The Waikato is in the sights of venture capitalists. New Zealand Agile software specialist Company-X has invested an undisclosed sum into a $40 million fund established by Hillfarrance Venture Capital founder and managing partner Rob Vickery.
Vickery, who named his venture capital fund after his home village in Somerset, UK, immigrated to New Zealand towards the end of last year after a decade in venture capital in Los Angeles, one of the most competitive markets in the world.
With the backing of Company-X co-founders and directors David Hallett and Jeremy Hughes, Vickery is seeking to make around 20 investments over the next few years.
"We've been working in the start-up space for decades," Hallett said.
"The issue has always been capital constraint. Most of the people we've dealt with have sold their houses."
"When Company-X was offered the opportunity to support Hillfarrance Venture Capital fund for New Zealand entrepreneurs it was a no-brainer," said Hughes.
"Company-X has helped US-based Fortune 500 companies with innovation for nearly a decade, and this fund is an opportunity for us to help New Zealand entrepreneurs in the same way.
"By supporting Rob Vickery's Hillfarrance fund we are promoting and encouraging Waikato entrepreneurs and the growth of the tech sector in the Waikato and New Zealand."
Vickery's preference to back "outsiders", coupled with his appreciation for the technical capability offered by the University of Waikato's Computer Science department, has Vickery looking to base himself in Waikato.
"The University of Waikato continues to produce hundreds, if not thousands of graduates who are pursuing ideas in the worlds of artificial intelligence and machine learning and this is a major focus of our fund," Vickery said.
"They are going to come up with really cool ideas."
The University of Waikato is renowned for producing world-leading technologists, including Google Maps creator Dr Craig Nevill-Manning and co-founder of Google DeepMind Dr Shane Legg.
Vickery has allocated more than $1 million for investment by highly connected "scouts" with aspirations to become venture capitalists themselves.
"These people are subject matter experts in a broad range of fields, from biochemistry to blockchain," Vickery said.
"We have already added one Waikato-based scout to the team, Bryn Little, and we look forward to expanding that number soon," he said.
"The ability to serve our Maori and Pasifika entrepreneurial community, that has been so excellently activated by the Kokiri Accelerator at the Wananga o Aotearoa. I have already funded one start-up, Kwotimation, that emerged from the latest cohort and I hope to do many more in the future.
"The sheer abundance of large corporates in the Waikato region, especially those in agriculture and logistics, who could provide game-changing opportunities to start-ups who are solving problems in their sector."
Having spent some time in Waikato, Vickery says the region needs greater cohesion between corporates, investors and start-ups, fostering the willingness to trial new ideas no matter how early.
Vickery would also like to see multiple central hubs for communities to aggregate around and share ideas and raise capital and structure their business.
"This is where businesses are built and funded," Vickery said.
Vickery also recommends a focus on the centres within Waikato.
"For example, Raglan has a growing community of successful entrepreneurs and they are still creating ideas, but they have to travel to Auckland to get them funded."
Creating more organic networking events to inspire the entrepreneurs of the future and to share ideas and connections is also top of Vickery's list.