New York VC expert scouts for local IT talent

Leonard Laub is reviewing around 20 local IT companies on behalf of New Zealand Trade and Enterprise

At 6 feet 7 inches tall, with shoulder-length hair, Leonard Laub is a standout in any company. He’s a physicist and a mathematician, who consults to businesses around their technology and business strategies.

But it was a love of fast cars that brought him to New Zealand in February. That led to various other conversations and, with his ability to network, he began talking to Andy Hamilton at Auckland’s Icehouse, an incubator for start-ups.

A subsequent introduction to New Zealand Trade and Enterprise brought him back here last month. “I wanted to get away from the New York winter and meet up with friends,” he says. “I wanted to understand the New Zealand relationship and how the community works.

“There is the ability here to solve problems but how do you go from that into business? It’s about attempting to build a bridge. That’s a new idea for most companies and investors, who need more understanding on how to understand and to execute. Investors here are too casual. They don’t impose the planning and the structure they need.”

Laub is reviewing around 20 companies on behalf of NZTE, “sorting out which companies to focus on”.

“Several are different and potentially pioneering but in many cases they see their first move is to go to the US. That’s seriously wrong.”

Laub, who holds 20 patents, knows how to bring new products out of laboratories. His early days were spent at the Zenith Radio Corporation in the 1960s. He’s been associated with the technology behind CD, DVD and Blu-Ray; massive and highly flexible data storage systems; coding and data compression for audio and video; projection television; and building businesses from scratch to bring such products to market.

His biography describes a 46-year history of meshing raw technology and unmet markets to yield worthy products, vital businesses, and versatile, practical professionals and managers.

Clients include Du Pont, Exxon, Fujitsu, General Electric, Google, IBM, ICI, Microsoft, 3M, Mitsubishi, NCR, NTT, Olympus, Philips, Ricoh, Samsung, Seagate, Sony, Toshiba and Warner Brothers. One company he has spent time with here is Syl Semantics, whose enterprise search product was recently bought by NZ police.

“It’s far better for Syl to develop and refine their technology here before going overseas,” Laub says.

“Luckily, there is enough opportunity to make serious money before going there. Syl is a standout, doing something that people are getting in small pieces. They’re delivering what people have wanted since computers were first invented. Fundamentally, they’re offering more than Google.

“With Google, you describe something and you get any of those words or phrases. With Syl, you can speak the language that provides the interpretation. You can express things in your terms and it knows how to build a bridge.

“No one else has been successful in doing this. They have fallen far short. A vivid example is what they’re doing with police, where Syl interprets the vernacular.”

He says a patent (which Syl is seeking in the US – it has a New Zealand patent) is vital.

Laub says the NZTE relationship looks like continuing for the foreseeable future.

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