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Technology is now New Zealand’s third largest export sector and brings in more than just financial benefits

20 May 2019
By Sarah Morgan
website techweek

This year’s Techweek – a celebration of New Zealand led innovations, is an exciting event because technology is New Zealand’s fastest growing sector and our highest earning industry per capita.

In 2018 New Zealand’s tech sector was worth $11 billion, with the majority ($8 billion) coming from technology export businesses. Notably, agritech and blockchain are highlighted as the two areas where New Zealand could be a global centre of innovation.

Pity nobody really knows about it outside New Zealand.

Worldwide, products from New Zealand are seen as innovative, of high quality and trustworthy – and mostly from the primary sector. We’re famous for our pastures, wine and lamb. But increasingly, technology is flying the silver fern.

Take New Zealand technology company Clever Medkits which exports a small first-aid system for example. They are a recent licensee to the FernMark Licence Programme, and CEO Peter Montgomery says being identified as a New Zealand company has helped with export sales. “I love what the NZ Story Group and the FernMark Licence Programme is doing for the export industry. Adding the FernMark across our kits shows that we are proud of our New Zealand origins”.

Even though New Zealand’s technology industry has seen an unprecedented growth in the last years, the main focus nationally is still on the big technology giants, such as Google¹. But New Zealand has so much more on offer. We propose shifting the focus towards ingenuity and innovation, as leading New Zealand technology companies’ export products are excelling internationally, and they have shown the world that innovation and scale aren’t synonymous.

This view is supported² by Head of Digital sectors at Callaghan Innovation, Bruce Jarvis, who says that New Zealand has a growing and well-connected software community; “the local digital sector’s role in lifting our productivity should not be underestimated”. Jarvis thinks local companies like Vista, PushPay, Vend and Xero show that New Zealand tech companies have “a knack for uncovering a global market niche and going after it with tenacity”³.

Joining that panoply of tech firms is the award-winning Revolution Fibres, named Innovator of the Year in 2012, who use nano-technology to create innovative industrial, fashion and healthcare products that are exported around the world. CEO, Iain Hosie, says while New Zealand is not well known for its technology, many of the values it’s famous for – honesty, authenticity, quality – are values that apply to doing business in the technology sector.

Revolution Fibres joined the FernMark scheme for its healthcare product ActiveLayr, a collagen facemask derived from hoki skins. Hosie says, “The FernMark adds formal integrity to the reputation built by the 100% Pure tourism campaign. “There are a lot of dishonest producers in the natural health space, so having our technology backed by the FernMark reinforces this reputation for quality and purity.”

Steve O’Neill, CEO of Sentient, agrees with Hosie and says that “internationally, New Zealand products are seen as genuine and trustworthy”. Sentient is an Auckland-based, cloud enterprise applications service provider. O’Neill says that New Zealand export technology stands out from its international competitors because of a culture of ingenuity. “Our point of difference is our black box thinking – we take products that might be built for a specific purpose and turn them into other things. Our people are not afraid to challenge status-quo”, says O’Neill.

The job of telling the tech story is much underdone, reckons Ian Hosie. “New Zealand is innovative but we’re poor at telling that story. If New Zealand told that innovative story better, then we could be positioned like Israel and Singapore.” Techweek is a great example of this, and so is the FernMark.

Great things come from New Zealand. Let’s tell the world about it.