Prime Minister Helen Clark offered moral and modest financial support to fledgling New Zealand software exporters in Sydney last week.
More than 20 software companies formed a Kiwi contingent at the Australian Information Industry Association (AIIA) section of Cebit. Clark toured their stands, which showed products ranging from well-established desktop management tools developed by systems integrator Axon, to start-up software testing services from Christchurch company Nightside Test Design. Their attendance at the event was subsidised by Trade NZ.
“I talked to all of them,” Clark says, adding that they’re examples of the kind of companies she hopes to see spring up in the biotechnology industry. “They’re at various stages of development, from taking their first steps as companies of just a few people to others with 40 to 50 and growing.
“I saw lots of great things. One of the most striking was an inventory system that is accessible from a mobile; that kind of mobile application is very exciting.”
Clark’s tour of the exhibit was part of a trade mission to Australia during which she pushed the importance of the government’s three pet sectors — IT, biotechnology and creative industries (such as fashion) — for transforming the economy. She is unwilling to place any ahead of the others in importance, saying they “all have potential, but their potential is different”.
The software companies represent the new face of the economy, she says. “These sorts of businesses are born global; there’s never going to be a big domestic market for them.”
To help them establish themselves overseas, Clark says the government is making $2 million available from the start of July to help with basics like leases on premises in foreign markets. It’s an idea borrowed from Korea that will be administered by Trade NZ and dubbed the “beachhead initiative”.
“It’s geared at newish New Zealand export-orientated technology companies that have spent everything they’ve got on product development and stand to be thwarted in their efforts to establish themselves in Silicon Valley, say, because they don’t have the money.”
Nightside head Peter Brown says his company is keen to get its hands on funding to open an office in Singapore, where there is a “large conglomeration of multinational companies” to which he could offer services. The company sets out to “break” newly written software before it goes into a live setting.
Brown says attendance at the day-long AIIA event resulted in leads, which he was staying on in Sydney for a week to pursue.
Auckland company Data Group, another exhibitor, also has leads to follow up, says managing director Rollo Gillespie. Gillespie, who is head of the New Zealand Software Association, says his aim from attending was to find Australian partners with which to collaborate.
Collaboration, rather than competition, was a theme of the Clark trade mission, and Gillespie is a strong backer of the notion. He says New Zealand developers need to look for opportunies to work with international software companies, in the way that Auckland company Keydocs, which makes add-on software for Microsoft Word, does with Microsoft.
Data Group does something similar. It was marketing in Sydney a trucking management application that works with the Solomon accounting package and which it has hopes of selling through the worldwide Solomon reseller network.
But as for getting New Zealand software companies to work together, as Gillespie believes other sectors successfully do, “it’s like herding cats”, he says.