in 2006 to $7.6 billion in 2014.

While NZ has some catching up to do if we want to create a technology sector of significant economic scale, we are well on the way.

The TIN100 result backs up what we are seeing daily in the business news pages, with a stream of new technology companies becoming household names – alongside Fisher & Paykel Healthcare, Datacom and Trade Me are the likes of Xero, Orion Health, Wynyard Group, Rakon and Pacific Edge.

The innovation pipeline of the next generation of technology companies also looks very healthy.

New Zealand’s tech sector is being built through the application of innovation and technology across multiple sectors led by the software industry. There are many other sectors where unique technology solutions are being developed.

Healthcare integration, helicopters, paint, parking, apples, animal health, surgical dressings and cystic fibrosis are examples where local innovation is leading the world.

There is no single factor driving this innovation. The role of successful private sector leaders and entrepreneurs is crucial. But so, too, is the support from the Government, from establishing Callaghan Innovation, developing business incubators, encouraging more R&D, commercialising more university research and strengthening our capital markets.

We know it takes a long time to develop a sustainable venture capital sector – the Valley’s VC sector took 40 years to develop. And while our VC market is likely to remain boutique, servicing local start-ups as they grow, their role is critical in filling the $2 million-$10 million funding gap – beyond crowdfunding and angel investors, before traditional capital markets.

We may never rival the US but we need to ensure our VC sector reaches a critical mass to meet the needs of New Zealand’s growing tech sector.

Since its establishment as a Government-owned and funded company, NZVIF has partnered with 10 venture capital funds. Alongside its fund partners, NZVIF has invested into some of New Zealand’s most promising growth companies – including Orion Health, Xero and PowerbyProxi.

For every dollar invested by the Government through NZVIF, there must be at least 1:1 matching investment from private investors. The public/private sector investment leverage runs significantly above that. To date, a total of $1.1 billion has been raised for NZVIF VC-funded companies of which NZVIF’s contribution is $100 million.

Overall the VC fund has returned 5.6 per cent per annum. Post-GFC, VC fund investments are showing returns of 26 per cent per annum.

New Zealand has made significant progress over the past two decades and the results can be seen in the array of emerging technology companies with good growth prospects. If every year we have two to three VC funds investing across 10 companies in the $2 million-$10 million funding gap, the impact could be significant.

Building a vibrant early stage investment ecosystem is not an insignificant goal. Look at the countries which have succeeded – the US, Israel, Finland and Singapore. In all, government support behind private sector endeavour has been instrumental.

Franceska Banga is chief executive of the NZ Venture Investment Fund

First published NZHerald 26 March 2015

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