Wed 29 Apr 2015 1:09AM

Looking forward to 2025 – characteristics of a successful Christchurch tech sector

AES Anna Elphick (CDC Strategist) Public Seen by 297

Based on last week’s discussions, we have identified the following characteristics of a successful Christchurch tech sector.

Until Sunday 3 May we would like your feedback on - looking forward to 2025:

(1) Are these the right characteristics of success? Is anything missing?
(2) Are some characteristics more or less important than others?
(3) Are the descriptions and measures, found in this discussion paper about right?

1. Christchurch has a critical mass of internationally successful tech businesses

  • Have capability, resources and relationships to grow internationally and profitably
  • Are connected into global value chains and understand global needs and trends
  • Christchurch attracts and retains a number of large tech businesses

2. Christchurch’s tech sector is attractive to talent

  • Seen as an exciting career choice by diverse range of people
  • Christchurch is an education destination in tech-related areas
  • The tertiaries produce people with work-ready tech and commercial skills

3. The Christchurch tech sector is internationally recognised as a source of capability and innovation

  • Specific areas might include software and hardware development teams, power electronics, health, agritech
  • Attract customers, investment, talent and new businesses
  • National and international organisations look to Christchurch for tech-related solutions
  • Tertiary and research institutions work collaboratively with business on talent, innovation and capability

4. The Christchurch tech sector ecosystem is a point of competitive advantage and attraction

  • A vibrant, active range of networking and educational events
  • Tech businesses, educators etc understand and support each other and work together to solve problems
  • Overseas investors, entrepreneurs and supporters visit
  • Advisors and services are available which support international growth
  • Strong infrastructure for start-ups
  • Tech sector is supported by local government and our community

Tim Bell Wed 29 Apr 2015 3:35AM

For "Christchurch’s tech sector is attractive to talent", you could add something like: - Secondary (and primary) school students have a strong awareness of opportunities in the sector, and know the skills and attributes they need to develop if they want a career in the industry.


Ian Douthwaite Wed 29 Apr 2015 4:28AM

You've got a lot of descriptors in there, and not many that are that measurable. How about a good old-fashioned strategy with a single indicator: tech sector component of regional GDP. You can choose variety of targets: relative contribution of tech (relative to other sub-sectors); growth rates (absolute or compared to national or other sub-sectors).


John Gallagher Thu 30 Apr 2015 5:55AM

Re: Some suggested "Adds" to the points Anne Elphick drew from last week's discussion

Anna Elphick (CDC Strategist) started a discussion in Christchurch Tech Sector Strategy:

Looking forward to 2025 characteristics of a successful Christchurch tech sector:

Based on last week’s discussions, we have identified the following characteristics of a successful Christchurch tech sector….

My responses:-

  1. My relation to this Loomio discussion:

I have not long joined and am just finding my way into this Loomio Tech Sector Strategy discussion, and will introduce myself more fully shortly.

I felt when I read Anna’s summation that it might be useful to offer some quick additions, preceded by a few brief remarks as follows to give a wider context from which they come.

  1. The context for my additions to Anna’s summation:

I am here adapting to Christchurch high-tech development sister city proposals I originally developed in a wider New Zealand context.

My suggested additions to Anna’s points are based on what might be accomplished if Christchurch schools and universities, high-tech, business, media and other relevant organizations came to connect regularly and build relationships with international peers through ICTs/social media.

Although not currently much used that way, sister city relationships could be transformed to provide a highly effective vehicle for this if they were infused with appropriately effective regular use of ICTs/social media.

For instance, Christchurch has sister city relationships with English-speaking and Asian areas, including high-tech areas like Seattle in the US and Wuhan in China.

Consider, for instance, the contributions young Christchurch people could go on to make to both high-tech and wider development, and their enlarged career prospects, if they were to be educated in school and university classes that that connected regularly with peer classes in Seattle and Wuhan, with curricula that drew on such contexts (amongst other things)?

It could be especially rewarding to look into ways Christchurch might also thence be able to position itself as a technology-transfer hub between these centres. I will shortly add some specific illustrations of some such possibilities in a separate box below this one.

As a more general thought experiment, consider how much more effectively and confidently Christchurch/NZ might now be able to foot it in Asia and China and build up export surpluses if these sorts of connection had been built up via cities throughout our country over the last 2-3 decades.

This has been proposed to national and local governments, including the Christchurch City Council.
(See my blog: "Innovative Sister City Networking for Global Solutions" at http://www.village-connections.com/blog/?p=3813

If you would like more details, see also:
"Using technology to connect well in an interconnected world"
"Sister Cities as Asian Century Brokers"

  1. Anna’s summation and my suggested additions:

4. The Christchurch tech sector ecosystem is a point of competitive advantage and attraction

Which is greatly assisted by Christchurch schools and tertiary educational institutes, along with high-tech, media and business organizations, being connected in on-going relationships with international peers, facilitated by the use of ICTs/social media.

  • A vibrant, active range of networking and educational events

and supported by a sister city communications infrastructure that helps generate on-going productive events and amplify what can be accomplished with them

  • Tech businesses, educators etc understand and support each other and work together to solve problems

including through facilitative sister city communications infrastructures

  • Advisors and services are available which support international growth

  • Tech sector is supported by local government and our community

that understand and can contribute much more effectively to the sector because they are regularly engaged in using it to connect with counterparts elsewhere, including specifically through (new) sister city structures.


Sheralee MacDonald (CDC) Thu 30 Apr 2015 8:35AM

Keen to see if we are on the right track with these characteristics so will start shoulder tapping some of you!

@benkepes , you mentioned in your intro you had some ideas about NZ not trying to be another silicon valley. Do you feel these characteristics reflect the Chch/NZ context?


Sheralee MacDonald (CDC) Thu 30 Apr 2015 9:15AM

What do you think of these suggested measures of success of being attractive to talent? (from p2 of Looking Forward to 2025 discussion paper):

  • Tech sector employment, particularly in high-wage areas, increases faster than in other New Zealand cities.

  • Christchurch attracts people into tech sector roles from outside Christchurch and outside New Zealand (returning New Zealanders and migrants).

  • The Christchurch tech sector doesn’t experience skills shortages or struggle to hire new staff.

  • Christchurch tech sector salaries are on par with Auckland and Wellington.

  • Christchurch tech-related tertiary qualifications are oversubscribed.

Note that the stats in this background paper shows that we aren't currently meeting them.
@simonmeehan , @andrejfalout @amarverma @edwegner ?


Ben Kepes Thu 30 Apr 2015 9:56AM

Here's a talk I gave in Iceland last year, in which I encouraged Iceland not to try and create its own Silicon Valley.


The synopsis is this... Xero is, in my view, very much an outlier. There is no structural reason why a SaaS product is easier to build in NZ than elsewhere. As such undifferentiated product initiatives are in direct competition with every other country in the world - we don't have the talent pool or any unique advantages to do this fundamentally differently.

What we do have, however, is some fairly unique attributes. Our agricultural sector, for example. Our DIY mentality. Our geographic isolation. Our prstine environment. How can we leverage these to create truly unique businesses?

An example I use is Invert Robotics, a cool CHCH company doing robots for working on staliness tanks. We (obviously) have a big dairy and winemaking industry in this country - Invert takes this industry, sees a problem that exists and creates an innovative solution.

While we have long struggled with how to enable technology transfer to occur between research institutions and commercial entities, it seems to me that there is some incredible science at places like Lincoln Uni, Landcare etc that we can commercialize in a defensible way.

Of course it's not as sexy as building the next "billion dollar business from the beach", but I suspect there is a somewhat immature, and ultimately risky exuberence that the (admittedly totally awesome) unusual outside of the norm success that Xero has seen has created...

Just my 2 cents - and excuse the typos - 3am in Las Vegas!


David Jackson Thu 30 Apr 2015 9:03PM

@benkepes Good points, the Canterbury economy is still strongly influenced by the Agribusiness Sector, which we are already global leaders in many areas including small seeds, dairy, etc.

While producing the next big SaaS product is sexy and potentially has a huge prize, it's also risky and capital intensive.

We already have some great success in the agritech area with Tru Test, Waikato Milking Systems and I am sure there are more.

The characteristics of a successful tech sector as explained above looks good, the one area that is missing may be having innovative potential customers nearby. This can be vital for small start-ups to help commercialise their business. We have some of these just an hour down the road.


Hamish Laird Thu 30 Apr 2015 11:46PM

Ben, David, @benkepes @davidjackson. One of the largest agribusiness supply companies in Christchurch is Trimble. And when you look at what some of the tech people who work there do, it has very little to do with agriculture. They do hardware and software and GPS and GIS and the like. To focus on end use markets to answer the "what the tech sector looks like" question does not provide insight or guidance. And focusing on local markets limits growth potential. The focus needs to be on the trends. Trends happening are - Disintermediation, companies requiring global reach at very small scale, shortages of fresh water, increase in pollution in developing countries, large corporate buyers outsourcing to buy solutions while retaining sales channels, energy transition, entry of massive new players into global dairy and talent retention becoming harder. Of all the characteristics the attractive to talent is the most important with the ecosystem being up there with it. Once you attract talent then good things happen.

International businesses already choose Christchurch for the talent.


Helen Shorthouse, CDC Sat 2 May 2015 1:19AM

What do you think about the "recognised as a source of capability and innovation". @hamishlaird talks about the opportunities for agri and some global trends. Is there anything else? What about @markbillinghurst augmented reality; @craigrichardson1 security / big data; @sinclairhughes and @gaberijpma health; @rolandsommer and @trevorlaughton power electronics; @terrypaddy 'clean green'? Anything else? And are these the right measures?


John Gallagher Sat 2 May 2015 2:22AM

Re @markbillighurst virtual reality:

Thanks Helen for referring to @markbillinghurst. The Hit Lab Mark heads at Canterbury University is an obvious reference point for Christchurch high tech innovation.

Could its potential be further amplified if it worked to become a hub between two high-tech nodes?

Specifically, could it be useful to connect with both Seattle (the Christchurch sister city from which Hit Lab originated in 2002 after co-founder Mark did his PhD over there) and Wuhan (another high-tech centre and Christchurch sister city, in China?)

Canterbury University has an agreement with Wuhan to take quite number of doctorate students from there.

Could students and others from both cities collaborate alongside our own to explore and identify possibilities for:
1. Connecting technology supply and demand between these centres?
2. Desirable joint research and innovation projects?

Mark responded very positively to the idea of building such research connections between Seattle and Wuhan when I ran it past him after he did a presentation at an Epic Ministry of Awesome meeting.

Might it be useful for Christchurch to look into more potential ways of developing as an innovative hub between sister cities? Could doing this provide opportunities for the city to create and test hub platforms from which it could also link with other, non sister city nodes?


Lynette Mowlem Sun 3 May 2015 11:22AM

Congrats to CDC on this initiative and for seeking input from a wide range of contributors. I’ve yet to read all the discussions - but am impressed by the amount of knowledge sharing and time voluntarily given.

My suggestion relates to - Characteristic 2, “Christchurch is attractive to talent” and Characteristic 3, “... is internationally recognised as a source of capability and innovation”.

What they would look like should perhaps include a key point of difference for Chch - which would be an inclusive, collaborative network of support that:
* covers the full cycle of the tech sector from primary school to retirement.
* provides support for teachers and lecturers - as well as for students and graduates.
* provides upskilling and other support for people who are already in Chch and have IT skills but don’t have jobs in IT - whether because they’ve been made redundant or because they have come to Chch with qualifications that recruiters in Chch are not familiar with.
* encourages and provides systems for mentoring and ongoing upskilling and cross-training of employees - which is a key requirement in attracting and retaining millennials.
* utilises the knowledge and experience of those retiring, whether from IT industry or teaching/lecturing, to continue to play a part within the support network.
* recognises and utilises learning models like the one developed by Renae Mackie and the students at IT HOTHOUSE - and the not-for-profit community models like addington.net.nz and the Computers in Homes programme, including the DORA digital bus.

I will provide the specifics and references during the next phase - “feedback about what we should do to realise success”.

Since I’ve not yet introduced myself, my input is based on:
* issues I observed whilst Canterbury Branch Secretary of IITP.
* my experience as a business owner in Brisbane and in managing IT businesses/operations in Brisbane and Chch.
* research on attracting and retaining staff - millennials to baby boomers.


Chris Twiss Mon 4 May 2015 1:08AM

I have really enjoyed catching up on the feedback in the various threads over the last couple of weeks. I commend the thoughtfulness of the input from all who are contributing. My comments that follow are given with equal openness and positive spirit.
Personally I really believe that as a country, in order to get the best out of our entrepreneurial abilities and efforts and to optimise the social and economic benefits both for New Zealanders’ and others internationally who are touched and impacted by those efforts we need national dynamic NZ tech/innovation system that is brilliantly joined up and collaborative. I feel that, even in 2015, this may require potentially a fundamental mind (and action) shift though right across the current system.
So I’m definitely not a fan of statements in the Discussion paper along the lines of “Christchurch has a higher rate of tech sector start-ups than other cities in New Zealand.” Or “Generate a higher proportion of their revenue from exports than tech businesses in other New Zealand cities.”
The joined up NZ system fully encourages and perhaps even positively demands that there is a free flow (national and international) of ideas, capability, capital and networks throughout the country. Under this system no one wastes time pondering things like “what would make our town A more competitive than town B” or “How can we poach students from City C for our tech ecosystem in Town D. Instead, we just accept that people make the choices they do about where they spend passages of their lives and that these are much more likely to simply reflect (ever changing) personal preferences and circumstances and actually not driven materially by assessments of whether or not NZ regions, cities or towns have better or worse tech/innovation systems. Surely the other underlying great news is that NZ has a number of stunning places where this activity can and does take place. Culturally, we make a bit of an art at times it seems of looking inwards at ourselves and overstating the relevance and importance of one place’s ascendancy or positioning over another’s.
I challenge anyone to cite an example of an international customer who gives a monkeys about the “Auckland-ness” or “Christchurch-ness” of a NZ based business they are dealing with. It might even be pretty difficult to find any who “materially” (I mean, would it really make a difference to their decision to buy a product or service from NZ tech/innovation company) care about the “New Zealand-ness either (OK, Icebreaker excepted).
What I do see all the time is that New Zealand has an established and growing reputation as a country that rates well internationally as a generator of ideas, innovation and world-class business smarts. Great!
Having the privilege of looking under the bonnet now of nearly 200 NZ tech companies that NZVIF has invested in over the last 13 years alongside our Angel and VC investment partners, I would make a couple of other observations:
• There has been some great discussion around the issue of the importance or otherwise of aiming to have a core group (3-5) of significant sized (>$500m) tech companies in ChCh. Indeed the Discussion paper notes one potential measure of “Critical Mass” as being “Christchurch has X number of internationally successful tech businesses of Y scale.”
Picking up on a flavour of what some others have already discussed, I think we need to view a flourishing tech/innovation scene as one with companies (and their respective founders, staff, boards etc.) right across the spectrum of timeframes, scale and “success”. But all in their own way positively contributing the overall dynamism of the system. An analogy within the NZVIF portfolio would be that we have maybe 10-15% of the companies who hand on heart pursuing a game changing/disruptive/hugely internationally scalable opportunity and that’s fantastic. Xero is the outstanding example of this. But there are equally important sub-strata’s of companies beneath those “hit it out of the park” plays. And this goes right through to the most nascent of entrepreneurial endeavours in the form for example of Lightning Lab graduates – often first time founders/teams still at the very early stages of business model discovery.

I’m not sure that even if we wanted to we can necessarily plan or legislate what the “mix” of companies at any given point is, and particularly not at a particular City or Town level. The system, bless it, is just way more elaborate, complex and dynamic than that. Just letting it run free is part of the fun. But if anyone does end up with a Google (or Xero) based in their neighbourhood then all power to them. There’s no doubting that can be a very cool thing.
• On a similar vein, I don’t believe that we need to worry too much about whether and to what extent we should focus on building particular areas/sectors of specialisation/picking winners etc. Across the NZVIF portfolio we have an incredible diversity of businesses and if you want to focus on just those that, to date, have given or will likely give rise to the best investment returns then they will have come from a very wide range of industries and sectors. Trust me, they wern’t necessarily obvious successes in their early years either. To my mind, the market does have some natural efficiencies in deciding what types of businesses are built and invested in (witness the current significant weighting in NZ Angel investment (c.50%) towards Software and Services) – but also there is real strength in having as much diversity as we do across our tech/innovation system. Again, I'm a fan of fundamentally letting the system run free in this regard.


Dan Khan Wed 6 May 2015 2:51AM

Hi, wanted to add an outsider to ChCh's perspective and view. I think given what's happened in ChCh, you've got to be thinking differently than every other EDA out there in NZ, and I think you have the opportunity to.

I sent this to Helen @ CDC earlier and thought it's relevant to this discussion to post here.

I'd be looking at this from a higher level of thinking and say what is the one big compelling difference that you want ChCh to be known for in the next 10 years, rather than the shopping list approach that spreads your resources so thin that if you do most or even 5 of them ok, then no one thing will stand out as having been the most impactful.

Assume you're in the future 10 years already, what will be the biggest thing that would have made a difference (it won't be all the obvious things that you're already doing)?

My personal vision is 1000 serial entrepreneurs created in NZ in the next 10 years, and the subsequent knock on economic benefits in terms of employment, capital, connections, and talent. How can those 1000 mostly come from ChCh? What do you need to be thinking about differently to achieve this - the same old thinking wont create this sort of difference or long-term impact.

In most people I've talked to about ChCh in recent times (esp international ppl), their common view is why isn't ChCh capitalising on disaster tech and new ways of thinking about radical economic redevelopment - that's the clear space for you to be in to push your national and international profile as thought- and action- leading in this space, with tech unpinning every other sector in it.

How do you attract the world's best thinkers and doers about these topics to come do that and innovate from ChCh?

This tech layer cuts across all areas of business and sectors (in fact tech shouldn't really be a sector, more horizontal, since it underpins every other vertical these days) so how could you get new urban planning tech, construction tech, monitoring and measurement tech, people/civil management tech, etc all coming and leading from ChCh. Esp looking at the state the city is still in with significant rebuild progress but significant devastation still apparent. NZ is a great place to be this international beacon given our place in the ring of fire and proximity to so many other devastating events like Tokyo, Nepal, etc.

This is a consistent view I hear from people when I travel to the US - you've got to stand up and be known for one thing to put that in people's minds - whether that's film, or tourism, or milk powder. Tech is such a wide and infrastructural industry these days that no one place can be know for just 'tech'. Silicon Valley is known for consumer software tech. LA is movie tech. New York is Financial tech. What tech is it you want to be known for? Agritech? biotech? Genetics-tech, or is it Disaster tech?

How do you incentivise locals, nationals, and internationals to come do that in ChCh with your support - domain experience, access, can-do and will-do attitude to cut through red tape, financial, mentoring, guidance, etc?

Look at what Startup Chile did to build their entrepreneurial ecosystem from ground up - they offered companies all around the world a 40K equity-free grant to come build their companies in Chile (and be there for at least 6 months), with tax breaks and bunch of other things, but with commitment to give back and educate / mentor the local community as they built their business so they upskilled the local economy to be building for this new domain too. Through this initiative, Chile takes a new international cohort of 300 businesses every 6 months into their programmes and is known on the international stage for the place where startups go before they reach bigger markets like US. They also just announced a bunch of follow on stuff too building on this at government and grassroots level. (The guy who runs that programme is a Kiwi coincidentally, possibly even from ChCh :)

How could you do something visionary like this for ChCh?

The talk of keeping things/people/companies in ChCh is a red herring and an argument I hear too often to justify whether or not EDAs or Govt should be spending money on. The reason why Silicon Valley companies are so successful is that they are surrounded by so many high calibre thinkers that it raises the tide for all: inspiration, collaboration opportunities, better employment opps, connectivity, and scaling ideation of existing efforts.

At this stage of tech ecosystem development (in NZ), it's all about critical mass not captive mass, you get the same benefits by having the quantity and quality of people passing through (for even 6mths to a year) and as a side-effect upskilling the local ecosystem as well as employing them, rather than requiring and stymying innovation by requiring great thinkers or local entrepreneurs to only get support if they stay in ChCh/NZ. (This is an NZ-wide thinking issue in my eyes not just ChCh).

I think competing on those 13/15 tech strategy objectives just keeps you on par with everyone else in NZ and delivers no real compelling reason for me to want to come do my biz in ChCh over Welly or Auckland. Even less so because of the relative risks of future disaster. How can you make me want to come create a business there and innovate there because of the relative risks and association with it?

Hope this helps with some external touchpoints (and strong opinions ;)


Dave Lane Fri 8 May 2015 1:09AM

I reckon we should be talking to the DIA (specifically Immigration) about smoothing the waters to let technical and marketing experts - especially from places other than the US - spend some time working and playing in Chch (like a sabbatical) with minimal hassles. I think it'll be a great way to achieve cross-pollination and to augment our existing clever minds with some new thinking from other parts of the world. Think those people who visit would also become excellent ambassadors for us in other parts of the world.


Raf Manji Sat 9 May 2015 11:37PM

Hi Dave/Dan, I've been working on the Open Visa proposal for the last 2 years with Immigration. Just trying to get the Minister across the line on this and then I think we will have the right platform to make this strategy happen.


Dave Lane Sun 10 May 2015 1:18AM

Great to hear it @rafmanji - let me know if I can provide any assistance :)


Dan Khan Sun 10 May 2015 2:50AM

Same, let me know if I can help.


Raf Manji Sun 10 May 2015 3:33AM

Helen, Could we set up a get together at CDC for all those interested in the Open Visa/Talent attraction strategy? I'd be interested to get some feedback as to how we might use 150-300 Open Visas and what sort of people we might like to invite in.

Let me know if that's worth exploring.




Ben Reid Sun 10 May 2015 4:52AM

Great conversation. As I previously stated, I align with Chris Twiss that a thriving, resilient ecosystem is a diverse one. Winners pick themselves and can't be predicted: at a policy level we shouldn't favour one sector / entrepreneur / business model over another....


Ben Reid Sun 10 May 2015 4:56AM

...However from a strategic point of view what is missing is HARD DATA. For me, the strategic vision is all about the numbers - simply stated: "Take {well debated but now clearly defined} measurement X from Y in 2015 to Z in 2025." Since in most cases we don't have Y currently, it's hard to talk about anything tangible for the future.

A second point is that the measurements / targets need to be refreshed periodically (every 3 years?) - priorities change rapidly in this space....

One of the outcomes of this consultation needs to be for CDC to take ownership of facilitating the collection and distribution of more granular, accurate longitudinal data relating to the Canterbury Tech Sector. Otherwise everything is qualitative and there's no way to track the success - or otherwise - of strategic initiatives....

The actual measurements I would like to see referencedin the strategic vision (scoped in to the tech sector...) include:

  • Total revenues, easily sliceable by at least "subsector" (eg software, manufacturing...precise definitions tba), "company size" (both employee numbers and revenue), "export %" (% of revenue earned overseas), annual growth %.
  • Number of company formations (and closures) / year
  • Number (and $$$) of tech company investment transactions / year
  • Number of company mergers / acquisitions
  • Number of people employed (and age group distribution)
  • Job roles, staff job changes/year
  • Salaries, (by job role)
  • Number (and size) of NZ-owned vs. Internationally owned companies
  • Long term fate of firms who are acquired by overseas buyers
  • Number (and $$$) of inward-investing companies

CDC: How much investment is required to start collecting, anonymising and curating this data - if this isn't available from Statistics NZ, how do we get it?


Helen Shorthouse, CDC Sun 10 May 2015 6:34AM

Thanks@rafmanji pretty sure there will be interest in this. We'll talk then we'll arrange something. Anyone interested in joining let me know helen.shorthouse@cdc.org.nz


Ian Douthwaite Sun 10 May 2015 8:26AM

Just want to reinforce Ben's points. I do think one thing of value CDC can do is to manage the scorecard. In the end that's how we know we're making progress, and from their point of view it's a great thing to be talking to funders about.


Amar Verma Tue 12 May 2015 12:11AM

@sheraleemacd attracting talent to Chch will be natural when we have many success stories, whether in ideation or post-launch growth. This doesn't have to be necessarily focused on coming from IT oriented companies alone. In my personal opinion, our growth has 60% or more come from non-IT companies. And, as I'm talking to more industrialists here in Canterbury region, I find that manufacturing & high-end engineering is the most under-served from IT perspective. But, these are the areas which provide a very strong long-term perspective and sustained growth.