OPINION: Tech contributes 6% of Christchurch GDP, and that’s just the beginning

Ben Reid, chairman of the Canterbury Software Cluster, writes on the journey of tech firms from Christchurch, on the eve of the annual software summit.

It is time again for Christchurch’s annual Canterbury Software Summit, the largest technology industry conference in the South Island. The October 3rd event is the perfect opportunity to reflect on the achievements of the local industry since the highly acclaimed 2012 Summit – and there have been many, from new NZX listings to the opening of the Enterprise Precinct and Innovation Campus (EPIC).

Two significant-sized Canterbury software companies launched successful IPOs in 2013: SLI Systems (SLI) and Wynyard Group (WYN). These innovative firms now have a combined capitalisation of over $240 million with revenues measured in the tens of millions and they are growing rapidly. Indeed, software is a significant driver in the local economy, contributing approximately $880 million – 6 per cent of Christchurch’s GDP – every year.

SLI Systems and Wynyard swell the ranks of other successful New Zealand software businesses like Xero, Diligent, Orion Health, Serko, Vista and Vend; Kiwi investors are now aware of software as an attractive investment. With good NZX outreach and increased capital availability (due in part to growing Kiwisaver funds), there are more listings in the pipeline.

The next generation of rapidly growing Christchurch companies are also proving that they have amazing technology, solid marketing strategies and experienced management teams – I can name firms like Telogis, Leapfrog (ARANZ Geo), Redseed, Skilitix, BIMStop, CerebralFix. It’s evidence that the challenges of building a global business from Christchurch are being overcome and there are plenty of examples of those who have made it and are happy to share their knowledge and experiences.

However, there is much more that can be done to accelerate local start-up activity. We need greater investment in seed-stage software entrepreneurs, such as the Hatchery Incubator at the University of Canterbury, to ensure they receive the right support and remain in Canterbury.

Thankfully, the local infrastructure is bouncing back stronger than ever. The opening of the Enterprise Precinct and Innovation Campus (EPIC) building last October was a major rebuild milestone for the region. EPIC has become a world class centre for innovation-based companies in Canterbury and is successfully doing what it set out to achieve: Facilitating commercial collaboration between technology businesses.

EPIC is now home to 19 innovation-led companies including SLI Systems and, with events hosted on site every week, is very much helping to nurture the growth stage sector here.

As the late Sir Paul Callaghan said, in order to have successful businesses we need to make New Zealand “a place where talent wants to live”. Three years on from the first earthquake, the audacious task of dismantling the old city centre and creating a brand new 21st century “city in a garden” is well underway.

Those involved in the Christchurch software industry can feel hugely confident that we live in a world class city which can attract the best and brightest talent from all around New Zealand and the world. With a strong tradition of successful and lasting collaboration and sharing ideas, the Canterbury Software Summit is our way of celebrating that.

Ben Reid is Chairman of the Canterbury Software Cluster, and founder and principal consultant at Memia Ltd, which provides strategic advisory services focused on helping high growth software and technology businesses be successful from New Zealand.

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Tags skilltixLeapfrogRedseedBIMstopTelogisCanterbury Software ClusterBen ReidCerebralFixEpicchristchurchcanterbury software summit

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