The high-tech industries will lose their most vocal and respected advocate, John Blackham, when he relocates to Silicon Valley in March next year.
Blackham is going to head his company, X-Sol, there and eventually list it on a US stock exchange, and says he could be away for up to four years.
But in a warning to the government, Blackham says it may not just be the management and sales side of his company that moves. Blackham wants to leave his development team here, as other companies have done, but says US investors may decide to relocate it to a country recognised as a high-tech centre, such as India.
That would be the fault of the government being too slow to formalise the importance of the high-tech sector, he says.
“Made in Israel, or India, or Finland is highly regarded but unfortunately Made in New Zealand is not,” Blackham says.
This is not what the sectors deserve.
“We box above our weight,” he says. “New Zealand product is good because we have a small market and intensive competition; only the fittest survive.
“New Zealand has the ability to lead in technology applications; but it needs government action.”
Blackham, who hopes to fast-track the handing over of X-Sol’s reins to a US chief in about two years and return here to live, is highly connected. He sold his first software company, Fact, to Geac in 1990 and was one of the founders of the New Zealand Software Exporters Association, now the Software Association. He has just been re-elected to represent the association to government. He is also a TradeNZ director, a founder of the New Zealand Intellectual Capital Foundation (NZInc), a director of the High Tech Council and a member of prime minister Helen Clark’s hand-picked Science and Innovation Advisory Council.
His parting gesture is to set up a Knowledge Industries Council, which is aiming for formal government recognition. An umbrella group, it will span the electronics, software and telecommunications industries, until recently represented by the High Tech Council, as well as biotech, crown research institutes and a just-forming venture capital association.
Blackham says the High Tech Council could no longer be a representative group after the government said it would not recognise it due to its narrow industry focus.
He is talking to TradeNZ and the Science, Research & Technology ministry and foundation, but is finding Industry New Zealand, led by deputy PM Jim Anderton, unsupportive. He is appealing to large multinationals for their support.
Blackham, who says the government is finally starting to listen, feels his departure at this crucial time “cannot be helped”.
He says his move is dictated by X-Sol’s products completing their proof of concept in the US and by the need to go out and get large US capital and partners.
X-Sol’s first beta release will happen before Christmas. It runs on Windows or Linux and uses XML. Its function is to create an environment in which people can complete all their daily tasks, but which eliminates the concept of individual applications. It eliminates code cutting and lengthy re-programming, and commands are executed by issuing business instructions. It allows data perimeters to be changed everyday without the need to upgrade or re-install programmes.
X-Sol, which has always been set up as a US corporation, plans to have 45 staff by the end of next year.
Meanwhile, Brocker Technology Group, which listed on the Nasdaq in August, says the majority of its development work is still done in Auckland with plans to keep it there. Marketing manager Nigel Murphy says the company has not come across the perception from its US investors that it should be moved. Murphy says Brocker expected its Nasdaq share price to be low (last week trading at between $US1.25- $1.50) until it started trading in the US sometime soon. Its first move would most likely be to buy a professional services firm, he says. Brocker’s interactive phone system Bloodhound would be going into Australia soon, he says.