Tauranga firm sets up Silicon Valley base

By Graham Skellern

Tauranga-based software developer Pingar has set up shop in the home of technology, California's Silicon Valley, alongside the likes of Apple, Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter, Cisco Systems and Hewlett-Packard.

Pingar co-founders and directors Peter and Jacqui Wren-Hilton have just returned from six months living in the valley, which stretches 48km from San Jose to southern San Francisco.

What struck them was the size of the famous technology companies, employing 15,000-20,000 people.

"You realise very quickly how big they are and how small New Zealand companies are," Mrs Wren-Hilton said.

"We presented at a Google workshop in Building 18 and the catering staff in that building alone was bigger than what Pingar employs globally [30 people].

"You can very easily get lost on the Google campus, and staff are provided with on-site bikes, decked out in Google colours, to move between buildings. They just leave them in the bike racks for the next person to use."

Pingar has developed a series of next generation internet search technologies, and will return to Silicon Valley for three to four months next year.

They established their United States office in the Plug and Play Tech Centre in Sunnyvale, set up a subsidiary company Pingar Inc, hired three staff including former Microsoft and Orion Health executives, and set about establishing new contacts and contracts.

Owen Allen, who was the Microsoft SharePoint senior product manager, has come on board as vice-president of solutions, and fellow American Megan Tobin is vice-president marketing after working for Auckland-based software company, Orion Health, for five years.

Soon after arriving in the US, Mr Wren-Hilton presented at Launch: Silicon Valley 2011, organised by the Association of Startup Entrepreneurs. Pingar was one of 30 hot emerging tech companies selected from 300 applicants around the world in the fields of information technology, security, digital media and clean energy.

Afterwards, Mr Wren-Hilton was interviewed by American blogger and Silicon Valley technical evangelist, Robert Scoble, and the video was re-played by a number of interested companies.

"The video accelerated our entry into the valley and it helped us get over the little Kiwi company syndrome. Robert only speaks to cool companies which have interesting and new technology," said Mr Wren-Hilton.

Back in the Plug and Play centre, Pingar joined 180 start-up companies from all over the world. A number of venture capital and angel investor groups are also based there aiming to invest in the new, smart companies.

"There is talk of setting up an innovation centre in Tauranga but you can't replicate what's in the valley.

"The scale of it makes the Silicon Valley model unique; you have so many entrepreneurs and venture capitalists in one place," Mr Wren-Hilton said.

"The valley is an eco-system. In a country depressed about its economic state, Silicon Valley still stands out."

Pingar, established 10 years ago, is now one of four New Zealand technology companies based in Silicon Valley. The others are Endace, which manufactures high speed network monitoring and recording systems; Zero, marketing an online software accounting programme; and SLI Systems, a site search software that reacts to users' behaviour on the internet.

Pingar, now with offices in London, Hong Kong, Bangalore in India, Auckland, Tauranga and Silicon Valley, first developed an innovative internet search engine which retrieves information by asking specific questions.

It broadened its market by launching an application programming interface (API), allowing other software developers to access a series of 18 components to build products, that suit their company, for extracting and analysing key information from masses of documents.

Pingar has just signed up the Fire Service and Deloitte Consulting in New Zealand, and is working with Datacom NZ, Provoke, Enlighten Designs and Solnet Solutions to encourage their clients to use the API platform and build their own intelligent search product.

Pingar is also targeting the scanning market.

When documents are scanned, Pingar automatically provides the metadata that describes the context and contents of the files. The system, the first to be marketed, replaces the time consuming, manual method of tagging or indexing the documents.

Pingar has contracts with Fuji Xerox in New Zealand; Dicom, the largest distributor of scanners in Europe, Middle East and Africa and representing Canon, Fujitsu, Kodak and Panasonic; and Hong Kong-based GSL Technologies which distributes into mainland China. Pingar is also negotiating with a major scanner distributor in North America.

It will be marketing hard during the next few months. Pingar has engaged New Zealand cricketing legend Sir Richard Hadlee to MC a presentation to Indian IT executives in Bangalore on February 10; it is sponsoring two Microsoft SharePoint conferences in San Francisco and Santa Clara at the end of February; and there are other conferences and presentations in London, Melbourne, Auckland and Atlanta through to April.

Privately-owned Pingar will be opening a further office in Singapore by the end of March.

Government agencies and some companies are interested in using the Pingar technology following a presentation there last November, and the first business development manager for South East Asia will be appointed at the end of January.

Twelve months ago Pingar employed 12 people, now the number is 30 and Mr Wren-Hilton predicts the staff will double to 60 by the end of next year; involving 20 in research and development, and 40 in business development, marketing and support services.

Twenty-five of them will be based in Auckland and Tauranga, and 35 will be overseas, including seven in Silicon Valley.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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