Tripartite Summit: tying it all together: timing, location, and people

  • The Chinese government is heavily promoting entrepreneurship and there is a natural drive towards innovation as the country’s economy moves into a new phase.
  • China is quickly becoming known for high-quality innovation, and the creation of new ideas and technology out of what already exists.
  • China’s history as a manufacturer of the world’s goods has allowed the country to expand on its history as a producer of low quality products made with cheap labour towards more specialised high-value products.

“It is easier to find skilled talent in China than anywhere else in the world. The quality of software engineers is equal to anywhere else, but the cost is one-third the price in China, compared to hiring staff in Silicon Valley.” – Derrick Xiong

Derrick Xiong from Ehang Inc. began his presentation at the Tripartite Economic Summit with an old Chinese saying – “timing, location, and people”.

Ehang Inc. launched the world’s first autonomous air vehicle earlier this year. The mega-drone can carry an individual for about 30 kilometres. Recently Ehang Inc. made an announcement with US company United Therapeutic – a public company with a US$5 billion valuation. The two companies are working together to develop a new system that will transport human organs for transplant patients.

Xiong referred back to the Chinese saying. “It is lucky,” he said, “that China has managed to tie all these things together.” Seemingly by sheer luck, China has got the mix of timing, location, and people right, which has allowed companies like Ehang Inc. to be part of the rapidly growing drone industry in China – the “new era of made in China”.


There is a national drive towards innovation in China and the Chinese government is heavily promoting entrepreneurship as the country’s economy moves into a new phase.

There are many startups emerging in China every day, and plenty of capital flowing around the China market to fund them. “It is very common now to see graduates exploring innovation as an opportunity,” said Xiong. “The most exciting part is that it’s no longer the best option for graduates to go and work in a big cooperation. Choosing an alternative route and working in a start-up or founding a company has become a great opportunity.”

Xiong admitted that when people think of ‘made in China’, they tend to think of low-quality products made with cheap labour. However, things are changing rapidly. The history of ‘made in China’ has given China a strong base to grow from, and allowed them to expand on their existing manufacturing facilities and skills.


Xiong estimates that the amount of time his company spent prototyping their drones would be only one-third of the time spent by other drone companies based outside China.

“This is China’s big advantage,” he said. Companies in France and the United States are announcing they will shut down their consumer drone business, which Xiong attributes to how hard it has become to catch up and compete with the rapid pace of development in China.


Over the past decade, mobile internet has changed the way people live, work, connect, and trade. This hasn’t been ignored by China, and along with the many apps being created and launched from there, a huge pool and demand for talented software creators has been established.

Although hardware companies like Ehang Inc. focus on hardware, they also need to utilise the skills of software engineers. “It is easier to find skilled talent in China than anywhere else in the world,” said Xiong. “The quality of software engineers is equal to anywhere else, but the cost is one-third the price in China, compared to hiring staff in Silicon Valley.”

In the end, Xiong said, there will be a new definition for ‘made in China’. It will be about high-quality innovation, and the creation of new ideas and technology out of what already exists. “China’s combination of timing, location, and people will transform the way we all live in the world.”

Tripartite Summit: Sharing Culture through Animation

  • Cartoon and animation has proven to be an excellent medium to successfully integrate culture and characters with a global audience.
  • The Chinese animation and comic industry is worth US$15 billion, the Chinese gaming industry is worth over US$21 billion.
  • Collaborative productions such as KungFu Panda (created by a joint venture with Dreamworks Animation) are finding global success.

“No matter where you come from, how old you are, or the language you speak, cartoon can be a helpful language. A translator.” – Tuo Zuhai

Tuo Zuhai from the China Animation Comic Game Group begun his presentation at the Tripartite Economic Summit by asking the audience what they think of when they think of China. He has noticed that since the 2008 Summer Olympics, many people think of the five mascots that were associated with the Beijing Olympic games.

“No matter where you come from, how old you are, or the language you speak, cartoon can be a helpful language. A translator,” he said.

Cartoon is a great medium to tell Chinese stories, said Zuhai. Chinese history dates back thousands of years, and the Chinese government is now beginning to commission people to tell Chinese stories and share that history through the use of animation and cartoons.

Zuhai’s presentation gave three examples of how animation is helping to bring international cultures closer together: integrating Asian characters with world audiences, combining traditional culture with an innovative spirit, and local production combined with world production.

Integrating Asian characters with world audiences

Havoc in Heaven is a Chinese animated feature film that was created in the 1960s the height of the Chinese animation industry. The animation style, and drums and percussion soundtrack used in the film are heavily influenced by Peking opera traditions. Havoc in Heaven received many awards, and was warmly received by Chinese audiences, and also recognised internationally.

Gangham Style, a K-pop single by the South Korean musician Psy went viral worldwide in 2012. It became the first ever YouTube video to reach one billion views, and almost instantly became a household song around the world. The South Korean Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism commended Psy for “increasing the world’s interest in Korea.”

Zuhai gave Disneyland as an example of an American business integrating into China. With Disneyland opening in Shanghai in June, they have incorporated Chinese culture into their brand. The typical Disney characters that have come to be expected at Disneyland will be there – including Cinderella, Ariel, Mickey and Minnie Mouse.

But in addition to these, Shanghai Disneyland also includes a giant glass peony blossom, representing nobility and good fortune at the center of the famous fountain, the “lucky” cloud patterns have been painted on some spires of the iconic Disneyland castle, and a traditional dim sum restaurant is present in the Disneytown nightlife area.

Combining traditional culture with an innovative spirit

Monkey King, a film released in 2014, was based on a traditional Chinese classic novel ‘Journey to the West’, and tells the story of how the Monkey King rebels against the Jade Emperor of Heaven – a story about victory against hardships. The reason for the films box office success is because it created a new definition of the relationship between two leading characters. It demonstrated that in traditional Chinese culture, respect is essential – but it did this with a modern spin.

Local production combined with world production

Zuhai encouraged collaborative production. Dreamworks from the United States have a joint production with China on KungFu Panda.

“In 2012, DreamWorks Animation took a gamble and launched Oriental DreamWorks, a US$330 million joint venture that was the first of its kind,” said Zuhai. “What started with the launch of the original Kung Fu Panda film is paying off significantly, with the release of Kung Fu Panda 3 this year.”

The Chinese animation and comic industry is worth US$15 billion. The Chinese game industry is worth over US$21 billion. Every year, China produces more than 200 animation TV series, 50 animated films, and thousands of internet animation and comic products. Creative connections between Hollywood and China are growing, helping to spread culture internationally, and growing the economy of both nations.

Tax and other changes have been made, but greater affluence and the rapid rise of e-commerce create more opportunities for New Zealand exporters to China, writes Tim McCready.

It used to be said that the biggest challenges to doing business in China were language, culture, and the sheer scale of the market. Now, throw in the rapid pace of change.

Over the past month, a raft of changes to regulations and tax have been introduced by the Chinese government. E-commerce is also evolving at a pace never seen before, and New Zealand’s access to online channels have never been easier.

Though some of these changes are likely to cause price increases, the premium customers New Zealand exporters target tend to make shopping decisions far less based on price and are prepared to pay for the safety and reassurance that comes with the New Zealand brand.

Research by The Boston Consulting Group and AliResearch, the research arm of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, found the increasingly powerful role of e-commerce is rapidly reshaping China’s economy and consumer market.

China has now overtaken the United States to become the world’s largest e-commerce market. In 2010, online transactions made up only 3 per cent of Chinese private consumption. Since then, the number of online shoppers has nearly tripled, with online transactions now accounting for 9 per cent of private consumption.

This growth is expected to continue. China’s Ministry of Commerce expects the country’s cross border e-commerce trade to reach 6.5 trillion yuan (about NZ$1.5 trillion) this year.

Coupled with an increasing demand from Chinese consumers for quality and safe products, it is no surprise this transformation presents an enormous opportunity to New Zealand exporters.

The evolution of e-commerce products in China means that it has never been easier than now for exporters to take advantage of the platform.

This was highlighted last month during Prime Minister John Key’s visit to China. New Zealand Trade & Enterprise and Alibaba signed a memorandum of understanding aimed at developing opportunities for New Zealand businesses to enter China’s consumer market through e-commerce channels and potentially providing access to millions of new customers.

In 2014 New Zealand Post launched an online store for New Zealand products on Alibaba’s Tmall Global. Chinese banks operating in New Zealand also see the importance of e-commerce, and are beginning to introduce their own online shopping malls.

ICBC New Zealand, China Construction Bank, and Bank of China are all actively promoting their own e-platforms and e-commerce consulting services to their clients.

In the wake of the explosive growth of online shopping, China’s Ministry of Finance, the General Administration of Customs and the State Administration of Taxation introduced new tariffs on cross-border e-commerce, effective April 8, 2016.

Online purchases will no longer be eligible for the lower personal tax rate of 10 per cent on parcels worth less than 1000 yuan (NZ$224), or no tax on parcels worth less than 50 yuan (NZ$11.20). Instead, imported products purchased online will be treated as imported goods, and are required to include an 11.9 per cent tax.

Under the current system, many products have been entering China with minimal tax. Although some have reported this tax as a crackdown, others consider it the closing of a loophole in regulation.

Eliminating the tax advantage offshore sellers have over locals helps level the playing field, and makes up part of a pledge by the Chinese Government to protect domestic retailers.

On April 7 all major government bodies in China involved in food and drug control, customs and tax, and business trading, jointly published a cross-border e-commerce retail list of imported goods.

This so-called “positive list” outlines products that are allowed to enter the country via free trade zones. Running to 23 pages, the list initially included wine and infant formula, but omitted adult milk powder and long-life UHT milk – though it has since been revised to allow both.

In addition to the list of prescribed products, China has begun imposing tougher regulations on infant formula products sold online.

Forming part of China’s revision on food safety laws, all foreign infant formula companies will be required to apply for new product registration with the China Food and Drug Administration if they want to continue to sell through cross-border e-commerce platforms.

Companies have until January 1, 2018 to comply, but in the meantime can continue to sell without certification.

Speaking at The Global Food Forum held in Australia last month, Gary Helou, former managing director of Murray Goulburn (Australia’s largest processor of milk and largest exporter of processed food), said that although he is surprised at the “clunky way” regulatory changes are occurring in China, food companies must prepare themselves for more sudden regulatory changes.

Helou’s comments were made in light of media, stock market analysts and investors reacting quickly to the changes in China.

Company valuations – particularly those in the dairy or natural health sector – have recently climbed to new highs. This has been dubbed the “Blackmores effect” after its stock soared more than 500 per cent last year in response to the opportunity in China.

However, confusion over the impact regulatory changes on the bottom line of businesses has resulted in a sell-off in stocks.

Australian health supplements producer Blackmores fell as much as 19 per cent in one day. NZX-listed premium dairy and infant formula marketer, a2 Milk, fell 6.3 per cent.

“Daigou” is the Chinese term given to buying items overseas on behalf of others. Products are purchased by Chinese tourists, smuggled into the country through professional “personal shoppers” or bought through online channels – with international students often acting as the intermediary.

With prices of manuka honey running as high as 1789 renminbi (NZ$400) for a 500g jar in Shanghai, it is often much cheaper to buy products directly out of New Zealand.

Furthermore, there is still a deep concern in China about the safety of products – something that was already in place when the country experienced its melamine scandal a few years ago.

Instead, Chinese consumers seek out products directly from somewhere or somebody they trust.

The grey market is a multibillion-dollar business. It can be argued that daigou can help put innovative new products on the radar.

Some brands estimate daigou is responsible for a significant percentage of sales into China. Imported products can be personally promoted to friends and families, which is undeniably an excellent marketing method – particularly in China.

Recent changes, however, have seen authorities tighten up on the practice. A maximum value of 2000 yuan (NZ$450) per single cross-border transaction has been introduced, as well as an annual cap of 20,000 yuan (NZ$4500) per customer before paying an import duty.

To ensure this is monitored, logistics companies are requiring consumers to register online before they will deliver products.

Furthermore, Chinese authorities are tightening up on inspections of goods entering China through airports.

There have been reports of two-hour delays in Shanghai’s largest airport – and products being dumped at the border – as customs officials inspect luggage and charge tax on items worth more than 5000 yuan (NZ$1120).

China is evolving on a daily basis. Managing that, as well as the more traditional challenge of doing business in China is not easy. But greater affluence and the rapid rise of e-commerce is creating more opportunity than ever.

Assuming New Zealand companies continue to have patience, comply with changes as they occur, and get their products across the border, the opportunities in China for New Zealand businesses continue to be almost limitless.

Cyber risk creates a real opportunity for New Zealand, Kordia chief executive Scott Bartlett tells Tim McCready

New Zealand businesses are starting to show a real mindset shift when it comes to cyber security, agrees Kordia’s chief executive Scott Bartlett.

“It’s in the papers a lot more, there is a real narrative going on in the business community around business obligations, endless surveys where CEOs say it is a top five issue — a real groundswell happening.”

But Bartlett admits that while this increased awareness is something to take notice of, it is just the beginning.

The next question companies must ask themselves is what they can do to make themselves safe. Businesses need to create a strategy — and then monitor it.

Bartlett sees organisations at different stages in addressing cyber security. “We have seen a lot of public sector departments and agencies jump on that maturity curve sooner than some others. And there are some standout examples among the business community.”

The challenge is that the issue, opportunity, and the subject of cyber security is universal — those instigating attacks don’t discriminate. “The reality is that you will get hacked, and you may not know that you have been,” says Bartlett.

“That is the attitude you must go into this with.”

Over the next year, Bartlett sees external threats increasing.

“We are going to see far more automation of attacks, and the tools are only getting better. Over the course of the next couple of years we are going to see the impact of these attacks worsen.”

One of the major challenges for businesses is legacy code that has been iteratively added to over the past 10 years.

“Find an organisation where all the web systems are new — they don’t exist,” Bartlett says.

“You are probably still vulnerable to things that came two years ago.” For external threats, raising the hygiene factor is critical. But they will always exist regardless of what a company does. Internal threats, on the other hand, depend on culture.

“There is a tendency to think of cyber security as a technical problem. But you can have all the policies, procedures, and firewalls in place you want, but if your people don’t understand the risk that comes with picking up a USB stick and throwing it into a computer, or doing commercially sensitive work on public hotel Wi-Fi, then the bad guys will get around your systems.”

Kordia’s mission is to be New Zealand’s leading business-critical technology company — “you can’t be in the business-critical game without cyber security.” In line with this, Kordia announced the expansion of its cyber security offering with the acquisition of Aura Information Security for $10.02 million in November last year.

Before the acquisition, Kordia already provided security products to customers, but Bartlett describes bringing Aura into the portfolio as Kordia’s “secret sauce”.

Fifty per cent of their business is in telecommunications, and roughly half of that in New Zealand is now security services.

Aura has about 300 customers, most of which are New Zealand’s largest organisations, including government departments, banks, and large insurers. They are also increasingly working with medium sized businesses.

Bartlett stresses that the biggest requirement in cyber security is to do a terrific job for customers — “if you drop the ball once, you are done”.

It is that requirement that makes Kordia acutely conscious of responsibly managing the growth of its cyber security consulting services. Although growth can be alluring, Bartlett insists that serving existing customers first is the priority.

“While we have experienced CIOs and technical folk in New Zealand, cyber security is specialist.

New Zealand’s pitch to attract people here isn’t bad, but Bartlett admits that the world is competing for the same talent. We need to have a combination of “grow our own” as well as attracting the best, he says.

For Kordia, this means making sure their cyber security team of 30 spends more than a fifth of their time on R&D — research that interests them. It’s a huge investment for Kordia, but things are changing rapidly — “if you’re not doing research, you’re falling behind.”

As opposed to Aura’s consultancy services, Kordia’s security product is very scalable.

RedShield provides defence for websites and web applications, and is currently shielding most of the Government and large businesses. It has the potential to go truly global, beyond current deployment in Australia and the UK.

It is obvious that Bartlett has a real passion for the opportunity cyber security can offer both Kordia and New Zealand.

“Exporting IP is fantastic and it is definitely part of the plan,” he says. “Products like RedShield will be key for New Zealand’s economic future — weightless and scalable. With fair wind and a lot of smart people it could become a big opportunity for New Zealand.”

Bartlett notes that the Government plays a leading role in informing and educating. The establishment of a CERT — a computer emergency response team — provides businesses a first port of call for advice, and allows knowledge sharing from the global community and within New Zealand.

This will ultimately help to lift awareness.

But the Government can’t do it alone.

Bartlett has been surprised at how much desire there has been across the spectrum to make the country safer, and how willing people are to contribute to it.

“We are a small country, and should be able to become a cyber security paradise,” he says. “If we can make New Zealand a cyber safe country — the world’s first — that would give New Zealand an enormous competitive advantage.”

Tim McCready

Sheep milk products may become a Holy Grail as the agricultural industry continues to diversify, writes Tim McCready.
Dairy diversification is a very New Zealand preoccupation, and with good reason. Dairy prices are not becoming any more predictable, an uncertainty that feeds constant rhetoric about the need to diversify away from dairy.

It is true that diversification into technology and intellectual property exports offers New Zealand an exciting future, but it overlooks the potential for diversification within dairy. This can offer New Zealand significant opportunity, new markets and potentially less environmental damage.

Though dairy is still dominated by industry giants, this has not crowded out smaller innovative players. The “alternative dairy” industry has already had success in New Zealand.

Hamilton-based Dairy Goat Cooperative developed the world’s first goat milk-based infant products in 1988. Focusing only on the premium market, Dairy Goat’s turnover in 2014 exceeded $150 million. They show no signs of slowing, with a $70 million spray dryer opening last year.

Auckland-based health product provider New Image Group has partnered with Oete Farms, and plans to increase goat milk products, particularly due to a strong response from China, Southeast Asia and the Middle East. Even Hawke’s Bay’s regional economic development agency is spearheading a project to capture the value chain for the region’s goat industry — from breeding through to processing and exporting.

Yet it is New Zealand’s sheep that may provide the next exciting opportunity for diversification within the dairy industry.

The global market for sheep dairy is large and growing, driven largely by health, tradition, and fashion. Sheep milk has considerably more milk solids than cow’s milk, almost double the protein, more calcium, high levels of key vitamins, and a creamier texture. It is also reported to be more easily digested than cow’s milk, making it attractive to the Asian market.

The New Zealand government has recognised this potential. The Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment, tasked with helping businesses to become more productive and internationally competitive, is running a six-year programme to boost exports of New Zealand’s emerging dairy sheep industry.

Their research, involving AgResearch scientists from across New Zealand, aims to grow our dairy sheep industry to become an international leader by better understanding sheep milk composition and function, boosting production and value, and ensuring the environmental footprint of the industry is sustainable.

New Zealand’s dairy sheep industry is already reasonably established, with five commercial operations, but there are signs it can expand and innovate further still.

AntaraAg, New Zealand’s largest producer, has around 20,000 stock units and produces cheese and milk powder, mostly for export. Earlier this year AntaraAg’s predecessor, Blue River Dairy, sold its processing plant and brand to Chinese company Blueriver Nutrition HK — a necessary step for expansion into Asia after a year of unsuccessful negotiation to have Blue River Dairy’s infant formula certified in China.

On top of this, New Zealand’s sixth commercial sheep dairy operation was announced last month. Spring Sheep Dairy is a 50/50 partnership of SLC Group and State-owned enterprise Landcorp, and has ambitions to lead this field.

The partners aim to make Spring Sheep a leading dairy operation in terms of innovation, on-farm best practice, sustainability, product safety and quality, and product and brand development.

Landcorp is one of New Zealand’s leading agribusiness organisations and aims to improve the productivity, profitability, and sustainability of farming. Besides holding New Zealand’s largest dairy cow herd, it is also considered a world leader in sheep farming, genetics and research.

SLC Group is a boutique investment company that provides strategic support to turn New Zealand’s small and medium enterprises into brands that are attractive to a global market and to multinationals, with particular expertise in selling high quality New Zealand products into Asia.

Spring Sheep’s initial operation will be based on 400ha of farmland at Reporoa in the Bay of Plenty. They are converting the farm to milk 3000 East Friesian ewes and ultimately expect to milk 3500 sheep and produce one million litres of milk annually.

Though sheep milk is typically associated with feta, Spring Sheep sees this as a European dominated product and not maximising New Zealand’s added value potential. Spring Sheep is also steering clear of infant formula, which has historically been difficult to capture value from. Instead, they expect to start with ice cream, with the aim to expand their product range into senior and sport nutrition products. They will initially target Taiwan and Korea.

Lucy Griffiths, a 2014 New Zealand Nuffield scholar, spent a significant amount of time last year travelling to meet and work with sheep milk farmers around the world, and has arguably become one of New Zealand’s leaders in the industry.

Her report provides a business plan for New Zealand sheep dairy to become a billion dollar industry in 10 years’ time.

Griffiths can see the sheep industry offering New Zealand massive opportunity. “When I met with leading industry experts in the Middle East, Afimilk, they pointed out that the return on investment for sheep dairy is five years on average, versus 20 years for dairy cows. Sheep dairy could also provide a more viable return for the land and reduce the environmental impact at the same time.”

But Griffiths noted: “If New Zealand wants to position itself as a leader, we must be market-led and offer a point of difference from other large global producers.”

Tim McCready

Silicon Valley investment an art, not a science says expert.

A leading American venture capitalist, Bill Reichert, believes entrepreneurs and investors have a huge opportunity in New Zealand, particularly in the areas of graphics, animation and agriculture.

Reichert, managing director of Garage Technology Ventures which is based in California’s Silicon Valley, says New Zealand has a unique and compelling advantage across a variety of sectors and is ripe for disruptive innovation.

He says New Zealand now has strong angel groups that have made good investments, and some have graduated to small venture-style funds. However, he feels angel resources could be more aggressively pooled so that capital is set aside for follow-on investment when companies go global. A beachhead adviser for New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE) Reichert travelled with SVForum chief executive officer Adiba Barney to Auckland and the other main centres, making presentations and meeting entrepreneurs, investors and business leaders.

They were supporting Callaghan Innovation’s incubator programme and providing local technology businesses with a connection in Silicon Valley. Barney believes New Zealand should leverage the success of technology companies like Xero — just as Sweden, her home country, has done with the likes of Skype, Spotify, Minecraft and Candy Crush. They have strengthened the Swedish innovation ecosytem.

She says Xero is a trailblazer and the network it has created will make the path easier for future companies to follow.

Reichert outlined his 10 investment myths New Zealand angel investors and innovators could learn from (below):

His parting advice was that the water separating New Zealand and Silicon Valley shouldn’t matter – there is also a lot of space between Silicon Valley and New York. New Zealand should recognise its strengths and successes, feel the pride and not be afraid to brag about it.

Myth 1: Invest in what you know.

If you have become an angel investor, what you used to know is unlikely to be relevant. Instead, you should be technology agnostic and consider all opportunities. Most winners are black swans – random opportunities where success seems obvious with the benefit of hindsight.

Myth 2: Focus on making money

You can’t look at a start-up company the way you look at the stock market. The margins and projections an inventor or CEO provide are almost always wrong. Focus on whether they are creating value, and in turn, a valuable company.

Myth 3: The key is good due diligence.

Investors often feel a robust due diligence process will result in a good decision. But you cannot capture the data required to show if there is inherent value in a start-up. Instead, you have to develop good intuition and use your heart to make decisions. This is not something that fits into a standard due diligence checklist.

Myth 4: Don’t let emotions cloud your decision.

Since start-ups can’t give you reliable data, you have to pay attention to your emotions. If, for whatever reason, you don’t like the founders, it doesn’t matter how amazing their business model is.

Myth 5: Build a consensus among a syndicate of investors.

Most investors look for consensus. But historical data shows the best investments are controversial. If an idea is obvious it is unlikely any particular company will dominate the industry.

Myth 6: Success comes from adding value.

Everyone working in investment likes to think they add value. The harder you have to work for an investment the less likely it is to succeed. Instead, invest in a team that has the technology and understands the market. Investors don’t build companies, entrepreneurs build companies.

Myth 7: Protect yourself from follow-on investment.

By including protective provisions for yourself, you will likely poison the company. If you think you need them because you don’t trust the entrepreneur, don’t invest in the company.

Myth 8: Valuation is important.

You can focus so much on valuation that you lose sight of what is important. So often after signing a deal investors go through a surprise at the first board meeting. They were buried in term sheets and negotiated from a presentation that is now long out of date.

Myth 9: It is cheap to start a company now.

This is true, but it is more expensive than ever to build a successful company. Anyone can start a company, which means there is a lot of competition. Growth costs money, and a flat open world doesn’t necessarily make things cheap.

Myth 10: Diversify your portfolio.

There is no point diversifying into arbitrary categories. Diversify your entire portfolio, but not your angel investments. Instead of chasing hot sectors, invest in ideas that are exciting and have an edge – things that could be the next black swan.

Tim McCready looks at financing trends for innovators and entrepreneurs.

What does it take to turn a dream into a reality? The answer inevitably involves money, and usually quite a lot of it.

Many New Zealand businesses choose to grow organically, either by bootstrapping, where revenue is reinvested into the business for growth, or through small amounts of funding obtained from the bank, family, or friends.

However, a business built on innovation nearly always requires a significant injection of capital from a third party, and traditionally through venture capital or angel investment.

Aside from money, these sources of investment can bring additional spillover benefits to advance a business.

Angels and venture capitalists will typically invest in opportunities where they can add value using their networks, bring knowledge and a new perspective, or impart first-hand experience. When it comes to innovation, you cannot have enough of any of these.

New Zealand’s ‘no. 8 wire’ mantra is not just rhetoric. Over the last few years I’ve seen an increase in international funds and multinational organisations taking an interest in New Zealand.

They recognise us as a pool of largely untapped potential and are coming to see what we have to offer.

There is plenty of exciting innovation happening here, but it is probably fair to say that many businesses are not ‘investment ready’, and don’t present themselves in the best light to make an attractive funding proposition. There is some truth that money is hard to get. Not just from New Zealand, but anywhere.

Venture capitalists and angel investors hear about opportunities to spend their money continuously – it’s their job.

They want to see solid business opportunities and investment pitches that are professional, polished, and concise.

It is arguably for this latter point that many businesses unwittingly make the challenge more difficult than is necessary and struggle to get their foot in the door.

New Zealand Trade & Enterprise’s Better by Capital programme addresses this by explaining the capital raising process, allowing a business to identify and access the investment required to expand and internationalise.

Better by Capital partner with private sector specialists who have capital raising experience to help businesses get ‘investment ready’ and prepare a capital plan. NZTE’s capital team can then assist with their global investor networks to identify and access domestic and international sources of funding.

Callaghan Innovation, the government-backed innovation hub, provides more than $140 million in funding a year to businesses to use for their R&D projects to encourage innovation.

R&D Growth Grants provide 20 per cent public co-funding for R&D expenditure, capped at $5 million per annum. R&D Project Grants are targeted at businesses who are new to R&D where Callaghan provides funding for 30-50 per cent of R&D costs.

R&D Student Grants provide funding to cover the salary of a university student or graduate to work on an R&D project within a business for up to six months.

For early stage, high-growth businesses, Callaghan Innovation has an Incubator Support programme.

The incubators are privately owned businesses that can assist with all areas of innovation, including access to networks, market and technology validation, intellectual property assessment, access to capital, and advice on strategy and governance.

The introduction of this programme last year is the result of a push from the Government to get more innovation off the ground in high-tech sectors, which they rightly recognise as crucial to growing New Zealand’s economy beyond commodities.

Aside from the time required for the application process, government grants have few drawbacks and are a useful way for a business to make their cash go further.

R&D grants from Callaghan are non-dilutive, meaning that they don’t affect the ownership structure of the company. If your business is eligible, this funding should be at the top of your list.

Technology entrepreneur Sam Morgan has been known to criticise the government’s overzealousness when awarding grants, however he concedes that “it would be irresponsible not to try to get some”.

Not only does this help the balance sheet, but showing support from the New Zealand government and having access to extra cash for projects will undoubtedly help when talking to third parties about further investment.

It would be remiss to talk about capital raising and not mention crowdfunding. Equity crowdfunding is a relatively new method of raising capital, and is becoming an increasingly popular buzzword since a change in New Zealand’s securities legislation last year allowed it.

The Financial Markets Conduct Act allows a business to efficiently crowdfund up to $2 million without having to put together a costly and time consuming prospectus, prompting the launch of equity funding from PledgeMe, Equitise, and Snowball Effect. Donors pledge their support online, where their investment level can be of almost any size.

Crowdfunding relies on an opportunity reaching a large audience, which means it tends to work best if the project is something the mass public can get behind exciting technology or niche healthcare innovations have done particularly well on these platforms internationally.

As crowdfunding becomes more mainstream, having an opportunity that stands out and entices investors will inevitably become more challenging.

Finding funding for innovation is notoriously difficult and takes a significant amount of time.

But like so many things in business, funding is about networks, and you can’t do it alone. There are tools and services in place to help make it easier – you just need to know where to look.

Converge+UK: creative, business & technology abrasion

When I arrived in the UK from New Zealand I was chatting with two friends who had also recently relocated – Peter Thomson and Klaus Bravenboer, about the types of business events being held in London. We were surprised that the events we had been to tended to be very sector-specific, and that innovation, collaboration and access to capital in London didn’t seem as far ahead of New Zealand as we had expected.

We recognised that the most exciting part of working in start-ups is when people from different backgrounds come together to make something exciting happen. Aristotle was exactly right: ‘The whole is more than the sum of its parts’ (we prefer the term ‘creative abrasion’,  proposed by a little known book from the 1980’s with the same name, which postulated that genuinely new ideas emerge from the debate, disagreements and diversity that only happens when really opposing viewpoints collide).

Off the back of this conversation we created a non-profit organisation – “Converge+UK”.


Converge+UK runs events that bring together disparate groups of people from creative, business, and technology sectors.

For the first event we partnered with Google and hosted at Google Campus. Continuing to run our events in London start-up incubators we have also held Converge+UK events in the Innovation Warehouse and at Wayra.

Over time we have refined the event to include:

  •  Three blocks of “5in5 presentations – five slides, one minute per slide. Five minutes is enough to cover five key points of a topic, and one minute per slide is a good length for storytelling and
  • Two group exercises before breaks
  • Plenty of networking opportunities between blocks of speakers

Bringing designers, developers, entrepreneurs, scientists, angels, corporates and industry leaders together has provided the opportunity to produce remarkable solutions to extremely disparate problems. Group exercises we have run include discussing how LOCOG (the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games) could have better dealt with the problem of empty sponsor seats in the Olympic stadium, and how we could use ‘creative abrasion’ to better educate the community about the problem with payday loans – an increasing problem in the UK.



To find out more about Converge+UK, visit our website, follow us on Twitter, connect with us on facebook, or sign up to come along to our next event at

“There were just so many meetups in London that it’s overwhelming, there’s something on every night, but it’s impossible to know which events are worth going to and even when you find a good event, it’s all people from the same discipline. It’s like partying in a giant echo chamber. I wanted to start something that bought people together in new ways.”

– Klaus Bravenboer

“There is a rebel spirit to most entrepreneurs that is somehow lacking in the events and support for innovation in the UK.”

Peter Thomson

“Innovation is now so important to every sector. In every industry from supermarkets to social networks, if you don’t constantly delight your customers then two guys in a garage somewhere are coming for you.”

Tim McCready



Overcoming barriers to a trade deal with Japan (University of Auckland)

The recent visit to Japan by a group of young New Zealand farmers is exactly the sort of initiative needed to lay the groundwork for a trade deal between the two countries, says the director of the New Zealand Asia Institute, Professor Hugh Whittaker.

The trip, organised by the Japan East Network of Exchange for Students and Youths (JENESYS), followed bilateral talks between the New Zealand Foreign Affairs Minister, Murray McCully, and his counterpart Hirofumi Nakasone, and included official briefings and visits to dairy factories and livestock centres.

Among the 50-strong group was University of Auckland alumnus Tim McCready, a business development consultant at New Zealand Trade and Enterprise.

“Japan will always play an important role in the global economy. The things I have learned about the country and culture will change the way I think about, and conduct business with Japan forever,” McCready says.

It is the third such visit aimed at introducing a new generation of New Zealanders to the Japanese way of doing business and along with meetings in 2008 and 2009 of the Japan New Zealand Business Partnership Forum is evidence of a reawakening interest in Japan, which in recent years has been overshadowed by the spectacular economic rise of China. Professor Whittaker says the visits are also an effective way of overcoming obstacles to a bilateral trade deal with our third-largest trading partner.

“New Zealand’s position on the proposed free trade deal with Japan is that we are complementary not competitors, and that we are too small to upset things in Japan. If you want to try out the process for FTAs with developed countries and de-bug it, you are best to do that with a country the size of New Zealand. Japan sees it somewhat differently. If it gives ground to New Zealand, there will be pressure to do the same to bigger countries,” Whittaker says.

Nevertheless, with China and South Korea aggressively signing FTAs, pressure is growing for Japan to do the same to avoid becoming more isolated.

“That would necessitate a willingness within Japan to start implementing measures in the agricultural sector which would introduce market forces,” Whittaker says.

“The issue is not merely opening Japan to foreign agricultural goods, but increasing the marketisation of agricultural activity in the country.”

That process has been slowed by the strong presence of agricultural cooperatives, which are useful in upgrading agriculture and redistributing wealth, but which have become less innovative.

Distribution of wealth is a key issue, says Whittaker.

“Electoral boundaries don’t reflect the country’s urbanisation, so the rural vote is overweighted. The political structures have served to redistribute the results of urban activity to rural areas. Japanese politics is often portrayed as ‘immobilist’, and there is structural misallocation of funds, but there is also a legitimate debate about what is a just society and how much (urban-rural) inequality should be tolerated or encouraged through increased marketisation.”

Actually, Japan’s agricultural sector has great potential for reinvigoration without destroying the fabric of rural society, says Whittaker.

“As a ‘grassroots’ exchange, New Zealand’s agricultural mission is an astute move. If we can demonstrate through these visits that the two countries can complement each other rather than being caught up in a zero-sum game, then it can produce a groundswell for change.”

Bioscience Enterprise: Mixing business with science (University of Auckland)

A programme that fuses business and science is showing business-savvy scientists how to commercialise bioscience innovations and create opportunities in the international market.

One of these business-science professionals is Tim McCready, an alumnus of The University of Auckland who now works for New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE) as a business development consultant.

“I’ve always enjoyed science and seeing the transformative effect it can have on people’s lives. At the same time, a lot of exciting research falls by the wayside because of a lack of business acumen in the industry,” he says.

Deciding to do something about this gap after finishing his Bachelor of Science, McCready joined the inaugural year of the Master of Bioscience Enterprise (MBioEnt) programme in 2006. The bioscience commercialisation degree is taught conjointly by the Business School, the School of Biological Sciences and the Law School.

“I chose a masters degree focused on business because I wanted to have an impact on the innovative science coming from New Zealand, the financial contribution it can give to the New Zealand economy and the difference it makes to lives worldwide,” McCready says.

He did papers on research commercialisation, finance, accounting, marketing, law and intellectual property, followed by a thesis project in the final year.

“I learned that scientists often have little understanding of the steps involved in commercialisation because their interest, understandably, is in research. At the same time, business people with no understanding of science can’t appreciate the length of time, the amount of risk, and the enormous cost involved in commercialising human therapeutics.”

McCready’s comments are echoed by Geoff Whitcher, director of the Business School’s Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning, who believes the MBioEnt is producing scientists with a strong business sense that will be a great help to New Zealand.

“Having an understanding of the science and commercial realities means they can help New Zealand companies to expand their international activities by taking new biotech products into export markets, thus helping New Zealand earn much-needed overseas funds,” Whitcher says.

While working on his thesis, McCready did an internship in the biotechnology team at NZTE. After finishing with first class honours he stayed with the organisation and recently shifted to Investment New Zealand, a division of NZTE focused on attracting investment to New Zealand and helping companies make strategic investments offshore.

This work has taken him to the United States three times in the past year to help New Zealand biotechnology and natural health product companies access the North American market.

Now McCready is working on a project with Living Cell Technologies (LCT), a company that breeds pathogen-free pigs from remote sub-Antarctic islands for its cell-based products to treat insulin-dependent diabetes and neurodegenerative diseases.

The LCT-Investment New Zealand project is looking into global market opportunities for high quality by-products taken from unused pig tissue, which could be used for other medical applications.

“LCT’s pig herds are uniquely free from viruses, bacteria and parasites so they are effectively the cleanest pigs in the world,” says McCready.

“This project is particularly exciting because LCT is one of New Zealand’s premier biotechnology companies making use of the country’s competitive advantage in animal health status.”