UPfront: Good puff at investment regatta

How to put some solid investment puff into New Zealand’s economic sails?

That was the subject of last month’s two-day “Investment Regatta” conference in Auckland. And if the level of hot air being generated was any indication, then the dosh needed to power local growth should be gusting in soonish.

As various speakers from local Minister for Economic, Industry and Regional Development Jim Anderton to global adman Kevin Roberts, business high flier Sir Anthony O’Reilly and international innovation champions such as Hermann Hauser or Thomas Furness all agreed – conditions here are ripe for it.

On top of the natural assets that are helping attract private investment in land, wine, and tourist lodges, we have friendly, well-educated populace brimming with can-do Kiwi innovation, stable government, corruption-free regulatory framework – and we speak English.

Being bit out of the way is no longer the disadvantage it was. New technologies are more portable than primary products, and new ideas spring more readily from what Kevin Roberts describes as an “edgy”, radical, fringe environment than those more constrained by mainstream thinking.

The importance of innovation (and its Kiwi exemplars) was emphasised by such speakers as Hermann Hauser (co-founder of Acorn Computers and current director of Amadeus Capital Partners) and Thomas Furness (a pioneer in human interface technology and virtual reality).

In terms of creativity and capability, New Zealand tends to punch above its weight and has many of the ingredients for generating new business ideas, says Hauser – excellent universities, entrepreneurial spirit, links with large companies, and small home market that has helped prompt wider export focus.

According to Anderton, the tide of Kiwi can-do-itis is rising. He cites record high levels of business optimism, across-the-board regional economic growth, and forecasts national growth levels above four percent over the next eight to 10 years.

More praise for Kiwi attitude came from Tony O’Reilly, executive chair of Independent News & Media, who lauded New Zealand’s successes and its “relaxed, friendly and sturdily independent” people. He cited Ireland’s dramatic growth as evidence that “miracles can happen” in terms of boosting investment attraction and sees potential growth for New Zealand in its proximity to Asian markets.

The ability to sell your business idea to potential financial partners was emphasised by Kay Koplivitz, the first woman to head up TV network she now runs programme to help women-led businesses attract financial partners.

In other words having the right environment is only part of the equation.

Venture capitalists are still licking their wounds after the dotcom crash and there’s new air of conservatism abroad. If New Zealand is to attract more business investment, it needs to blow its trumpet louder and notch up more success stories.

That was the word from an expert panel of existing and potential overseas investors. Among their suggestions:
* Put more effort into attracting wider range of investors;
* Get more scores on the board in terms of investor success stories;
* Focus on regulatory clarity to avoid investor confusion;
* Differentiate ourselves from Australia – some Northern hemisphere folk can’t;
* Take advantage of proximity to the “world’s factories” in Asia;
* Build stronger global networks.

Networking was very much part of the conference agenda in that it gave the 60 or so potential offshore investors in attendance chance to get to know some prominent local business leaders and perhaps explore opportunities for partnership.

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