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Taking it global

It’s fashion week darling, and come 1 o’clock today I’ll be rummaging in my goodie bag and settling in down at the Viaduct to enjoy the Widdess show.

The inspired duo behind this gorgeous clothing label is Auckland designer Yvonna Van Hulzen and her partner Vincent Langford. I enjoyed meeting them both at the Viadact earlier this week – at one of those fabulous darling breakfasts where the DJ is playing in the corner, the food’s fibre-free and air kissing and bubbles are in abundance. Talking to Van Hulzen and Langford it stuck me again how, whether the business is IT or haute couture, everywhere you look you see people with the same dilemnas - there is no shortage of great ideas and products but there is uncertainty over how best to commercialise them.

It’s also what Idealog magazine is all about.

Van Hulzen and Langford are true creatives; Van Hulzen, who regularly hand finishes her designer garments, draws inspiration from everything from postcards from 1940s China, "Famous Five" books and memories of her mother’s needlework, and says she got into fashion design because of  a love of the craft. Langford is an accomplished painter as well as having a hand in the business. The couple work and live together with their four teenagers, cat and dog in a converted Mt Eden warehouse.

Widdess was launched 10 years ago and came to Fashion Week last year as one of six new talents in the Verge Breakthrough Designers Group - this year they have their own show. The business started as a great lifestyle choice, says Van Hulzen, but now the kids are older and the labels is taking off – it’s time to take the next step. There’s no doubt about the quality of the clothes , and the obligatory Ponsonby road store. The question now is how to take it global? Do you take on sales and marketing yourself even though it’s complete foreign territory, and the whole thing bores/terrifies/or completely mystifies you? Do you wait till your business has enough momentum so you can finally employ people to deal with all that stuff and risk them not really understanding your product and you not knowing what it is they can or should be doing for you?

If you’re thinking that it’s time someone comes up with a better model, then consider VortexDNA, the Christchurch software company that is taking an unusual approach to marketing its global technology.

The company has a mathematical algorithm it claims can improve the relevance of everything from search engine advertising to finding the right job.  Problem is, how to get an idea this big out to the world?

The good people at VortexDNA wonder if, like the algorithm itself, the answer might not be deceptively simple: just advertise for a Business Partner to commercialise the technology for you.

“Marketing the technology ourselves got us our first clients,” says director Raf Manji. “But we’re essentially an R&D operation.  As the scope of the technology grew we realised that taking the technology global was not something we were able to do on our own.”

The company joined up with Nick Gerritsen of Crispstart, a knowledge broker with experience in getting New Zealand technology into the United States.  Gerritsen joined the board of VortexDNA and introduced the company to his US network.

“During two trips to Silicon Valley it became clear that ‘relevance’ is the word on everyone’s lips.  From Google to start ups like Gusto! and Simplyhired companies are seeking to make their offering more relevant to users. VortexDNA offers a new approach to the problem.”

The traditional route to market would have been for the company to team up with a venture capital firm and set up a US operation. Doing this is still a possibility, says Gerritsen, but so far at least, the business partner approach has produced more for less.

The company has advertised for a business partner to run the commercial aspects of the company.  “They can be based anywhere,” says Manji.  “They can even be a company rather than an individual. We provide them with the technology and it is their job to commercialise it.” This may sound like a traditional licensing model, but VortexDNA has refined the concept, where the business partner has their own equity and seat on the board, and the delivery system is run by a network of independent, commission-based representatives around the world.

“If we went the traditional venture capital route we would have to give up a big chunk of equity and still have find people to commercialise the technology for us,” says Gerritsen.  “This way, the people doing the deals get the equity.  That seems fairer and it’s a lot less work for us.”

Now that’s got to be a good thing.