Innovate UK in New Zealand

Innovate UK in New Zealand

Yesterday, Jacqui and I had a great meeting (& thanks for the lunch!) with the visiting Innovate UK Global Business Innovation Programme (Agri-Tech) team in Hamilton yesterday. It was good to learn about each of the delegates’ businesses and key focus areas. There’s undoubtedly a real opportunity for some partnerships and deal-making to be done in New Zealand.

In-market visits such as this offer huge value to the participants. The follow-up however is the critical piece. It was one of my own focus areas of conversation with some of the team. Two weeks provides you with a taster. To properly evaluate any real export market potential however requires a different and more nuanced approach.

We discussed the Australia – UK agritech accelerator programmes which provide a more in-depth understanding of the market opportunity. I also talked a bit about Platform10 which Wharf42 and Western Growers will be launching in California next week. Building Global Partner Networks can provide both startup and scaleup companies with the opportunity to accelerate their knowledge and understanding of offshore market potential.

The current UK delegation tour in NZ looks like a great introduction to our agrifood and agrifoodtech ecosystem. I hope the discussions help develop a more collaborative framework which both countries can build on.

Plug & Play revisited: Tuesday 21 March 2023

Plug & Play revisited: Tuesday 21 March 2023

Last Tuesday, Jacqui and I revisited the Plug & Play Tech Center in Sunnyvale. It had been our Silicon Valley home for large chunks of time between 2010-2015. It was good to be back.

Whilst the address had not changed, the campus’s interior had. A new Events Center had been built on the ground floor and the reception area featured many more corporate partner logos than during our last visit in 2018. It reflects a clear change in direction for some of the Center’s thinking and strategy. This is seeing a much greater focus on corporate partner engagement and certain key technology verticals. Food & agritech is one.

The other big change over the past few years is Plug & Play’s offshore presence. It now has offices in over 40 locations. Sadly, Oceania (New Zealand, Australia, the Pacific Islands) are not part of this mix. Given that the region is home to a number of ‘unicorns’ – Atlassian, Xero, Canva, Culture Amp, Go1, LinkTree, Safety Culture, to name a few, it’s a missing piece in the region’s wider tech ecosystem. The flipside however, wearing my WNT Ventures hat, is that the number of local and global venture funds located in, or relocating to the region, is increasing. Investment activity over the past few years into high growth local technology firms has never been greater.

As we head back to the Bay area for June’s 2023 Salinas Biological Summit, it will be interesting to see how Plug & Play’s work in the food & agritech space develops. Their corporate partner engagement strategy will play a key part in this. It’s a playbook that has been rinsed and repeated. With over 30 unicorns on their own investment portfolio playlist, it’s a strategy that pays off.

Despite the rain and wind that met us on North Wolfe Road as we arrived at the Center, many thanks to Willian Li (pictured above) and Jackie Hernandez for welcoming us back. It was a blast!



You can view the BOMA Agri Summit ‘Australian Agritech Ecosystem’ virtual event below

You can view the BOMA Agri Summit ‘Australian Agritech Ecosystem’ virtual event below

Last week, I hosted the ‘Australian Agritech Ecosystem’ virtual event at e Tipu 2021 – The BOMA Agri Summit. I was joined by;

  • Andrew Coppin, Chair, Australian Agritech Association
  • John Harvey, Managing Director, AgriFutures Australia
  • Dr Penny Schultz, Chair, SA Cattle Industry Fund Board; immediate past vice president, Livestock SA
  • Professor Bob Furbank, Director, ANU ARC Centre of Excellence for Translational Photosynthesis

It was great to have a panel that represented four distinct Australian stakeholder groups; industry, government, producers & research. We talked about the current Australian agritech landscape and what opportunities might exist for real and impactful trans-Tasman agritech collaboration.

Building a collaborative trans-Tasman agritech ecosystem is important for both New Zealand and Australia. Over the years, I have actively supported such a move through my work with the Australia New Zealand Agritech Council, AgriFutures Australia’s evokeAG & growAG steering committees and more recently, the Australian Agritech Association. As the founding Executive Director of Agritech New Zealand, I have been able to share some of the lessons and challenges that building an inclusive ecosystem can bring.

You can view last week’s online presentation below:

Envisioning an APAC AgriFood Hub

Envisioning an APAC AgriFood Hub

Later tonight, I am joining Singapore’s Grow Accelerator and the Royal Agriculture University’s (UK) agritech incubator programme, Farm491, on a 90 minute call.

The purpose of the call is to learn more about the upcoming Land & Launch programme, being hosted by GROW, which is designed to connect UK agrifood startups into the Singapore and wider ASEAN market.

A quick 4 point summary of the programme reads as follows:

  • Establish a corridor to accelerate the expansion of UK agrifood tech startups and scale-ups into Asia and beyond
  • Position UK as a leader in developing agrifood tech that can be taken globally
  • Reciprocate knowledge, tech, talent and investment exchange between Singapore and the UK
  • Integrate UK agrifood tech startups and scale-ups into the GROW South-East Asia ecosystem

As I’ve indicated in previous posts, I’ve been working closely with the team at GROW for some time. Building new channels to market for New Zealand agritech companies has been a core focus of mine whilst we stay locked behind closed borders.

Wearing some of my different current hats; Head of Global Alliances at Agritech New Zealand, Senior Adviser to the Australian Agritech Association and an external adviser to the nascent AgriFood Tech Singapore Association, has provided me with an insight into some of the opportunities that a pan-APAC AgriFood Hub could offer. New Zealand, Australia and Singapore all enjoy strong bilateral relations. The question is; can we triangulate this to address two of the major challenges of our time – sustainable food production and food safety? I believe we can. It’s a question that I will be asking as I connect with colleagues in both Singapore and the UK later tonight.

Given the time zones between the UK & Singapore, tonight’s call starts at 10.00pm. Time then for a milo and chocolate biscuit as we learn more about just how a Land & Launch programme might play out. As a potential template for Australia and New Zealand, it is going to be an interest model to discuss.

SIGNIFICANT UPDATE: Building the relationship with Western Growers

SIGNIFICANT UPDATE: Building the relationship with Western Growers

On Friday, I was delighted to meet up with Nicholas (Nick) Snyder from the United States Embassy in New Zealand. Nick has the US trade portfolio responsibility between both countries. The meeting provided a great opportunity to talk about accelerating potential bilateral collaboration in the agritech space.

We spoke at some length about Agritech New Zealand’s Partnership Agreement with Western Growers  In recent weeks, I’ve been speaking regularly to Dennis Donohue, Director of the Western Growers Technology and Innovation Center, and more recently Western Growers’s new Director of Innovation, Walt Duflock. There has been a lot to talk about.

For many Western Growers members, labor remains an ongoing challenge; both in terms of supply and cost. Additionally, COVID-19 has created massive disruption to the food service sector. With US citizens spending more on dining out than groceries, closed restaurants, cafes & bars have decimated many growers long standing supply chains. I know of several ‘family owned’ enterprises who are counting the cost in terms of hundreds of million of dollars.

With last week’s news that Walmart were emptying shelves across the States with a particular brand of romaine produced in Salinas Valley – because of concerns around E.coli, it just doesn’t get better. For many growers, 2020 has basically sucked.

Enter New Zealand. I spoke about some of the significant research and development taking place in New Zealand’s agritech robotics and automation space. Our meeting took place at the University of Waikato campus in Tauranga. The Bay of Plenty is home to such luminaries as Robotics Plus, BlueLab, GPS-it, Cucumber, Eurofins, PlantTech, Trimax, Radfords, Zespri and Plant & Food Research. How can the product and IP generated by such companies and research organisations support grower organisations and their members across the Pacific?

I also spoke about New Zealand’s Agritech Industry Transformation Plan (ITP) – particularly its High Impact Project – the Robotics & Automation Academy. It now has a new placeholder name: The Horticulture Robotics Catalyst. By chance, Jacqui and I are meeting up with the team from Callaghan Innovation who are leading the initiative, this afternoon.

A large number of folk collaborating within the Catalyst visited the Salinas region during last year’s Forbes Live conference. The challenges being faced by Western Growers members are therefore well understood. I personally believe that New Zealand has the capacity to deliver some of the solutions these growers need. That’s incredibly important. Western Grower members produce over 50% of all US fresh produce. That’s vegetables, fruit, nuts and organics. As a commercial pathway for New Zealand agritech, it doesn’t get much bigger.

Friday’s meeting created an important opportunity to accelerate the conversation. As the global pandemic creates new focus on nations’ food supply and food security, New Zealand’s agritech sector is well placed to take a global leadership role.

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