Over the past few days, I have posted several articles to this blog recounting some of the actual events that occurred during Bill Reichert  & Adiba Barney’s visit to New Zealand. You can view these here:

Tauranga
Wellington
Christchurch
Auckland

Away from the crowds, we had a chance to digest much of what we saw and what we heard. Bill & Adiba shared their thoughts. I want to share some of those here. It’s fair to say that this feedback reflects my own take on the meetings we had across the country.

Preparing to say au revoir to New Zealand

Preparing to say au revoir to New Zealand

To make some sense of this, I will divide the discussions we had across the different sectors of New Zealand’s extended innovation ecosystem.

The Investment Community

We had set up a series of investor presentations in Wellington, Christchurch and Auckland. These were well attended with angels making up the largest number of attendees. VC was thin on the ground, except for Auckland.

In Wellington, the discussion was roundtable. Thanks go to KPMG for hosting this event at their Customhouse Quay Boardroom. In Christchurch, thanks go to Duncan Cotterill. In Auckland, hat doffed to ASB.

The consistent message that came out of all of these meetings was the vibrancy of the local angel community. This is reflected in both the growth in numbers of angels and the growth in investment activity. Bill & Adiba liked the syndication strategy that angel groups are adopting to share investment opportunities. This is providing some scale.

On the flipside, frustration was expressed by some angels at US Investor preference / insistence on investing in US structures only. It’s a hard one, but a fact of life. If an NZ tech start-up is looking to the US for funding, they need to consider their structure carefully; the message from Bill and Adiba was the same. The earlier, the better.

The discussion around the role of venture capital was an interesting one. There was a general consensus in all the meetings that it was a sector slowly rebuilding post – GFC. The speed of growth however depended on which angel you spoke to. Their scarcity at the investor meetings did not help. Bill was diplomatic when he was interviewed by the Business Desk. However you cut the numbers, the availability of VC funds, particularly to new investments as opposed to supporting existing portfolio clients, is limited. In Auckland though, there was evidence that this might be changing.

Bill and Adiba thought the role of Government here was key. This is a sector still re-building. Some relief then to catch up with Tony Bishop and learn about the recently announced Taiwan-NZ Fund. It was to be our final investor touch and a very positive one.

Adressing the Wharf42 investor presentation in Auckland

Addressing the Wharf42 investor presentation in Auckland

The Start-up Community

Meeting entrepreneurs was the highlight of Bill & Adiba’s visit. We met them at numerous events as well as three pitch events in Wellington, Christchurch and Auckland.

So what was Bill & Adiba’s take? They both expressed the same consistent view. New Zealand has some amazing start-ups working with some amazing technology. But.

Our ability to express in simple terms and in a compelling way our offer, is still not quite there. It is possibly a result of our natural modesty, but compared to many of the US-based entrepreneurs they meet, Kiwis do not always recognise or elucidate the big picture. To be a unicorn, you have to have the confidence that you can change the world. Here, the focus of elevator pitch was often more on the technology rather than the problem it was designed to solve. It meant, according to both Bill & Adiba, that they missed the WOW factor. Bill talks a lot about the WOW factor! His firm, Garage Technology Ventures, receive over 4,000 investment pitches a year. No WOW. Not much chance of investment.

All three of us loved the pitch events and hat doffed to the start-ups that participated. You rocked. One of the longer term outcomes of the visit is an ‘NZ in SV’ day in September. We all hope that those same start-ups who pitched last week will be able to perform on the bigger Valley stage then. More details about this in early June.

Outside of the events, Bill & Adiba spoke a lot about where New Zealand’s start-up focus should be. Adiba likes to be able to tell ‘stories’ in the Valley. For several years, she represented Nordic start-ups and is today Sweden’s self-appointed ambassador to the region. She has some great stories to tell: Skype, Spotify, King (makers of Candy Crush), Mojang (developer of Minecraft), and many others. Where, apart from Xero & Orion Health, are New Zealand’s?

So Bill & Adiba focused on the sector opportunity. Which sector could New Zealand take ownership of and invite start-ups from around the world to build their businesses here? There is clearly an opportunity in Wellington to leverage Weta and some of the amazing creative tech that they have developed. Across the whole country however, there was one stand-out. AgTech. In Silicon Valley today, AgTech accelerators are springing up as the investor community takes an increasing interest in the sector. They are (pardon the pun) eating our lunch. This is a space that New Zealand should be taking ownership of. Whilst our start-up community’s work in the traditional ICT space i.e. HealthTec, EdTech, FinTech etc. compares favourably with the rest of the world, both Bill & Adiba felt that AgTech is the one sector Kiwis could and should dominate. I guess that this will be an interesting discussion I will be having now that Bill & Adiba have headed back to the Valley.

Standing room only in the Grid

Standing room only in the Grid

The Government (Central & Local)

Bill & Adiba’s visit to New Zealand would not have been possible without the generous support of key central and local government agencies. So hat doffed to Callaghan Innovation, Priority One, Grow Wellington, Canterbury Development Corporation and Auckland Tourism, Events & Economic Development (ATEED). There are so many people to thank in each agency. I will leave that to my follow-up tour of New Zealand as we collectively prepare for the ‘NZ in SV’ day in September.

Callaghan Innovation are hitting a number of the right buttons across both R&D investment strategy and the different routes towards assisting the commercialisation of innovation. It is early days, but it is also clear that Callaghan are recruiting heavily from the private sector. This gives the agency a more entrepreneurial feel than both Bill & Adiba are familiar with in many other offshore Government agencies. That’s a massive positive. Over two days, we met a number of the leadership team. This included breakfast in Wellington with a number of Maori business leaders. Bill, Adiba and myself identified multiple opportunities to engage long-term.

Maori business leaders breakfast, hosted by Mary Quin, CEO Callagahn Innovation

Maori business leaders breakfast, hosted by Mary Quin, CEO Callaghan Innovation

Bill & Adiba also had the opportunity to meet the leadership teams from a number of our Economic Development Agencies (EDAs). These agencies, identified above, helped set up a number of the investment and entrepreneur events in their cities. All are committed to taking part in the September ‘NZ in SV’ day. Bill & Adiba were both impressed by the level of engagement shown at the leadership level. It was reflected in the involvement of so many elements of each local innovation ecosystem. This included incubators, accelerators and universities. As I said previously, I have a lot of people to thank!

Conclusion

Bill & Adiba are now safely back in the Valley, but the long term journey has only just begun. I am traveling to SF at the end of this month to begin preparing for ‘NZ in SV’ with Adiba and the team at SVForum. Later in June, I will be heading back to SF for three months with participants in the Meteoroid Program.

This past week has opened up numerous opportunities for the different agencies, investors and start-ups to work together to make a real difference in the Valley. Think Israel and of course, for Adiba’s benefit, think Nordic. A number of smallish countries that have found their niche.

Let New Zealand do the same. That was the very positive departing message that Bill & Adiba left before NZ8 headed back to SF.

You can follow this journey on Twitter at @Wharf42HQ