Canty clusters gather for business benefits

Why was the mobile communications chief dressed as Gandalf? Why did the software company boss look like a bullfighter? They were both doing business the Canterbury way.

Why was the mobile communications chief dressed as Gandalf? Why did the software company boss look like a bullfighter? They were both doing business the Canterbury way.

And judging by the first annual "cluster muster", it’s a method set to be adopted in Auckland.

Kim Ryan, a member of the Canterbury software cluster, organised the Christchurch event, which attracted about 150 people in fancy dress from the IT, engineering, fashion, biotechnology, wool and other cluster sectors.

Ryan, who runs a multimedia company, says business in Canterbury operates mainly through "trust networks" and contacts. When she first arrived in Christchurch in 1990 from Auckland's North Shore, she thought the city was cliquey.

"But it’s not. It’s just that people do everything on a who-you-know basis," she says.

Consequently, many newcomers to the Garden City find work hard to get, so they often leave, when what they should do is make contacts.

The networking philosophy is made visible in the spawning of clusters, small networks of like businesses within various industry sectors.

These have been recognised by the government, which funds as many as 50 clusters through the Ministry of Economic Development.

Industry groups are networking among themselves, collaborating and co-operating, but the clusters have become a little insular and isolated from other industry sectors, Ryan says, which is why she organised last Friday's social event.

"These events get people talking on a person-to-person basis. You might meet someone in a costume, and now there are no barriers. The Linux guy won’t mind talking to a Microsoft guy. They are talking about work and family. That develops trust and friendship -- genuine relationships."

And it can lead to winning business. Ryan says she has had referrals for overseas work on the basis of cluster contacts.

“As frivolous as it sounds, it [networking at parties] does work.”

The marketing director and president of the Auckland IT cluster, Doug Cockcroft and Brenda Saunders, flew to Christchurch for the occasion, and to learn how the Auckland group could develop a relationship with its Christchurch counterpart.

“It is important for New Zealand to work together. It’s an opportunity to develop projects. If you are aware of what others are doing, you can create a more effective force in the market,” says Saunders.

She says the North Shore-based Auckland cluster has been too businesslike in its approach, whereas the Canterbury cluster is more social.

“It’s hard work [getting members]. We have to get more of a mix to make it happen,” she says.

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