US start-up specialists keen to help

They want to help you crack the US market because they have an urge to make a difference - in New Zealand.

They want to help you crack the US market because they have an urge to make a difference — in New Zealand.

If that sounds unlikely out of the mouths of a pair of Americans with long experience of launching high-tech businesses, they insist it’s true. And in the case of both Vesna Swartz and Charlie Minter, the desire to help kiwi companies can be traced back to personal connections with the country.

Minter discovered New Zealand as a “source of great unexploited talent” in 1995, when in this part of the world as an aviation security consultant to the Sydney Olympic organisers; Swartz’s connection was through personal friends.

For each, when they were approached by Trade New Zealand, (now New Zealand Trade and Enterprise) as potential advisers for New Zealand companies wanting to establish themselves in the US, they were only too happy to help.

Minter and Swartz are members of the nine-strong Silicon Valley Beachhead advisory board, which helps New Zealand exporters get a toehold in the US. The board has been in the country for the past week meeting potential Beachhead companies.

“There are companies here which do amazing things with limited resources,” Swartz says, and she gets satisfaction from seeing such outfits establish themselves and succeed.

One such company she has been associated with is Right Hemisphere, the Auckland-based developer of 3D graphics software. Right Hemisphere is at the stage of having received an injection of venture capital, and of “having to make the numbers quarter after quarter” to keep the investors happy.

Minter says a touch of reality has come over the investor community since the dot-com crash, so returns aren’t expected quite as quickly as they once were. They’ll typically ask three things of start-ups that are looking for funding: what were their last month’s sales; are they making a profit; and what’s their market share. Most important is sustainable market dominance.

But Swartz, a veteran of Oracle, where the corporate culture is to beat out the competition no matter what, says the market is a tough one to prosper in.

“New Zealand companies wanting to establish themselves in the US need a pretty ruthless attitude. That’s the difference between surviving and not.”

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