Ex-pat tells how to crack US

New Zealand high-tech companies contemplating an assault on the US market should consider getting into embedded systems or intelligent software agents.

New Zealand high-tech companies contemplating an assault on the US market should consider getting into embedded systems or intelligent software agents.

That's the advice of Neil Scott, a New Zealander who heads the Archimedes Project at Stanford University in California.

"In the US little money is going into embedded systems," says Scott. "This is what we're good at in New Zealand."

Before leaving for the US in 1986, Scott was head of what was then the Wellington Polytechnic's school of electrical engineering (now part of Massey University). Since 1992 he has led the Archimedes Project, whose aim is to provide a means for people with a range of disabilities to access computers.

Scott has also become something of a celebrity in the US. In November he was invited to don his thinking cap in the company of MIT Media Labs head Nicholas Negroponte and the Electronic Frontier Foundation's John Perry Barlow to grapple with the question of "where people and technology meet". He is also a past nominee by Discover Magazine as one of the US's top five innovators in computer hardware and economics.

For all his fame Scott is happy to return to New Zealand periodically to offer advice on how local companies can get into the US. In the past fortnight he has addressed audiences in Christchurch and Auckland, with simple observations like the fondness Americans have for New Zealand accents and American reluctance to stick their necks out.

While these are features of the US market that New Zealand companies might exploit, success comes harder than that, Scott says. "What's required is an outstanding idea or concept." One wrong assumption to make, he says, is that Americans just want more of what they already have. He realised that when, in his early days in the US, he couldn't satisfy his craving for New Zealand cheddar. That led him to conclude his hosts liked the bland local fare, but when US friends sampled the New Zealand product, they proceeded to demolish his supply.

One potential source of ideas, Scott says, is to find an established product -- like the Palm Pilot, for example -- and piggyback on it with an after-market add-on. Armed with your great idea, connections and confidence will help you sell it.

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