Why Auckland for NZ Silicon Valley?

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Bruce Aylward asks: Why create a Silicon Valley in Auckland, when there's already one in Wellington?
Bruce Aylward asks: Why create a Silicon Valley in Auckland, when there's already one in Wellington?

Should New Zealand tech companies band together and create a mini Silicon Valley?

This is a suggestion made by Manas Kumar, chief executive of Auckland-based software company Optimizer HQ, in a recent New Zealand Herald article.

Kumar called on like-minded businesses to develop a Kiwi 'Silicon Valley' in central Auckland to act as a hub to give companies access to better infrastructure and to boost collaboration.

While I share Kumar's opinion that such a hub can deliver great outcomes for the industry as a whole, I do question if Auckland should be New Zealand's Silicon Valley.

In the first instance, why create a Silicon Valley in Auckland, when there's already one in Wellington?

Just this month Forbes Magazine wrote of Wellington's unique entrepreneurial spirit, adding it's a bit like a miniature San Francisco with a landscape and creative buzz to match.

With a number of tech firms setting up base here, including ourselves at Psoda and of course Xero, you could argue Wellington has been New Zealand's answer to Silicon Valley since 2006.

And that Auckland is just starting to catch up!

On a more serious note however, I believe instead of each major centre pushing to be New Zealand's version of Silicon Valley, we should join forces and a develop a combined approach to develop the whole country into a Silicon Valley.

The land of the long white silicon cloud, if you like.

Auckland, Wellington or Christchurch each lobbying against the others to be the centre of all tech innovation in New Zealand is just not productive in my view.

New Zealand's population is only about the size of a small US city, so does it make sense for our tech companies to operate mostly in isolation and just do their own thing?

Shouldn't we pool our resources, energy and focus into a national effort?

So what would it take to make a proper Kiwi Silicon Valley happen?

What information or support can we as a collective provide to help new businesses grow? How do we match up established companies that can give mentoring and advice, with those start-ups that need it most?

What is needed is to bring together the key elements that would make a Silicon Valley model work. These are:

• The start-ups
• The more mature 'stay-ups'
• The established tech firms
• Investors - both angel investors and venture capitalists.

Creating a joined-up, nationwide community made up of these groups will enable them to communicate, share ideas, and learn lessons from each other.

New Zealand has a good mix of companies that have already broken through that start-up phase. Creating a hub where businesses at different stages in their development can share their experiences can be of great benefits to smaller companies looking to make the step to that next level in their growth.

Start-ups from across New Zealand could also develop a coordinated approach to attract the right kind of investment, while investors would know where to look to find their next ideal investment opportunity.

Smaller businesses could also tackle new overseas markets together by sending joint representatives over as opposed to each company going it alone.

Having separate Silicon Valley-inspired groups in each major city or town would create pockets of activities taking place in isolation, where lessons and experiences are not easily transferred to the wider New Zealand tech community.

And for many start-ups, the person with right advice may be from another city, so may not be found at their local downtown Silicon Valley-type hub.

Of course being geographically dispersed will be a barrier to developing a nationwide start-up community. But as ultrafast broadband arrives at more doorsteps across the country, better communication links will become available to help overcome this.

Plus, as a nation of travellers, once these connections are established, our airports lounges could even become the hubs where people bump into each and share ideas on building that long white silicon cloud...

Bruce Aylward is chief executive of Psoda - a Wellington-based provider of online modules that help professionals manage programmes, projects, requirements, testing and product development.

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