Hemi Rolleston: New Zealand innovation in the spotlight

Entrepreneur Ian McCrae of Orion Health. Picture / Greg Bowker
Entrepreneur Ian McCrae of Orion Health. Picture / Greg Bowker

Dairy, meat, logs and even rising house prices are all masking the key to New Zealand's future success which will be driven by technology.

New Zealand's economy is ticking along very nicely relative to most countries but we can't be complacent. Traditional industries are incredibly important but to push the economy further in the future, technology is the key, specifically developing and commercialising it.

We've got every reason to feel confident. The just-released Technology Investment Network (TIN100) report shows the biggest 200 NZ tech companies earned nearly $9.5 billion in the past year and that is growing fast. Accelerating down that track is the trick.

This week in Auckland, one exceptional business will win an award for excellence in innovation. There's a good chance that exceptional business will have been founded by an exceptional leader with the drive to take a great idea and make it reality.

The New Zealand International Business Awards' Excellence in Innovation category is sponsored by us at Callaghan Innovation.

We got our name from leading New Zealand scientist Sir Paul Callaghan. He firmly believed that 100 entrepreneurs can turn New Zealand around. Of the four finalists for the Excellence in Innovation award, three are headed by the entrepreneurs who founded
them.

Callaghan Innovation is already working closely with some of these companies and it's their brand of high-tech innovation and commitment to getting their work out into the marketplace that's needed.

Grant and Merryn Straker founded Straker Translations, which uses cloud-based technology to enable people to translate faster and more accurately. Translation's not a new service but what is new is the blend of technology and people. It's got 10,000 clients and last year earned more than $10 million. It's using world-leading technology to create a successful export business. Straker Translations has been around since 1999 but in the past five years its technology platform has really driven it forward.

Likewise, Orion Health, led and founded by Ian McRae, does most of its $200m worth of business internationally, caring for medical records and bringing them together where patients and doctors have full access. McRae says Orion is going to fundamentally change health globally and it's already one of NZ's biggest tech businesses. He sees New Zealand as providing a unique advantage for the business. Years of already computerised medical records gave Orion something to start with in building systems that can be rolled out around the world.

That can be where New Zealand succeeds internationally; seizing on its advantages or filling niches that other players can't. Callaghan Innovation has experts and tools to help such businesses develop their technology to succeed.

I believe building business through R & D and innovation is a team sport.

It takes the entrepreneurs, the people working for them, and organisations with specialist business building and international links such as Callaghan Innovation to succeed in a competitive world.

Everyone loves a start-up and to cheer for the little guy. What we want to do is get New Zealand's innovators excited about the possibilities and ambitious about growing bigger and faster. We want innovation at all levels; from those starting out, to the biggest companies doing R & D to stay ahead of the curve.

That is why Callaghan Innovation is supporting 15 technology start-up businesses to go to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January to expose their technologies to the world, and the founders to world-leading thinking and trends. It's from this type of initiative where we anticipate the next batch of NZ's top technology companies to come from.

Companies need to build innovation into their DNA. New Zealand has a reputation as an innovator but we need more spending on R & D, and businesses must be planned in their innovation. The high-tech sector is a fast-growing opportunity and New Zealand businesses need to develop their technologies to market more quickly.

They must see innovation as an evolving process and seize the opportunities they see for disruptive businesses, like Straker Translation's moves to evolve the business of translation and turn it on its head by blending people and technology.

Coin maker and bullion dealer NZ Mint, video maker 90 Seconds, Straker Translations or Orion Health will today win the award for Excellence in Innovation.

They're headed by entrepreneurs and leaders who have the vision to innovate and the drive to make those innovations succeed.

Hemi Rolleston is the interim chief executive of Callaghan Innovations.

- NZ Herald

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