A significant but slow revolution is underway in New Zealand business and if you need convincing then look no further than the month of October.
That’s when the entrepreneurial sector comes out in force to crash the larger corporate scene, with three awards functions of note: the New Zealand Innovators Awards, the TIN100, and the Deloitte Fast50.
While the season’s corporate gigs will involve dull men with large paunches feasting at boring hotels, the entrepreneurs are partying hard and rudely heckling out from the floor in places such as the Auckland Art Gallery and the Viaduct Events Centre.
The bonhomie highlights the difference between the big and middle ends of town. One is mature, foreign-owned, domestically focused and mean-spiritedly obsessed with getting the government on its side. The other is fast-growing, locally owned, export-focused and couldn’t really give a toss about the government, save for the exchange rate.
They also have better work stories. Who would you rather have over for dinner: the founder of Booktrack, the revolutionary soundtrack software that’s got Facebook investor Peter Thiel on board and was the runner-up in the Innovators Awards? Or the latest imported executive heading up a foreign bank/telco/SOE?
The fast growing, mid-tier companies are also contributing more economically. Or at least they’re shouldering a greater burden of the economic recovery. Some quick facts about the companies in these three awards programmes (see graphs, below):
- They’re mid-sized
- Growing at a faster rate than the economy
- Faster employment growth
- Spending more on R&D
- More likely to be exporters
- More likely to be locally owned
The towers of power are tilting in the direction of this entrepreneurial group. Take the finance sector. When Geoff Ross wrote his book Every Bastard Says No he was referring mostly to the difficulties he faced in raising capital for 42Below. But in October (Rocktober!) his new venture Ecoya raised its listing capital weeks ahead of time, a testament to how well he has educated the market, but also to the proven successes of other entrepreneurial listed firms such as Xero and F&P Healthcare.
The government too is throwing its weight in, with the largest ever R&D co-investment regime and the formation of the Advanced Technology Institute. Minister of Everything Steven Joyce says the idea is to provide a joined-up innovation ecosystem for entrepreneurs and innovators. We’ll also soon see evidence of the Innovation Precinct at Auckland’s new Wynyard Quarter.
I’ve been following this fast-growing sector for some years and in my opinion the vibrancy of the core companies, plus the professional support that’s now building around the edges, has never looked so healthy.
Our biggest problem remains scale: such a small number of rock stars making such a small impact on the world. We need more and we need it now. Why can’t it always be Rocktober?