Opinion: Why every Kiwi should back, or build a start-up

OPINION:

Every Kiwi should back, or build, a start-up.

Not all of us are built to be founders but we can all find a way to back ambitious, world-changing businesses; whether it’s buying their products, using their services, promoting them, encouraging and supporting them or investing in them.

Certainly, backing and building start-ups will do a whole lot more for our future and our post Covid economy than every Kiwi backing or building a residential property portfolio. It was good to see the Government encouraging investors in the direction of more productive assets in its recent housing announcements.

None of us can escape noticing there is a big relevant shift going on in the world at the moment. The planet is in pain and people are in pain. We have to do things differently. And where better to do that, than here in Aotearoa New Zealand?

Right now, this country is being lauded for managing Covid differently. It has shone the spotlight on New Zealand as safe, innovative and progressive.

We are small and ambitious and we have an innate belief in our ability to sort things out; whether that’s managing Covid well, sending satellites into orbit more efficiently (Rocket Lab, Dawn Aerospace), creating software to help businesses operate better (Unleashed, Vend, CoGo), extracting useful material out of industrial waste (Avertana, Mint Innovation, Lanzatech), finding health solutions (Avalia, Aroa Bio, Alimetry), providing financial services (Xero, FNZ, Sharesies, Harmoney), producing food in a better way (Halter, Robotics Plus, Biolumic) or being at the cutting edge of the creator economy (Weta, Moxion, Shift72, Narrative Muse).

The advent of Covid and our special Kiwi approach to solving the world’s big problems has created an exceptional opportunity to amplify the impact of our start-ups.

The stakes are incredibly high if we don’t seize this. We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to fundamentally change things for the better.

New Zealand risks being left behind and missing our chance to be a rock-star sustainable economy; a nation creating exponential value and impact, grounded in te ao Māori and our unique empathy for people and the planet. The world desperately needs an exemplar of how to do this well. New Zealand desperately needs the high-value jobs, wealth and talent this would generate and attract.

So how do we get there? The Government’s Start-up Leadership Group’s is a useful starting point and focuses on four areas.

Culture: We need to promote a culture shift to encourage more entrepreneurism and risk-taking. It’s a tough nut to crack but it’s more than possible with the right incentives. Check out the incredible growth and profile of the High Tech Awards. Every one of the finalists provides an inspiring story and role models. Imagine if we were as supportive and proud of our entrepreneurs and scientists as they take their products to the world, in the same way that we are of the All Blacks or our America’s Cup sailors. Imagine if every Kiwi backed or built a start-up!

Capital: Scaling high-growth tech companies requires investment; millions and millions of dollars of investment. Last year, New Zealand Growth Capital Partners Aspire Fund co-investors and Angel Association members invested $158 million in more than 100 start-ups. Start-up investment has been growing at about 10 per cent a year but we need way more and way faster. As well as the financial returns generated from a well-managed venture portfolio, there are very real social and economic returns generated from high-growth startups. Imagine the impact on our economy if, in the next decade, we grew this to a billion dollars of clued-up and inspired investment in 1000 start-ups a year from more private investors, Kiwi corporates, wealth management providers and our KiwiSaver institutions. Imagine the energy, ambition and outcomes this would generate.

Capability: The very best way to get good at venture investing and become a successful founder is to do it and be one. Imagine if we supported and incentivised our tertiary and research institutions to grow more founders and spin out more start-ups. Imagine if 100 carefully selected, and successfully exited, founders who have sold their ventures offshore migrated to New Zealand to invest $5m each in New Zealand start-ups.

Connectivity: US- based ecosystem researcher, Start-up Genome provides compelling evidence that highly connected start-ups enjoy much higher rates of success. Benchmarked against over 50 ecosystems, Kiwi founders rate poorly for both international and local connectivity. In the same way it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a whole country to nurture a start-up. Imagine if we had a kick arse cadence of events and programmes connecting founders, investors, professional service providers, corporate New Zealand and academia and if we also had a sublime digital platform joining all these dots and connecting founders and their teams locally and internationally.

All of this is within our grasp. We have done so well to crush the Covid curve. We have the world’s attention as successful problem solvers. Let’s grow and sustain that global advantage. Let’s amplify the focus on startups and venture investment and show the world just what we can really do.

Suse Reynolds is executive chair of Angel Association of New Zealand and Anna Kominik is Asia Pacific region director at Wisk.

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