NZ: the Upstart Nation vs Israel: the Startup Nation

“New Zealanders are very good at believing in themselves but not so good at believing in each other” – Ken Douglas                                            

It’s been terrific to see and be part of conversations Simon Moutter’s recent delegation to Israel have fired up. At the heart of all these conversations is the need to get better at believing in each other.

There are some very familiar themes set out in the post mission report urging us to “unleash New Zealand’s potential faster” – common purpose, culture, collaboration, capability, capital and commercialization.

The Angel Association focuses on three of these already – collaboration, capability and capital. We know raising capital is pointless without the first two, but it’s the first that holds the real key to success!

Without doubt New Zealand has the power to cut it with other innovative eco-systems. We are renowned for our inventiveness and ability to make stuff work. However – whether it’s Ireland, Finland, Israel or Silicon Valley we are looking to for inspiration – the stark fact is that New Zealand doesn’t have the same levels of wealth and capital as these places do. We can’t fund as many businesses as they can.

So as Marcel van den Assum (AANZ Chair) puts it, we have to be – and are in many contexts already – the Upstart Nation. While our resources are limited, we are very resourceful. We do more with less. We are unrelentingly tenacious when it comes to cracking a market. We make calls and open doors, which others think are impossible to open, to get to the decision makers in multinational partners and strategic investors.

None of us can create success on our own. It’s always easier when we do it together. At the Angel Association we engage with everyone in the ecosystem, facilitating conversations and connections to get our angel backed ventures out to the world to generate the returns we need to create success over and over again.

The Israeli learnings are valuable but actions speak louder than words. Focus is the number one principle of success. So let’s make collaboration the top priority of all the work the mission to Israel has identified.

What does that look like?

  • Generously make connections and share information.
  • Join a group of investors in a start up company – as the mission report so powerfully suggests.
  • Show up at events where people and organizations are fostering collaboration.
  • Actively promote and introduce those startups getting traction to international colleagues and persuade them to invest so those companies have the capital and connections to give them the best shot at global success.

To read the report in full click here.

Suze Reynolds

The face of NZ’s brave business future in the world? Men, men and more men

A recent international “innovation mission” was predictably and overwhelmingly dominated by men. To help organisers remedy such absurd and damaging imbalances, Anna Guenther and Jessica Venning-Bryan have produced a list for next time

A 50-strong trade delegation of New Zealand’s finest innovators and business people headed off recently to Israel. Their plan? An “innovation mission”, to learn from a land that has inspired entrepreneurship on many levels and to share our own knowledge as a scrappy start up nation.

Fifty of our finest: but where were the women? Judging by the NZ Herald story previewing the trip, there weren’t any. While the article was written by a woman, no women were mentioned as being part of the heavy-hitting delegation. (Let’s not even start on why, again, we’re Israel gazing.)

Read more

Entrepreneur wants Kiwis to join him

New Zealanders have great ideas, but the commercialisation of them was “near zero”, says Israeli entrepreneur Isaac Bentwich, whose latest venture, CropX, is based on technology from Landcare Research.

“It reminded me of where Israel was 30 years ago,” he said.

Bentwich is the founder and chief executive of CropX, an agritech company formerly known as Verigate, which licensed research from the New Zealand crown research institute. Its first funding round was with New Zealand angel investors including the New Zealand Venture Investment Fund and last year it raised US$9 million in a series A funding round and then a further US$1 million last month.

Investors include Google chairman Eric Schmidt’s venture firm Innovation Endeavours and US-based Finistere Partners which includes a Kiwi, Arama Kukutai, as a partner.

CropX aims to help farmers produce more food with less water and other resources. It makes soil sensors and irrigation controllers for use on commercial farms and an app to help farmers interpret the data they gather.
Bentwich says more global entrepreneurs need to be attracted to the country to help build the innovation eco-system.

Bentwich is a medical doctor by training and serial entrepreneur whose efforts with his previous three companies led to a Nasdaq initial public offering and two acquisitions worth about US$50 million. He discovered the CropX technology while living in Nelson a few years ago and has since migrated the company to Tel Aviv.

“It’s really a co-production of New Zealand technology, Israeli technology, and the US market.”

Speaking to the first-ever New Zealand innovation mission to Israel, Bentwich said, when he was in New Zealand, he was blown away by two things – the quality and quantity of innovation.

Israel is known as the start-up nation with more start-ups per capita than any other country and the second highest level of investment per capita in start-ups behind the US.

Bentwich was initially refused residency in New Zealand because he didn’t meet the immigration criteria and only got approval through special intervention by senior officials.

“You had to have a PhD in biochemistry or biotech. I only employed hundreds of people with these PhDs but that didn’t matter,” he said.

Bentwich said his advice to government officials during his two and a half years in New Zealand was that local entrepreneurs needed access to global serial entrepreneurs who could help them learn the necessary skills to build a successful business.

“Training the local ones is key and then the money will follow. The capital which is critical to a company is secondary to the entrepreneurs,” he said.

With his first company, Bentwich got overseas funding from US venture capitalists in Silicon Valley – their first investment in Israel – and they helped him learn the ropes.

New Zealand’s government recently introduced a new Global Impact Visa aimed at attracting global entrepreneurs to live and start up businesses in New Zealand. The tender process for a private sector partner to run the four-year pilot programme goes out next month.

Bentwich said there’s a lot of potential alignment between New Zealand and Israel which both had small populations, and were “islands” with small populations far away from their markets, having to rely on their resourcefulness. “New Zealand is in a sea of water and Israel in a sea of hostility”, he said.

He’s a fan of the two countries setting up joint funding initiatives to commercialise technology, which would “bring together the mellow Kiwi nature with the caffeinated Israeli one and great things will happen”.

– Disclosure: Fiona Rotherham travelled to Israel with support from the Trans-Tasman Business Circle.

First published on 1 June 2016

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