Kiwi start ups join Silicon Valley ecosystem

Tauranga-based organisation to help New Zealand entrepreneurs get established in the US

Well known ICT industry identities Peter Wren-Hilton and Brett Roberts have launched an organisation to help New Zealand technology start-ups establish themselves in Silicon Valley and connect themselves to the region’s technology ecosystem.

Wren-Hilton, who founded Pingar, spent six months in Silicon Valley researching the idea and linked up with Roberts, who spent 12 years in senior management roles at Microsoft, around Christmas.

Roberts has subsequently taken a full-time role as CEO of Wharf42, so-named because of the wharves in Tauranga, where it is based, and similar wharves in San Francisco.

“I was in San Francisco a few weeks ago,” says Roberts. “All we’ve had is positive feedback. People say it is a great initiative and the missing piece in the New Zealand jigsaw.”

He spoke to former Kiwis there, intellectual property lawyers, people from Microsoft and other Silicon Valley identities – “a really broad set”.

“New Zealand is a country of innovators and entrepreneurs. However, the concentration of innovators is not matched by on-shore funding and growth opportunities,” he says.

“Wharf42’s mission is to substantially increase the flow of New Zealand technology companies into North America and a technology ecosystem that includes a robust network of seed venture capital and other funding.”

Wharf42 will partner in Silicon Valley with the Plug and Play Tech Center, home to more than 300 start-ups.

“Tech Center is incredibly well set up, with a huge amount of infrastructure. There is a whole bunch of venture capitalists on the top floor of their main centre in Sunnyvale.”

Another partner in the Valley is SVForum, which connects start-ups.

Roberts says there is a real affinity for New Zealand in Silicon Valley. “A lot of people there visit New Zealand and own property here.

“We’re seen as a nation of innovators that doesn’t bat to its weight. One person I spoke to described New Zealand as a nation of eight-year-old start-ups.

“A lot of New Zealand start-ups are around for quite a while but live hand to mouth and eventually miss the boat when their technology is overtaken.

“That said, New Zealand is a really good brand.”

Wharf42 will help companies with things like hiring and to work their way through the complex US health programmes for employees “so they don’t get defocused”.

“We will help with the minituae. We’ll even rent a house for you.

“The costs are not horrifically expensive, around what it costs for a good three-month OE.”

Start-ups will spend 10 weeks at the Tech Center working on the business, then pitch to an audience of around 400, which will include venture capitalists.

Roberts says Wharf42 has strong relationships with Trade and Enterprise and the Ministry of Science and Innovation. “As well as being complementary to the existing community of business incubators and accelerators, we will help provide those agencies with a clearer picture of New Zealand’s technology entrepreneur community.”

Wharf42 is also working with Priority One, the Bay of Plenty economic development agency responsible for growing the ICT sector in the Tauranga region. (Pingar is based in the Bay.)

As well as the fulltime CEO role, Roberts will remain a partner, director and shareholder of Business IQ, a business strategy consultancy he co-founded.

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