Rocket Lab founder Peter Beck took to Twitter to slam the Tax Working Group's capital gains tax proposals within hours of their announcement on February 21.

"Just saw the NZ capital gains tax recommendations. Taxing IP [intellectual property] and stock will decimate the already fragile NZ startup industry. NZ already has big problems around creating large valuable technology companies and this will not help," Beck posted.

Now he's had more time to digest the recommendations, has his opposition mellowed?

No. It's hardened.


"I'm not against a capital gains tax in general, but in the context of research and development. To go and add more barriers to an industry that is already laden with barriers just makes absolutely no sense," he told the Herald this week.

Beck had been asked about recent remarks by NZ Venture Investment Fund chairman Murray Gribben, who told Parliament's Science, Research and Innovation select committee that the Crown agency had the opportunity to directly invest in Rocket Lab (now valued at $US1.2b) during its early days - or at least it could have if its remit had allowed it.

"I found that amusing because we weren't targeting New Zealand investors," Beck says.

Rocket Lab did have Sir Stephen Tindall as an early backer, after the rich-lister literally stumbled over Beck during Rocket Lab's embryonic days, when the entrepreneur shared an office in the same building as an existing Tindall investment, clean energy start-up LanzaTech.

But while it appreciated his backing, Rocket Lab was looking offshore for investors who could take it to the next level.

In part, Beck wanted backers with deep networks in the aerospace industry, who could bring contacts and knowledge to the table, and who appreciated the challenges of building a large enterprise. That meant he was always going to cast his eye to the US and Europe - which he did successfully as heavy hitters like Lockheed Martin and Khosla Ventures came onboard.

But beyond that, local options were few and far between - and remain so, in Beck's view.

"The New Zealand venture capital community is very immature and that's something I've been working very closely with the community to try to fix … so for a project of this nature, it wouldn't really have made any sense," the Rocket Lab founder says.


Simon Bridges says start-ups and other companies will be inhibited from spending money on research and development if they know a third of any ultimate sale of their company will go to the Government in the form of a CGT.

The National leader has claimed the CGT is a way of clawing back the recently introduced 15 per cent R&D tax break.

Beck agrees with Bridges' first point.

"It the last thing the [business] community needs," he says.

"We have a real problem in New Zealand building high-value, entrepreneurial businesses and start-ups.

"Where are all the billion-dollar companies? There's no reason why we shouldn't have them

"New Zealand has fantastic entrepreneurs. There's no shortage of good ideas

"It's just the entrepreneurs are cocooned in an environment that's just globally not competitive - and adding another layer on that [CGT] on the start-up community is just not sensible."

He reiterates: "I'm not against a capital gains tax in general, but to go and add more barriers to an industry that is already laden with barriers just makes absolutely no sense.

"New Zealand is a low-wage economy. Why are we taxing a low-wage economy further? Why aren't we focusing on building a high-wage economy? And you can do that very successfully with high-value tech start-ups. So that's where I want to pivot discussion."

Unlike many who have a beef about CGT proposals, Beck has the Prime Minister's ear, as a member of Jacinda Ardern's six-month-old Business Advisory Council.

Beck says it's not part of his role as a council member to comment on what's been said during its meetings. But he says, "it's a really great group and we have really productive meetings. It's a very frank forum where we all bring real issues and have real discussions - and there are some real actions that come out of it."

Will the Business Council ultimately influence the fate or shape of a capital gains tax?

For Beck, it's a case of watch this space. A number of entrepreneurs and angel investors canvassed by the Herald saw potential for a CGT to shift money from property into investments such as early-stage companies.

However, most also saw room for tweaks.

Punakaiki Fund manager Lance Wiggs says, "the CGT approach seems reasonable, but it would be a lot more palatable if the rates were lower".

Wiggs also suggests a two-tier approach, with a lower CGT for early-stage companies and higher for those that are publicly-listed.

Veteran venture capitalist Jenny Morel believes a CGT is inevitable, but adds that the timing of the tax will be crucial. Many sales of start-ups come with earnout clauses that might not be paid until 12 or 24 months down the track.

Morel also wants an exemption threshold of around $2m.