Sun 19 Apr 2015 9:03PM

Christchurch as an attractive location for tech sector businesses

AES Anna Elphick (CDC Strategist) Public Seen by 297

What would make Christchurch a more attractive place for tech businesses?

  • What makes an attractive environment for tech businesses? - for startup, for growth?
  • How can we leverage our small size and connectedness? Other opportunities?
  • What's holding us back?

For the latest research and key insights read the background paper.

Please remember to refresh the discussion regularly so you can see the latest comments.


Helen Shorthouse, CDC Sun 19 Apr 2015 9:18PM

Morning everyone - great to get this started....I'm excited. We're going to feed in a few questions over the next week or so to get a wee bit of structure to the discussions.

To kick things off we'd like to understand a bit more about what are some of the things that make Christchurch a good place to be a tech business?

What are our strengths as a tech city?


Toby Burrows Sun 19 Apr 2015 9:22PM

Over the last 10 years in Sydney (and around the world), low-cost shared workspaces have played a really influential role in encouraging tech startups. EPIC seems like a terrific start - but I'd be surprised if it is enough to cater for every tech hopeful in Chch. Low-cost shared workspaces are likely to attract tech hopefuls from other areas of Canterbury or even different parts of the country and overseas. Creating a silo for people with similar aspirations to work in is terrific for idea sharing / cross pollination. If it is cost effective for entrepreneurs to rent space in a shared space environment which simulates that big agency / big company feel so many graduates / entrepreneurs look for, they are more likely to stay here (or come here) instead of heading to Auckland or overseas.


Dave Lane Sun 19 Apr 2015 11:19PM

A big problem Chch's tech community has experienced since the quakes is the demise of low cost space for building new businesses (if they're going to fail, they need to fail as cheaply as possible! And to succeed they need as much resource as possible focused on business, not accommodation). The focus on EPIC (I think EPIC is great, don't get me wrong) tends to ignore all of the other spaces (all smaller, but no less important) that have popped up around Chch. People are cooperating their way towards recovery. We need to give those other groups credit too, and draw attention to them to connect them to people who need/want spaces as well.


Paul Swettenham (Sunstone) Mon 20 Apr 2015 6:52PM

Being able to attract talent is key to be able to build a tech business - as you need the IP. I attract a lot of candidates (both internationally & nationally) to Christchurch (for high growth businesses / software houses) and of course interest has to be there within the job (interesting software / IT projects / product development) but it's always been the attractive lifestyle for many - 20 mins to the beach and an hour to the mountains. An international airport to fly out of is very handy, less traffic than a lot of other international cities, good tertiary institutions and schools, lots of green spaces, a house with a decent garden, relaxed friendly culture, low crime, uncrowded, a good upbringing for your kids are all big pluses....but yes it's not as cheap as it used to be;-) Good thing remuneration levels have gone up, albeit slowly....I still think you get a lot of bang for your buck! Now we also get new infrastructure......How can we leverage more off the lifestyle aspects and create more start-up hubs? Cheaper / attractive shared spaces? Become a true technology city?


Dave Lane Mon 20 Apr 2015 10:56PM

@paulswettenham to be sure, successful companies need talent, passion, and leadership. Let's not de-personalise the crucial requirement for keen, capable people by referring to them as "IP". The term IP is soulless and is generally misunderstood by people who use it, and I strongly feel it should be avoided. I think we should talk about knowledge, skills, and the people who provide them. In the few cases where it's appropriate we should speak explicitly about the specific legal instruments that make up "IP": Copyright, Trademarks, Patents, and trade secrets. IP is nothing more or less.


Liz Foxwell-Canning (CDC Client Manager) Mon 20 Apr 2015 11:22PM

Given how difficult it is for tech businesses here to find sufficient talented people, should they be encouraged to adopt a less traditional structure and instead recruit remote workers all over the globe (like successful tech business http://www.ushahidi.com/ has done)? How can we encourage this, if it is a desirable solution?


Austen Rainer (University of Canterbury) Tue 21 Apr 2015 7:19AM

Hi all. A few brief responses to some of the comments raised. @tobyburrows: I agree about the low-cost shared workspaces for tech startups. And @davelane, I agree too that Chch needs more than only EPIC. (I thought that the University of Canterbury had/has such a space for this kind of thing: NZi3.) My own experience is as @paulswettenham describes it: I've come to Chch because I am interested in the job and career, but I also want the lifestyle (that term covers a range of things), for my family and me. Liz's (@lizfoxwellcanning) point about the difficulty of retaining talent came up in an informal chat today. We had a rep from a global technology corporate (I won't mention the name and they aren't the only one) here today to attract UC students to tech jobs overseas. I know too (as I am sure you all do) of companies in Chch that use talent physically located overseas. In a recent workshop, the facilitator was saying that you need three things: people + ideas + money; and that the ideas are free, it's the people that are valuable for which you need the money. (I realise that's a simplification but still a helpful one.) And a conundrum: how do you invest in talent that will continue to benefit Chch (rather than be 'exported' in some way)?


Sheralee MacDonald (CDC) Tue 21 Apr 2015 8:31AM

Thanks @austenrainer - Do others agree that talent retention is a key issue? What ideas do people have about how we can better retain the talent coming out of UC and other local tertiaries in local industry? or attract them back with their overseas experience? @edwegner, @stevedavis,@craigrichardson?


Terry Paddy Tue 21 Apr 2015 9:49PM

The retention issue is definitely real and for us (small company) it is attractive to hire new grads as they are enthusiastic, keen, want to make a difference and... not so expensive. But, like all young kiwi's they want to travel and do their OE, the first job just gives them an "experienced" tick. We've been fortunate to keep a high value employee by allowing him to work from the UK for a year. Maybe theres a way we can put together a "work overseas but still for us" package (not sure what that is) or some sort of exchange program with other like minded centers (incubators or whatever overseas)?
I know the biggest problem is the risk of loss of the employee, but its probably going to happen anyway.. or if the concept of working for a Canterbury HiTech company means you have the opportunity to work overseas for a year then that will attract loyal employees?


Steve Davis Tue 21 Apr 2015 9:53PM

Christchurch has a lot to offer and we need to promote the lifestyle options a lot more, we have everything in our backyard, skiing, hiking, sailing etc etc. Cost of living is pretty good, and we don't have major commute/transport issues. (Unfortunately the quakes have made commuting and housing worse than they were before, but still not as bad as other major cities)

Many tech companies in the USA have moved away from Silicon Valley where it is expensive to live and commuting etc is bad to places like Denver where cost of living, transport etc are better and there is a great outdoor attraction.

For firms to retain good people they need a good culture, and there is a lot of that here in Christchurch, many firms taking a leaf out of the Google book and making their work environments fun and friendly.

I likewise agree with @davelane and @austenrainer in that we need more reasonable cost opportunities for smaller businesses in environments like EPIC, through shared spaces, incubators, generators or hubs. The tech precinct is a good idea, but if it is too expensive for small start-ups then it is not going to achieve all that it could/should.


Helen Shorthouse, CDC Tue 21 Apr 2015 10:14PM

One thing I often hear about is that no-one really knows about Christchurch and the great companies that are doing awesome things here. This has an impact on the talent attraction and retention issue talked about by @terrypaddy @austenrainer and @paulswettenham as well as potentially attracting business and investment. Is this something that others see? Are other locations doing it well and why? What are some of the things we can do to do this better?


Anna Elphick (CDC Strategist) Tue 21 Apr 2015 11:03PM

We ran a focus groups yesterday on improving Christchurch's attractiveness and opportunities in the high-tech manu value chain. Lots of the same points around talent / people attraction and quality of life, co-working space were raised. We had an interesting discussion about the global trend for large corporates to seek innovation and solutions outside rather than operating their own large R&D departments. We've got examples of Christchurch businesses engaging successfully in this area. It seemed to build on a reputation (esp in hardware) of NZ/Chch businesses having broad capability, being adaptive/flexible and solution orientated. Does this resonate in the ICT area as well? Is this a business-specific opportunity or could we explore it at a city/cluster/collaborative level?


Austen Rainer (University of Canterbury) Wed 22 Apr 2015 1:19AM

Again, I'll respond to a few comments. I am interested in @terrypaddy's suggestion of the job+OE. As he recognises, I'm not sure how that would work, particularly for younger employees who may not have the maturity to manage themselves :-). I'm also interested in his idea around some kind of exchange, although again not sure how that would work. (My assumption is that we are exploring ideas here and not prematurely judging them.)

I agree about the importance of work culture (@stevedavis) and I think that the remuneration package isn't necessarily just about salary (what about employee shares in a company, for example - that might help to put down some roots with the company? Could we have some kind of concept of a 'share' in Chch...?)

On @helenshorthouse point that no-one knows about Christchurch: I knew about it mainly through visiting NZ and Chch several years back. I don't think I would have considered University of Canterbury without some prior knowledge and experience of it, so I think Chch could do something about raising awareness of what Chch has to offer. This relates to how to attract people to Chch; a different issue is how to retain Chch local people.

On @annaelphick comment: my sense is that corporates want a mix of outsourcing to startups (an opportunity for Chch) and recruiting employers (possibly a threat). I wonder therefore if there's a way of attracting corporates to set up some presence in Chch so that they can engage with the tech startups here.


Toby Burrows Wed 22 Apr 2015 9:10PM

@terrypaddy I like the sounds of both the “work overseas but still for us” and exchange program ideas. If companies could easily display their credentials to potential grads that they provided both of these options (eg in their job ads with a recognisable logo or accreditation - similar to a 'We accept Via' logo in a restaurant), it would be a simple way to capture a candidates interest initially and would help retain them longer-term. If the candidate stays in his/her job for 1 - 2 years in Chch, she/he then can work overseas for a period and return to their job here etc etc.

With regards to the exchange idea - bringing in grads from overseas will help create a tangible buzz in Chch. Rather than our grads having to head overseas to meet foreigners, bring our overseas friends here. Places like Queenstown and Sydney are exciting for people in their 20s because there is a steady flow of new people from different backgrounds to mix with. Chch is seeing a bit of this now with the offshore talent working on the rebuild here and I've heard only good reports from locals who enjoy their being here. It will help plug a talent gap and increase Chch's global exposure, but there are broader benefits as well to forging international exchanges with like-minded cities and organisations such as increasing the 'buzz' or excitement around the place.


Ian Douthwaite Thu 23 Apr 2015 1:33AM

Talent is a perennial problem. For 30 years we've been trying to work out strategies to address shortages of (especially) technical skills. At the same time we've grappled with under-employment of people who've undergone technical training or have existing technical skill and experience. We usually finesse this as 'matching' skills development to skills need. We don't seem to be getting that much better at it. The new ICT grad school is another step and it's close proximity to some of our tech businesses a good one.

New Zealand is now, more than ever, a talent exchange. Consider that 1 million Kiwis live overseas, and 1 million of our fellow Godzone-dwellers were born somewhere else. The very dynamics that draw our young talent off our shores (bright lights, big cities, exciting prospects) are the same ones that draw others here (quiet life, great environment, less stress). We probably don't make enough use of either of those millions but once again we are dealing with individual choices. By being aware of the dynamics of this exchange we can perhaps learn how to benefit from it rather than bemoan it.

While this is a long-standing phenomenon, there are some new twists. One (perhaps not so new) is that a general shortage of talent may be promoting unproductive competition for talent within the region. Again, this is the product of the individual actions of enterprises and requires them to consciously try and change.

Secondly is that while we've been used to the imperatives forcing manufacturing to move off-shore, that's now happening with what we used to think of as high-value activities like coding. Is this a threat or an opportunity for our enterprises?

Third, there's now some growing competition between the 'durables' and the 'disposables' for talent. (I was tempted to call these 'anchors' and 'pop-ups' but thought this new strategy initiative is an excellent time to put away post-quake parlance). Mirroring US trends where grads increasingly turn down jobs at Microsoft, Oracle and Google for places in newly-funded start-ups with ambitious prospects. We're rightly pleased with our own budding start-up culture but we need to make sure that we don't feed it at the expense of our warhorses.


Helen Shorthouse, CDC Thu 23 Apr 2015 3:57AM

Just picking up on the query from @annaelphick about the potential clusters or niches in Christchurch....we had some comments in our focus group yesterday about the strength of the agritech sector; we have the Hit Lab in the University with interactive/augmented reality; Wynyard (@craigrichardson1) is developing skills around cyber security and data analytics. Are these clusters you see? What else? Can we leverage these better?


Ian Douthwaite Thu 23 Apr 2015 4:37PM

Re clusters and niches: Yes, we're really fond of these aren't we, and that approach has served us well in the past. But clustering around content areas can be impeded by perceived competition issues or weakened by groupthink. Given some comments in the other thread, perhaps its more fruitful to consider some clustering around geographical market interest (given the distinct characteristics and challenges) or around enterprise 'stage' (e.g. nascent, emerging, growth, steady state)


Grant Thu 23 Apr 2015 9:15PM

I've been watching the thoughtful treads over the week and have a couple of comments to add. In surveys of top issues to tech sector all around the world (including Silicon Valley) are access to talent and capital. I think getting our share of talent is the most important issue - if lots of innovative interesting people live here we will thrive - if they don't we wont. So what is our competitive advantage for talented people that can mostly live anywhere they want? It has to be the lifestyle primarily. Most cities our size also do not have over a million visitors passing through - if they knew the cool things going on in town maybe a few more would stay and invigorate the tech sector further? If you are every hiring some from out of town and it doesn't work out let them know there are lots of other cool things in town.....

With regards to the best markets to tackle, use of IP, how to start etc - there is no correct answer as it all depends. There are successful examples of almost any way of doing things - I've never been clever enough to know but try things quickly and cheaply to test what may work.

I used to think NZ companies could never compete on capital intensive tech opportunities but Xero has proved me wrong. I used to think we had to focus on relatively simple technologies for that reason too. In the past I specifically said we are not going to have a rocket company here but there is a very real, very well funded proposal to build a seriously cool space launch facility in Canterbury - anything seems possible....

Lastly anyone playing in this space has my huge admiration - it is very hard but very rewarding. Hats off to you all.


Helen Shorthouse, CDC Fri 24 Apr 2015 12:00AM

The clustering idea you mention @iandouthwaite is interesting, especially as tech companies go global really early. What sort of challenges and opportunities could clustering present - including for business model, market validation, competitor analysis?

How are these opportunities and challenges different from opportunities for companies going it alone?


Helen Shorthouse, CDC Fri 24 Apr 2015 12:13AM

@paulswettenham talked about using the talent that comes out of the tertiaries - what role could the tertiaries and research institutions play in making Christchurch a great place for tech businesses?


Graeme Muller, NZTech Fri 24 Apr 2015 5:15AM

Clusters definitely work but they need a lot of energy. Research shows that there are certain success factors for tech clusters. Very successful clusters tend to happen in a region that has scientific preeminence within the cluster industry, new technology development occurring, major technology companies present, and start-ups occurring. The cluster really occurs then when a catalyst like a support organisation forms to bring it all together. Its hard to just create a successful cluster from a good idea without all of the ingredients.

NZTech is working hard to help support and amplify clusters that are in existence or forming. NZ is a small country so we feel the most successful clusters will be nationally connected.

@iandouthwaite your idea about forming groups at similar stages has legs. NZTech is doing this nationally through communities eg. New Startups, Early Stage Growth Companies, Listed Companies. These companies value the support, experience sharing, collaboration and capability building they can get by working closer together.


Graeme Muller, NZTech Fri 24 Apr 2015 5:23AM

The skills & talent shortage is global, long-term and won't change fast no matter whet we all do. At the moment there appears to be very hot local competition for talent - to everyone's detriment except the individual IT guys. Yet it appears that the local Chch tech community is very collegial and connected so should be well placed to work together on this issue in new and novel ways. The only way you can really beat this as a region is to "hunt as a pack". Is it possible to create some form of local exchange market to enable your staff to build their work experience in a programmatic or planned way by moving between your companies? In other words, accept there will always be churn but manage it. Maybe create a single shared HR service to manage the "transfer" requests and to actively hunt internationally for talent.


Anna Elphick (CDC Strategist) Fri 24 Apr 2015 9:22PM

@graememuller I am interested in NZTech getting businesses at similar stages together. We have heard from some of our focus groups discussions that connection between less and more experienced business people is something that many would value as they mature, and often where the connections don't exist. It is sometimes difficult to get more experienced founders/CEOs to participate in local networking activities - their networks maybe are more likely to be national or international. Has NZTech or people with knowledge of other countries like @phildriver, @theresebanks have thoughts about how to efficiently build these linkages and whether this is particularly valuable?


Anna Elphick (CDC Strategist) Fri 24 Apr 2015 9:30PM

Our review of US tech cities highlighted the importance of a commercially orientated university or research institution in the mix. Christchurch is blessed with UoC, Lincoln and Otago medical school, CPIT + most of New Zealand's CRIs and the CDHB. We have world-class engineering and computer science departments. What opportunities could having a closer relationship between business and these institutions offer Christchurch? Clearly delivering high-quality graduates is important, but what practical things could be done to improve the value to the local tech sector, and future tech sector growth?


Nigel Johnson Sun 26 Apr 2015 12:16AM

Closer and more frequent interactions between business and tertiary/ research institutions are certainly going to help grow the local sector. But how to achieve that? People in business and in the research sphere have their own immediate day-to-day tasks and challenges. Connecting with people from a different world for discussions that don't necessarily progress an immediate need is optional and so might not happen. Each party needs to see the longer term value in these relationships and make the strategic commitment to give them some priority, both at "corporate" level and individual staff member level. UoC's relationship with Tait provides a great role model. Post-earthquakes, UoC has given greater priority to engaging with and contributing to the local community, through student placements and academic research activities, and the level of these connections is growing as a consequence. Understanding each other's drivers and constraints is an important step - University's are better placed to help a business with longer term opportunities than with this week's immediate crisis. Academics have a range of personal motivations and professional goals. But, what to do? Mechanisms for getting academics/researchers to meet with business people and discuss common issues, match need with expertise, and get to know and understand each other is a good start. "Challenge workshops" where a business (or sector cluster) presents its technical issues or future strategy to a team of researchers, who then go away and ponder solutions, has proved productive. Finding the trigger(s) that will incentivize the researcher to take on the business-led research is important.


Craig Richardson Sun 26 Apr 2015 2:06AM

The one thing that will attract more large and successful tech businesses (which will attract capital and talent to grow small business) to Chc is the presence of large and successful tech businesses. Chc will be a great city, but there are many great cities in the world. The cities mission should be to build or attract 3 x $500M tech businesses in the next 5 years.


Craig Richardson Sun 26 Apr 2015 2:39AM

I hate to rain on the parade, but I think selling Chc lifestyle options to attract global talent won't work. If I'm a grad from a good school in Silicon Valley at the moment with a data science qualification my starting rem is $US250K and if it's a start up my stock options could make be rich - rich enough to do my own start up. So while being an hour from the beach and mountains in Chc is great, if I'm a tech entrepreneur it's going to be well down my list of "must haves".

We need to find a compelling career and commercial reason for the best talent to move to Chc.


Jen Rutherford Sun 26 Apr 2015 2:53AM

What would encourage existing NZ businesses who are national to base more of their business in Christchurch to help with the "rising boats" analogy - if we need people and companies in tech to attract more companies and tech, can we start with what is already in NZ and what would they need to move people / head offices from Auckland to Christchurch? Can we reference lower costs/lower commute times? Can we convince Aucklander's that Christchurch is stable (fear of earthquakes still exists?) Can the housing market support the plans for additional people coming into the city - price pressure on housing and rentals is an issue already - can some of the activity already underway to support the city be accelerated? Could tech have a role in that?


Craig Richardson Sun 26 Apr 2015 3:11AM

Lower cost - I don't believe its cheaper, if it is, its in the rounding.

Lower commute - if you catch the bus in Auckland 20-40 minutes gets you most places from the CBD.

Stability - I can't recall the last time an Aucklander asked about the stability of Christchurch, I don't think its a concern

Housing - could be, but if I am a 25 yo entrepreneur the last thing on my mind is the cost of housing.

We need to stop focusing on being "cheaper" and "easier" - thats a race to the bottom. We need to find something that makes us a stand out "better" that means the best paid tech jobs and most expensive tech people in the country are in Chc. That means specialising and focussing on being good at one thing.


Geoff Brash Sun 26 Apr 2015 4:36AM

There are 2 parts to this question - attracting new companies to Christchurch and helping retain/grow companies that are already here. This post is only going to comment on the second part.

Companies that are already in Christchurch are usually due to their founders/history rather that something that caused them to relocate.

Jade/Wynyard, SLI, Tait, etc were due to where their founders were and wanted to stay. There are many other examples.

The question then becomes how do we help these companies grow strong from Christchurch and provide a reason to retain a large percentage of their team here as they grow.

We can attract capital from other places if the proposition stacks up. This really leaves people as the main thing to focus on.

We have a strong University presence with UC, CPIT, Lincoln and other training institutions. An increase in skilled people tho would be welcomed by most as recruitment is still challenging for businesses of all stages/sizes.

There are a number of activities to improve the Commercial focus of graduates from the universities and I see this as a critical item for Christchurch. More graduates with entrepreneurial ambitions, more support for early stage startups can only help improve our tech industry in Christchurch.


Dave Lane Sun 26 Apr 2015 8:14AM

I think the focus on "start-ups" in Christchurch doesn't really serve us well. As @craigrichardson1 says, we need to have some exemplar companies out there... but I disagree that we need a lot of huge companies ($500M per annum). Part of my concern for Chch is that we're trying to copy other parts of the world. We're letting them define the game, trying to change our natural inclinations to meet with overseas expectations. I don't think that's going to work for us. I think we have an opportunity to be innovative, not only technically, but organisationally.

I think we should be focusing on building a tight, supremely competent, agile ecosystem of excellent service companies each of which can stand on its own, but working together on specific project (e.g. product development, large gov't tenders, etc.) can turn out better work, more quickly than any $500M company ever could.

  • We need clever ways to keep those allegiances economical (i.e. cheap to initiate and complete) and mutually beneficial.
  • We need to become more savvy in building things the market wants or needs (we need to value smart marketers, and not accept standard marketdroids or sales people).

I think we also need to recognise that people in our industry are almost never motivated primarily by money. Once they have enough, then they're only interested in quality of life and opportunities.

I also think we could focus on building great services companies instead of start ups. Start-ups are like playing Lotto, with similar chances of achieving success. Services companies grow more slowly and will never achieve the sorts of profit that a really successful start-up might... but for every successful start-up, there are hundreds of viable services companies. They're where great talent develops and matures.

Services companies have more value to our community, because they're more integrated with the community. That also makes them much more likely to stay put in NZ than be bought up by foreign interests. That's a good thing, in my opinion. The other bonus is that service companies tend to become very conscious of the market place and providing market insight for those who eventually do create a start up - one that actually meets a clear demand.

In a virtual marketplace, the line between services and products becomes very blurred, so I think if we use the sorts of expertise we can attract to Chch (I, for one, would be happy to let the high-flying entrepreneurs stay in Silicon Valley :)) I think the technical capability we can attract is peerless. I think we just need to:

  • work out how our cornucopia of great small tech companies can act modular and combine and re-combine to work together where it makes sense,
  • put together a united front to convince our gov't to buy services from us instead of overseas multinationals (we could, for instance, be backing NZRise alongside the more US corporate-focused NZTech group - see their constitution), and
  • figuring out how to market ourselves to the world more effectively.

Geoff Brash Sun 26 Apr 2015 10:53AM

I do agree with Craig that it would help us to have some more large companies here and would like us to have a strategy to attract them, my post was only referring to growing new companies.

Regarding startups I wasn't only including product-only startups but all early stage tech businesses; service focused, product focuses, and hybrid like Jade and SLI Systems. More entrepreneurial people finding new ways to start and grow local businesses is a good thing.

Many innovative startup product ideas have come out of companies that would consider themselves to be pure service companies.

The reason Silicon Valley focusses on product startups is the amazing economics that can be achieved. Locally XERO is a good example of this where their product is used by hundreds of thousands of companies in 100+ countries and has a market cap of approx $3b. Very hard to get this wealth creation using a pure service model. We do have to do things differently but what that looks like is up to us.


Ed Wegner (Tait Communications) Sun 26 Apr 2015 10:46PM

I'll wade in on the topic of attracting and retaining talent. "Lifestyle" for many who have come to New Zealand and Christchurch doesn't mean skiing and surfing, it has much more to do with a safe and friendly place to raise a family and have a healthy work-life balance. Good early childhood education and public schools. The ability to have your kids walk or bike to school. Being able to dry your clothes on the clothesline and bring them in smelling fresh. To me, these are the factors that differentiate NZ and Chch from other places in the world with high tech opportunities. Yes, the mountains, bike tracks, walking tracks, surf, fishing, and general outdoors pursuits are a bonus, but not the core attraction. Being a family-friendly place is how we should differentiate ourselves. I don't think it's well-understood how important this is.

With respect to retaining locally grown graduates, I don't really think that's an issue. What we need to do is to attract them to come back after they have left. A returning kiwi is almost always more valuable and more loyal after they have done their OE and returned to set down roots.

I also think we could do a lot more to make Christchurch an attractive place for professional women. This forum is typically male-dominated. I'd be interested in hearing what others - especially women - think of differentiating Christchurch as a desirable place for professional women to come. Perhaps things like supporting opportunities for professional advancement while still having a family.


Ben Reid Sun 26 Apr 2015 11:43PM

As someone who emigrated to Christchurch from overcrowded Britain with young kids 10 years ago, I totally agree with @edwegner that NZ / Chch is a very attractive proposition for international tech workers with young families looking for a stable, healthy upbringing with good education. We can continue to compete strongly in this space.

Unfortunately the flipside of this family-friendly offering is that there's not a lot here for 20-30 year olds and they tend to leave at the first opportunity, not returning until they have family themselves, if ever.

Personally I think we need to consciously seek ways to invest in retaining and attracting more younger workers / entrepreneurs to Chch: as @craigrichardson1 mentions above all this means paying them internationally competitive wages and making the city more exciting for them outside work.

This implies actively encouraging a more lively cultural scene than just the great outdoors: nightlife, arts, entertainment venues. Chch has always fallen down on this and we consistently lose our young people to Auckland, Wellington and further afield.

Recently there have been some successes at making Chch's external image edgier and higher profile: the Oi You! street art exhibition... continued quality of TEDxChch... Ministry Of Awesome attracts a healthy crowd every week ...(I'm right behind @kailacolbin's idea of bringing Singularity University / Singularity Summit to Chch)...but there are no mid-sized music venues...nightlife is dead Monday-Thursday...arts festivals targeted at retirees...

It's not really a tech industry conversation but it is crucial to attracting talent.


Ben Reid Mon 27 Apr 2015 12:12AM

A few comments in response to the (excellent) contributions on this thread:

  • @craigrichardson1 absolutely agree that Chch tech businesses shouldn't be aiming to compete based on being cheap / low-cost. Successful businesses aspire to being the best in their class internationally and therefore need to pay internationally competitive rates. Period.

  • @craigrichardson1 The easy access to so many outdoor activities around Chch is a selling point to a certain niche group of workers: there's no harm in emphasising this as a component of the overall external message; but agree it shouldn't be the lead message.

  • Let's just ditch the word "lifestyle". It conjures up images of workers shutting down their computers at 5 to 5 every day and walking out the door. Play hard. Work harder.

  • It seems to me that the rest of the world gets confused (and turned off) by the various words "Christ", "Church", "Canterbury". I'd be interested in any research out there on how NZ is perceived but the most valuable meme to me seems to be "South Island", "New Zealand". Hence any messaging needs to place Chch in this context - eg a footer of "City of Christchurch | South Island | New Zealand" on all comms. How the rest of the world sees us is different to how we see ourselves...

  • @davelane @geoffbrash @craigrichardson1 I'm not convinced of the need to specialise into particular technologies / markets / business types. Instead it seems to me that the key to self-sustaining local tech industry growth is to encourage diversity of businesses and develop the long term capability of our entrepreneurs and investors to grow and recycle capital.

  • So in terms of defining a tech strategy for Chch: I'd suggest a stocktake of where we're at right now in terms of numbers of large / small businesses, product / services businesses, locally / internationally owned businesses, domestic / export businesses - and expressly aim to grow the the numbers and market cap in each of these segments incrementally over the next 10 years.


Ben Reid Mon 27 Apr 2015 12:32AM

@nigeljohnson I recently came across an anecdote that in the US / Silicon Valley, investment in university spin-off companies weren't so much about the intrinsic value of the "IP" - they were effectively "acqui-hires" to encapsulate the team of students / researchers involved.

In order for industry / investors to be interested in university spinouts, it's fundamental that the teams need to have entrepreneurial DNA in the first place and want to develop their research commercially rather than stay in an academic ghetto - otherwise in many cases it's just too hard to "graft" that commercial capability on later...

So as you say, a challenge for NZ universities is to foster entrepreneurial rather than academic DNA in students.


Ian Douthwaite Mon 27 Apr 2015 2:04AM

Trying to 'sell' Christchurch as an attractive location is a bit like trying to make water run uphill. People who want what the place has to offer will find us. As others have said, they are almost certainly a different demographic to the group we lose. We need to learn to make better use of the talent we have, and which we attract. The flourishing startup scene cuts both ways; both in diverting talent away from the durables, but also as a catalyst for retaining more young talent, as well as an outlet for the entrepreneurial among our arrivals.

Likewise, investing a lot of effort into trying to make academia and industry work more closely together is also another uphill watercourse. Both the entities and the individuals involved have quite divergent drivers. By all means try to create opportunities for them to interact, but better to concentrate on exchanges between startups and established companies perhaps in order to exploit complimentary needs and skills. Comparatively easy to do in a small highly-interconnected city.

Totally agree with @craigrichardson1 and @benreid et al about focussing on building those larger (and medium-sized) companies.


Dave Lane Mon 27 Apr 2015 3:31AM

I agree with @benreid that we need to do a stock take of the companies we've got here in Chch - it'll be surprising I have no doubt! Just remember, we're not in Southern California, and we haven't got a compact city centre like Wellington... Reckon we have to find our own strengths and create an innovative local marketplace, where small companies can grow, around what we've got rather than copy what's worked elsewhere (because I suspect we'll find we don't really know why it worked elsewhere).


Therese Banks Mon 27 Apr 2015 3:56AM

Re Anna’s comment re capital, there is money about but I believe some businesses need help in preparing pitches - ROI and Exit strategies. Chch and Canterbury also need a better profile to attract interest of national and international investors, emphasising innovation and growth eg We have NZ's fastest growing regional economy at 6.6% GDP growth for the year ending 2013. Our focus does not have to be sector specific but should stress our innovative marketplace. Over the years I have heard internationals say that some of their best research is done in Chch. To borrow from Cambridge (if this is still appropriate), we could promote Chch as the largest R&D ICT cluster in South Island (or NZ)? South Island's (or NZ’s) No 1 location for commercial R&D spend – ?% of the total. We should include information about our Tertiary Institutes, numbers of students as well as case studies eg Taits lead the world in communication technology and has now built Tait Technology Centre as a base for research in international innovation.

To comment further re building linkages, I believe there is value in strengthening connections between high tech businesses at different stages. Locally this is happening as part of Business Mentors NZ. Experienced business people give up their time to benefit smaller businesses trying to grow. The experienced see value in contributing to the local community and the benefits to the less experienced are enormous. With a little effort this could be expanded to assist those with similar needs at a cluster group level. A stocktake could identify these.

Establishing a high tech cluster group internationally could benefit from the considerable resources available if the UK is the chosen location. UK Trade & Investment (sponsors of NZ’s high tech sector) is a resource for a business or group wanting to set up a legal entity in the UK and develop international trade. A Memorandum of Understanding exists between UKTI and NZTE that focuses on four main areas: increasing cooperation in inward investment, trade, collaboration in third markets and the sharing of best practice. This offers opportunities for further collaboration, particularly in positioning each country not just as a market destination but as a platform into other markets.
UKTI sector specialists could advise on market opportunities and trade potential. Assistance on the ground could be available through a business development partner such as Exemplas (www.exemplas.com) whose mission is to develop collaborative strategies with partners from industry, academia and government. Such a partnership would helpful as NZ (and Chch) is not a priority market for UK/EU businesses. A better Chch brand would help address this problem.
On the ground there are organisations such as the Technopoles and Incubators where a group of NZ companies could settle and develop networks. This could lead, for example, to their being part of a supply chain or sharing resources such as warehousing and distribution.


Trevor Laughton [Tait] Mon 27 Apr 2015 9:57AM

As has been stated by several above, the "lifestyle" pitch cannot be the core of our proposition. @edwegner articulates well what the lifestyle proposition is, but it's complementary not core. I'm aligned with @craigrichardson1 in that part of the core has to be exciting career opportunities with marquee tech companies - tech companies that create (or bring into region) infrastructure, capital, and contemporary management and business skills - in turn fuelling start-ups and attracting even more companies to Canterbury. I'd like to see a tech sector strategy that is bold in its vision rather than one that tinkers with what we have today. What would it take to build/attract 3 x $500M in 5 years as @craigrichardson1 suggests? What will it take to get the chain reaction started?


Craig Richardson Mon 27 Apr 2015 12:14PM

Objective 1: Build 3 product companies with turnover of $500M each over the next three years

Objective 2: Ensure the average salary in all three organisations is greater than $150K per annum

Objective 3: Attract $1B in new capital funding to Chc to grow the above companies and fund the spin offs


Trevor Laughton [Tait] Tue 28 Apr 2015 12:10AM

I'd like to pose a question prompted by comments from @geoffbrash, @nigeljohnson, @benreid, which is how important are our academic institutions (UC, Lincoln, CPIT) to the tech sector attractiveness of the region? What role should they have (beyond a flow of business and STEM graduates) in supporting the tech sector strategy (including the objectives suggested by @craigrichardson1 above)?
Some observations I would make:
1. We seem to spread our (relatively small scale) specialist academic expertise across many NZ institutions (who themselves have duplicated specialisations). Tech companies may gravitate to regions having deep teaching and research specialisation in their sector. And tech companies already in region look to their local institutions for the same.
2. Industry often pulls academic researchers towards their "today" problems. As industry business model s-curves shorten these same researchers must be contributing to the new knowledge/innovation that will fuel the next s-curve and perpetuate a local (tech) sector.


Hamish Laird Tue 28 Apr 2015 12:38AM

The stock take of what we have now gives a good indication of what we will have in the near future. And the stock take gives the foundation of what we will have in the mid to long term. @davelane and @benreid the Flux map is great. The stock take or map is core to Callaghan function.


Ben Reid Tue 28 Apr 2015 1:41AM

@craigrichardson1 I love the ambition but 3 x $500M businesses in 3 years!? We need to be realistic: 3 x $50M companies would be a significant achievement from a standing start. (Other than Tait, who else here has revenues above $100M right now?)

Just for comparison: Xero have been going nearly 10 years and only just last year got above $100M ARR - they've raised over $355M capital total so far according to Crunchbase https://www.crunchbase.com/organization/xero. SLI Systems announced only $28M operating revenue today. Wynyard floated only in 2013 and won't be anywhere near $500M by then (...will you?).

As you attest, growth is HARD. And we don't have a VC community here to support that level of investment required to mirror Silicon Valley.

But right now I can point to at least three homegrown companies who are on the growth trajectory and have managed to raise money recently and I'd back these guys to make it to $50M within the 3-year timescale. Plus there are others just taxiing out onto the runway....

Getting the Venture Capital funds to provide $5-$25M rounds will be a significant challenge given the current trickle of deal flow....


Hamish Laird Tue 28 Apr 2015 2:01AM

@benreid Enphase have revenues above $200M. Trimble have revenues of above $500M. Invacare have revenues of over $300M. All have significant investments and development operations in Christchurch. Enphase became profitable this year after going the VC and listing path. Is the emphasis on the homegrown necessary?


Hamish Laird Tue 28 Apr 2015 2:33AM

Academics are individuals who work best in a personal setting. As a result a relationship between a company and a University is always best when it is personal to the academic. Turnover of non New Zealand born academics in Universities is high with job terms of less the four or five years common. Building and maintaining any relationship takes some time and the investment is lost when the academic moves on if the company cannot maintain the relationship remotely.

The pattern of tech companies clustering around Universities and Polytechs that attract young people and churn out educated people is well established.


Terry Paddy Tue 28 Apr 2015 7:03AM

This is starting to sound like NZTE's 100 $100m companies target a few years ago... All very 'stretching' and 'aspirational' but is that realistic to get the effort down to the level of the 90% of CHCH tech companies that just aren't going to get there? Might as well pick the winners like NZTE tried to do in the mid 2000's and leave the rest to ring "0800-small-company-of-no-interest".


Hamish Laird Wed 29 Apr 2015 5:29AM

@timbell How important are our academic institutions (UC, Lincoln, CPIT) to the tech sector attractiveness of the region? What role should they have (beyond a flow of business and STEM graduates) in supporting the tech sector strategy?


Tim Bell Wed 29 Apr 2015 6:31AM

@hamishlaird Not sure if I'm the best person to answer that, but I'll observe that it seems to work in all directions - we know that the tech sector is something that attracts students to local tertiaries - awareness of local companies is a motivator for students and gives them a vision of where they might go. To me a big role of the tertiaries is to provide international connections - because of our research we're invited to the table in all sorts of discussions overseas, and can bring that back as local knowledge, plus we get a lot of visitors from overseas because they want to spend some time here, again providing a good flow of information and goodwill. Another observation is that while you have your occasional Jobs and Zuckerberg with unconventional educational backgrounds, when they build a business they need armies of regular employees with a solid background from the tertiaries (and it's those needs that drive our curricula). This seems to be an important part of the ecosystem. (Was that the question?)


Hamish Laird Wed 29 Apr 2015 6:35AM

@timbell Thanks.


Austen Rainer (University of Canterbury) Wed 29 Apr 2015 7:31AM

Hi @hamishlaird. I'll add some comments to @timbell. I agree - as you recognise - that universities provide a flow of graduates into industry. For me that is not just about numbers of bodies (I realise you are not implying that :-) ) but also about ensuring that these graduates are appropriately prepared. I am aware that UC (and I would expect the same for other NZ tertiaries) is doing a lot of work on developing and assessing graduate attributes to recognise that a 'good graduate' is more than someone who has only subject expertise. For software engineering at UC (being new to NZ, I can only really comment on UC software engineering) all of our software engineering students take a compulsory course at second professional year where they work in teams on a realistic year-long software development project, involving sprint planning, reviews, show-and-tells, retrospectives, and peer assessment; and where they use recognised industry tools e.g. version control, continuous integration. (There is a project at first professional too.) Separate to the teaching, I think research groups can work well with industry, where their respective interests can be aligned. The UK has provided Knowledge Transfer Partnerships over the last ~50 years to support such partnerships. Simula Labs in Norway provides a successful example, as do the Fraunhofer Institute(s) in Germany (with equivalent institutes in the UK and the US). The Scandinavian universities have a long, successul track record of working with industry e.g. Lund University and Sony-Ericsson. I agree too with @timbell about the international connections.


Austen Rainer (University of Canterbury) Wed 29 Apr 2015 7:46AM

Oh, one other comment, @hamishlaird. In the UK, I am aware that an industry consortium for the IT and telecoms sector endorses certain UK degrees. I think a similar thing will happen soon in the UK for cyber security. This may be a political minefield (I don't know?) but perhaps there would be a way whereby Chch companies "endorsed" some Chch tertiary degrees. That might help us collectively to attract future talent to Chch. (To clarify: endorsement ≠ accreditation.)


Helen Shorthouse, CDC Thu 30 Apr 2015 8:56AM

We've pulled some of these themes together in a new thread Looking forward to 2025 - be very keen to know what some of you think are the characteristics (ie what Christchurch as a tech city could look like) and measures are. @austenrainer , @davelane , @terrypaddy , @craigrichardson1 , @ben, @grant4 - what do you think?


Dave Lane Fri 8 May 2015 1:12AM

I think it's key that we explicitly move past the idea of trying to emulate Silicon Valley. Copying something else is the definition of not innovating. It's also aiming way too low, and doesn't play to our natural strengths. I think we need to celebrate our small diverse companies and focus on combining and collaborating effectively.


John Gallagher Fri 8 May 2015 2:07AM

Yes - and identify strategic ways/vehicles for networking locally that help local firms to project all the more effectively globally.

E.g., could Christchurch make itself a high-tech brokering hub if CDC and universities (CU-Lincoln) took on a core brokerage role thus:

  1. Connect with high-tech sister cities Seattle USA & Wuhan China to help identify and liaise between them on respective technology supply/demand opportunities?
    (i.e. what products, services or research does one want that the other could supply? Or what does either want that Christchurch could supply or support to provide?)

  2. Our universities, with students from both sister cities, could then where relevant help research and clarify ways of meeting such needs, including via Christchurch firms, current & potential?

Could this all help give local firms a platform of support and experience from which they might feel their way into projecting themselves rather more effectively than otherwise into the wider world...?


John Gallagher Fri 8 May 2015 10:31AM

There is more to successful high-tech development in today's globally networked world than just creating, using and trying to sell technological widgets.


Also important is positioning, both in global supply and demand networks, and in geopolitical contexts - especially including between the United States and China which are two giant geopolitical rivals. New Zealand needs to find its way as a small, remote country in today's globally connected world where both are the most powerful economic and diplomatic actors.

So we might as well work to clarify ways of doing this well.

In the comments I am making in these CDC-Loomio forums I am wanting to help identify some ways Christchurch could frame its technological development so that it can do well and at the same time help the country to do well in these wider economic and geopolitical contexts.

The councillor and financial specialist with an international background, Raf Manji, indicates how essential it is to define our own ways of relating effectively to the wider world when he says:,

"The biggest challenge for Christchurch is to drop our parochial, insular nature and realise that there's a big world out there and it will come to us whether we like it or not. We should take the opportunity to shape the city now and prepare for that."

(The Press, 9-5-15 http://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/business/the-rebuild/68347244/raf-manji-christchurchs-money-man).

So there's a challenge: how can Christchurch position itself to help shape, in terms of its aspirations and terms, "the way the world comes to it"?

I am endeavouring to identify some ways of going about this.

Your views?

I would be very interested to know if forum members think these wider contexts I refer to are relevant or not to local technological development.

If they are considered relevant, are the concepts I am advancing here helpful or not, and if they are, could they be further developed or improved?

Some core concepts I consider relevant include the following:

Hub or node positioning in a networked world?

In today's globally-networked world an important distinction that needs to be more widely understood when it comes to local development planning is between hubs and nodes.

A major challenge for a country or city in global networks is to utilise technologies to help create hubs that generate goods and services valued by others. Without this, by default an area can find itself functioning in node roles servicing hubs from elsewhere and largely on the outside hub's terms.

Geopolitical positioning

Being a small, remote country makes it all the more important that New Zealand and its cities actively identify opportunities to create such hubs, technological and other. Information and communications technologies also themselves open up new, more effective ways of connecting that overcome our remoteness.

In framing our development of international services it is important to take account of the fact that the big international actors, the United States and China, have both synergistic and contradictory interests.

So a small New Zealand must avoid situations where it finds itself torn in contrary directions if/when these giants come to pull and push at each other.

A way to do avoid becoming invidiously so placed is to build up bridging roles between them that are mutually-beneficial and mutually-acceptable, and can help them to resolve their differences more quickly and effectively.

How Christchurch high-tech brokering could help

Notably for this forum, such bridging roles can include helping broker technological development along the lines I have described in previous comments.

I.e., Christchurch has opportunities to contribute and benefit in tangible ways by becoming a hub between the high-tech sister cities it has in both countries - Seattle and Wuhan.

I have described how I think the CDC and Canterbury/Lincoln universities could make pivotal contributions by facilitating the relevant connections.

Christchurch's technological role could be complemented and strengthened by Wellington developing diplomatic brokering roles, such as our foreign minister Murray McCully proposed in 2012.

It would take me too far afield to elaborate on that for now
(If you would like more on Wellington's possibilities, see:
Making Wellington a diplomatic village for the Asia Pacific region – and beyond?
On Murray McCully's statement, see his Radio New Zealand interview: http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/morningreport/audio/2514510/mccully-says-nz-uniquely-placed-to-deal-with-us-and-china)


Raf Manji Sat 9 May 2015 7:43AM

Thanks John. I've been following this conversation and meaning to jump in.

It's time to be very clear about what we are trying to achieve here and then build a strategy around that. Personally I think we have a lot to offer as a niche technology and innovation hub, built around a liveable city and talent attraction system. I am in talks with the Minister of Immigration on the Open Visa proposal, which will allow us to leverage the networks and talent we want to bring here. If we can just sort out the liveable city bit, we should be into something 😄


John Gallagher Sat 9 May 2015 9:52PM

Yes, Raf, we need good ideas to strategise around, and you put some forward. Thank you.

That insularity problem

The core problem you raise of insularity also needs addressing so that people are receptive, and get the international savvy and skills to take up good ideas and make them work well.

You do well to point out that the world is coming to Christchurch/New Zealand whether we like it or not.

How then can the city strategize so its people can see and experience ways of benefiting from this rather than reacting negatively from fear of losing out?

Infrastructures for an internationally savvy city

That's why we need, and have for decades needed, a culture of internationally, interculturally savvy and adept people and decisionmakers.

That's also why since the 1980s when email came in I've proposed email-connected classrooms, for which sister city relationships could be turned into eminently effective vehicles.

Within such an educational structure, Christchurch school and university classes could connect regularly with peers in technology-rich Seattle with which we share a common language.
They could also connect regularly with China (Gansu and high-tech /Wuhan); our young people and theirs could in the course of communicating help each other to grow up learning, respectively, Chinese and English languages, cultures, and how to connect well with each other's cities.

Connecting thus with both Seattle and Wuhan would also help create an ecology for learning about and helping to help broker technological supply and demand between these two high-tech areas.

This strategy would combine some powerful linguistic, technological development and marketing synergies.

An extremely effective sister city ecology/infrastructure could be built by sister city business chambers, development agencies, council administrations, radio stations, drama societies and any other, interested parties connecting regularly with one another.

These networks could become more and more effective and productive by utilising the increasingly sophisticated and accessible ICTs and social media that are always becoming on-stream.

Had Christchurch done this over the last few decades...

Proposals for such sister city leveraging infrastructures were put to sister city committees, administrators and in CCC plan submissions in the 1990s.

Had they been taken up, and clear strategies formulated to implement them, the city could now be drawing over 2 decades of experience and talent-creation built up by tapping into USA/Asian networks. Which would have positioned it to create multiple high-tech and other hubs between them.

Would that, or would that not be an attractive situation for the city to now be in? What do you think??

While there is nothing to be gained by regretting lost past opportunities, this thought experiment does point to ways of doing well in the future. What assessment of Christchurch (or for that matter New Zealand) performance will be able to be made, say, in 2050 because of infrastructural decisions made or not made now?

Good ideas, and good ideas about infrastructures

Yes, good ideas are needed. So, surely, are infrastructures to produce generations of local people equipped to make them work well.

Such infrastructures are especially needed for an otherwise relatively insular, geographically remote, predominantly Anglo-Saxon and monolingual country - to which, as Raf does well to in effect point out, the world's diversities are coming and investing.
(Other cities could also implement the kinds of sister city proposals I have been making)

Again, in my view, to succeed in today's world above what is needed is a culture of internationally and interculturally savvy, adept people, especially including our economic and political decisionmakers.

What plans and infrastructures are being put forward to produce them, so that we can learn to interact confidently, comfortably and productively with the wider world and its cultures?

The economic costs of not doing so are piling up in the form of mounting national overseas deficits (year-on- year since 1974), and social costs are beginning to register in terms of growing inter-racial discomforts, separated living, and at times overt disharmony.

Let's delay the needed infrastructural planning no longer.

[More details are available in my blogs, including:
Innovative Sister City Networking for Global Solutions