Facebook billionaire Peter Thiel says New Zealand entrepreneurs will shine on the world stage if they focus on building something unique.

The keynote speaker at today's ICE Ideas conference in Auckland, Thiel said emerging markets can get away with copying others, but developed economies need to innovate if they want to make progress.

"It's especially critical in the developed world, in countries like the United States or New Zealand. You need to try to do new things. Things will not get better simply by copying because things are close to state of the art, so you need to do things that are significantly new and qualitatively better," he said.

More than just offering words of advice, Thiel has made a number of investments in New Zealand over the past year, including putting $4 million into online accounting software Xero and an undisclosed sum to Pacific Fibre.

He also put up $1 million to help those affected by the Christchurch earthquakes.

While local commodity exports might have lagged behind Australia's, Thiel said New Zealand has the advantage of being geared towards technological innovation.

"It's been a more challenging space to be in over the last decade but I think it's going to be a promising one in the decades ahead," he said.

The problem of telling entrepreneurs to do something unique is there is no formula he can give them to follow, Thiel said.

"The next great company, the next innovative company will not be precisely PayPal or Facebook because in a way that has been done."

"It's worth thinking more about how you can do something new...the formula is that there's no formula."

Thiel's own path to success saw him take a US$500,000 gamble on Facebook in 2004 and his stake is reportedly worth over US$1 billion.

In 1998, Thiel co-founded e-commerce site PayPal, which was sold to eBay in 2002 for US$1.5 billion.

Read the Herald's exclusive New Zealand full-length interview with Thiel in tomorrow's Business section.