Tech entrepreneurs are the target of a $2.8 million talent development programme on track to launch in the new year in partnership with the private sector, designed to bring various players in the innovation space closer together.
The Ministry of Science and Innovation is also set to pour US$300,000 into the Kiwi Landing Pad, a physical hub for high-tech NZ businesses which was recently established in San Francisco.
Initiated by TradeMe founder Sam Morgan, the Landing Pad is supported by Sir Stephen Tindall, Rod Drury and John Holt. Software companies Xero and Jade have already set up there.
“The Landing Pad is like a shop front where New Zealand businesses can physically be together and tap into each other’s networks and connections. It will help our high-tech businesses get access to the US market,” said minister Wayne Mapp.
“It is a perfect example of a public-private partnership where government is helping to build bridges and open doors for New Zealand businesses to the international stage."
Brett O'Riley, MSI's deputy chief executive of business innovation and investment, said it was committing to a $2.8 million cash fund as part of the Innovation Entrepreneurs Programme, details of which are still being worked out. Funding will be available over four years to support up to 20 budding entrepreneurs each year, who will also get access to industry connections and expertise.
He said the concept was originally presented by the private sector and refined in consultation with it.
"As an agency of 140 people, to grow a more effective innovation eco-system we've got to do that by partnering [with others]. We don't have the resources to do everything ourselves."
He said the intake process could be similar to the Dragon's Den concept, with applicants pitching industry figures "who have been there and done that themselves". Who those partners might be is yet to be confirmed.
"Our intention is to have a selection panel made up of entrepreneurs who'll be involved in selecting the participants. We'll be really looking for them to identify what they see as the key skills."
The first intake would focus on entrepreneurs in digital technology, a space he said the ministry saw as particularly interesting.
"It's very dynamic and the time to market is much shorter than for some other sectors."
According to Mapp, there is an appetite in the business community put New Zealand on the map as a ‘smart nation’.
He said the IT sector was a huge market growth area and a hotbed for innovation – the sooner New Zealand
companies could tap into the global community, the more quickly they would get traction.
“This will help them to get their ideas ready for the market and increase their chances of securing investment capital. They will be introduced to top-end mentors, here and overseas, and be linked into innovation and business networks.”
O'Riley said the programme differed from current offerings in that it targeted people and companies at the very early stages of entrepreneurship.
"It's a short intensive development programme aimed at really getting them towards the pre-funding stage – entrepreneurs, individuals or teams that have got an idea or some IP they want to develop. It's about giving them some funding but importantly connecting with people in the eco-system who can help them – incubators, the Landing Pad if their idea is focused on the US market, connecting with our regional business partners and really trying to refine that idea as quickly as possible."
For example, ideas that emerged from competitions such as Startup Weekend would be prime candidates for refinement, he said.
He was unable to say what might happen to the scheme should a new government be voted in at the general election.