Sir Stephen Tindall explains the importance of investing in innovation
Why do you believe it is important to invest in New Zealand innovation and innovative companies?
The key to New Zealand's success has always been innovation. We do most of our trade in commodities, but if you look to the example of our dairy industry it leads the world through innovation. The world is changing rapidly and if we don't keep up and lead in a number of areas we will be left behind.
What do you believe are the strengths that New Zealand and its innovators and entrepreneurs have to offer?
Our strength is still in our commodities but we are starting to emerge with more innovative companies. It's important that we diversify and go forward using more science and innovation in the products we are producing for export. An example is Mighty River Power with its expertise in geothermal electricity generation, that has purchased a US company in a multi-million commitment. They can carry their New Zealand success forward overseas and provide in growing markets renewable energy investment and also get return from selling their expertise. That's just one example of how we can use innovation to create more value for New Zealand.
What's unique about New Zealand innovation now?
There's always been innovation coming through at the workshop level and on a small individual basis, but what's happening now is that we are getting more confident about growing new technology businesses. Like LanzaTech which was started off by a couple of New Zealand scientists and now has a "United Nations" of people here in New Zealand in their scientific team of 60 and is still expanding. Most of them have PhDs and they enjoy New Zealand from a lifestyle point of view.
New Zealanders are getting more passionate about what's possible to develop, and developing at scale, recognising that we need to be in global markets early. Pacific Edge - a biomedical company with leading edge bladder cancer diagnostic products - has very quickly just raised $20 million in capital to deliver Cxbladder® which is a fast, non-invasive test for bladder cancer, to the US.
YikeBike and Icebreaker are also examples of companies going globally quickly without using the New Zealand market as a guinea pig; you've got to get into export markets quickly.
As a seed and venture capital investor, what are investors looking for in a company before making the decision to invest?
Firstly, the idea. For me it's all about whether it's globally scalable or has the potential to do well globally. Secondly, the team: Can the people behind it grow with the business? Their ability to discuss up front that if they run out of runway, are they able to allow someone else to take the company forward. Thirdly, execution: Out of 10 you get one point for the plan and nine points for the execution of delivering it.
What advice can you offer to companies with proven innovations that are world-scalable but have yet to take the leap internationally?
I set up the KEA network which now connects 35,000 New Zealanders around the world. Most of them are at the higher end of the income scale in very important jobs in important markets. We can tap them on the shoulder, get them to look at possibilities, test ideas against them, and get them to make contact with the right people in potential markets. It has huge potential and has already opened a number of doors for us.
Why do you see the RWC 2011 Hosting as an opportunity to showcase business to international visitors?
Usually because of our distance from our markets, it is incredibly difficult to get people to come and see what we are doing - that's my experience, and so I travel a lot. I think I can say, with hand on heart, that on every trip I have got a deal. I was quite heavily involved in the America's Cup campaign in Spain and we managed to get a lot of company CEOs along to pitch to. It was the same in Shanghai at the Expo. This is the icing on the cake. By bringing them down here and being able to talk on your patch, not theirs, they get a real feel for what you do. Visiting is believing. The marine sector's superyacht activity and the International Boat Show in Auckland earlier this month attracted a good number of prospects here, and these people wouldn't have come if not for the Rugby World Cup.