There's no shortage of great ideas emerging from New Zealand, but Kiwi companies need a stronger connection to the rest of the world, according to Alcatel-Lucent.
Through its ng Connect programme, it plans to give local businesses a step up when it comes to exporting their products and services abroad.
New Zealand technology innovation company Solta was the first to sign up to the scheme with its 'myreplay' platform, which enables real-time footage at an event to be video-cast to mobile devices. Attendees can edit their coverage, choosing the camera angles, replaying footage and selecting commentary to listen to.
Solta now plans to expand further by collaborating with the programme's 70-plus global members, which include heavyweights such as Intel, HP, Samsung and Atlantic Records.
“We’re honoured to be the first New Zealand company invited to be part of ng Connect,” said managing director Mark Povey. “For us, speed is life."
"This model of collaboration will help us overcome distance and give us a seat at the table with other like-minded international players, while helping to increase our speed of development. And crucially, it provides our best innovators the opportunity to stay in New Zealand."
The ng Connect 'ecosystem' is designed to help foster next-generation mobile services as telcos upgrade their networks to the latest 4G technology and Alcatel-Lucent says New Zealand is a vital part of its global strategy.
"There's a lot of amazing innovation that's coming out of New Zealand that needs to be connected better to the rest of the world," Jason Collins, VP of emerging technology and innovation for Alcatel-Lucent and lead for the ng Connect programme said.
"Innovation isn’t solely limited to developers – it’s about bringing together academia, creative industries, entrepreneurs, network operators, device manufacturers for example, and increasing their collective brain power to create meaningful products that can flourish commercially.
"The question becomes 'if you could do anything with the network, what would you do with it'?"
He said Alcatel-Lucent had 10 more companies in mind that it hoped to sign up, and hoped to grow that to more than 30 nationwide in the coming year. Eventually that could increase to around 60.
Member companies ran the gamut from publishing to music and retailing, according to Collins, but while the programme sought businesses both large and small, it was looking to recruit those that had already launched a product.
"Interesting things happen when you get a diverse set of people together who don't know each other and start talking about their problems. When you tie those together with technology you get something really amazing."
He said the Kiwi entrepreneurs he had seen so far hailed from a diverse set of industries and were taking pragmatic, "practical but innovative" approaches to their work.
Alcatel-Lucent's head of open innovation Redg Snodgrass said there was a strong sense of pride in the local startup scene.
"We don't get that in the Valley. You get better valuations and more money, but what you don't get is that actual heart-felt support."
So just what does "connecting Kiwi companies with the rest of the world" mean?
According to Collins, members get access to a global network of partners that can help them take their ideas offshore. That includes facilities for testing and validation, boosting their sales and marketing power, introducing them to potential collaborators and customers.
There's an internal ideas marketplace and a network that essentially functions as a mini-LinkedIn for members to help them connect with fellow businesses to collaborate and see what they're working on – "a creative commons, essentially".
Collins said evidence suggested digital innovations that had really taken off had ecosystems around them.
Snodgrass said the "framework of protected IP" meant members could build freely and begin executing on products and projects, with the technological prowess of the collective.
It provided a shortcut to the process that hampered innovation within bigger companies, he said.
"Prior to ng you'd have to go get an NDA, then discuss an MOU, then an LOI or collaboration agreement and it all takes 9 or 10 months," he said.
"A lot of small companies will burn tons of cycles getting in front of the right person at a company and beginning to build a product – and maybe it will launch, maybe it won't."
He said members could then deploy their technology on the Alcatel-Lucent network.
Another aspect is the Gravity Centre, yet to be established here, a space set aside for members providing access to business services, and what Snodgrass calls a "global connected sphere of education". That means working with universities to leverage ideas, and host talks from leaders and angel investors at centres all over the world (as well as Auckland, centres are opening in Texas, San Francisco and Berlin).
It's not about the money
But while Alcatel-Lucent is throwing its resources behind the programme, it is not in the business of venture capital.
Collins said there were multiple ways to grow business, including partnering with larger companies like Telecom, and collaborating on ways to monetise and scale up.
"I would rather help them by getting them business – presenting them to an AT&T or Verizon, and blowing their company up because now they have a million customers all of a sudden."
Snodgrass said ng Connect could, however, help connect companies to VCs and advise on how to approach them.
Snodgrass, who has cofounded a number of startups including the world's largest mobile dating service Skout, acknowledged you "couldn't eat code" but said being an entrepreneur was not necessarily about raising funds.
"It's about creating a product, creating customers and making money, with something that is hopefully useful to society."
Launched in 2009, Skout raised around $1 million.
"Ten years before that somebody would have to raise $20, 30 million to do that. Today somebody could probably do that with $270,000 or $240,000," he said. "You can do so much more with so little."
While there are plenty of other players in the innovation space, Snodgrass said Alcatel-Lucent wasn't bound by KPIs or the need to monetise and could therefore act as a "Switzerland".
"People say 'let's build a bridge to the Valley'. I say it's always good to have multiple lanes on a highway. I hope we can put our lane in there and enable everybody to get there faster."
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