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Why not Startup New Zealand?

New Zealand needs to stick its hand up and invite more job creators over.

alex asher nz entrepreneur top trainer?How stoked would you be to find that $40k of your taxpayer dollars had been paid to a foreign entrepreneur to spend six months in your country with almost no strings attached? 

I’ve just come back from doing exactly that in global incubator programme Start-Up Chile and am sharing what I think New Zealand could learn from the experience.  

Start-Up Chile is a government-backed business incubator that invites around 300 local and foreign entrepreneurs a year to participate.  Teams get US$40k equity free investment, access to a free vibrant office/mixing pot for participants, a one-year temporary visa and lots of support getting set up.

What’s the catch?  To be a part of the action, you need to spend at least six months in Chile and actively help build the local startup ecosystem there. Chile’s aim is to kickstart Santiago into the innovation hub of South America. I think the Chilean government is actually getting a great deal, even financially since most of that money is kept in the country. 

The programme promotes the local startup scene, seeds companies that will diversify Chile away from copper (currently around 50 percent of all exports) and provides the international startup experts and networks needed to change the status quo.

Plus, Chile gets priceless PR around the world.  The otherwise quiet little country is showcased daily through top business magazines, blogs and the thousands of Facebook friends and family following the stories of the selected 300 startups a year.

Should New Zealand do the same?

There are similarities between Chile and New Zealand but unlike Chile, New Zealand has already built a strong reputation for being a country that’s easy to start a business in.  This means there is not quite as much upside for New Zealanders for a bit more of a gamble.

However, one thing New Zealand should absolutely do more of is encourage international entrepreneurs to come to New Zealand. One thing I noticed firsthand in Start-Up Chile was how much more vibrant the startup community was with so many different people, different cultures and different perspectives.

More foreign startups would boost our startup numbers, boost our startup ecosystem and boost our international networks that are so critical for growth.

The travellers amongst us have surely seen how foreigners drop their jaw when they hear about how beautiful New Zealand is. It would not cost $40k+ to attract foreign entrepreneurs here, which I’m sure would go down like a lead balloon with the public.  However with the right nudge, I believe that most educated foreigners would jump at the opportunity to come to the paradise they have always dreamed of visiting – with the real upside for this country, if they stay.

The government and NZTE would not need to splash out with large cash grants either. In true startup style, NZTE could experiment cheaply first.  How much would it really cost to partner with Air NZ to remove the first barrier – getting them here?  What about creating or helping with entrepreneur-friendly visas? What about sponsoring or creating reciprocal entrepreneur-in-residence spots in local accelerators or startup programmes?

New Zealand needs to stick its hand up and invite more job creators over.  Let’s bring the world to New Zealand. I say – Haere mai! What do you think?

Alex Asher is a tech entrepreneur, founder of Top Trainer, passionate about fitness and most notably ran the entire length of the North Island’s east coast: 2300km in 63 days, the equivalent of 55 marathons

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