Interview: NZTech CEO: 'We don't have enough big ICT companies'

NZTech's CEO, Candace Kinser, talks about the need for bigger companies and bolder ideas from the country's ICT companies, and how government policy frameworks can help enable it

Candace Kinser, CEO of NZ Technology Industry Association (NZTech), chats with ComputerWorld NZ on the important issues facing the country’s ICT sector and how the association is working with both the government and the industry to enable faster, stronger growth in the future.

Q: How do you perceive NZTech’s evolution in the last few years?

Candace Kinser: NZTech was started five years ago. The original purpose of the association was for the multi nationals to have a unified voice to the government. There was a real area of interest from the government at the time to deal across some of its largest suppliers. That got the association up and going.

Just about two and a half years ago when I was asked to join as CEO, one of the things that I wanted to do was to broaden the ecosystem and look at bringing in the entire representation of ICT. So not just the large multinationals but the high-growth startups, which is what I had just come out of.

I wanted to try to bring in more universities and polytechnics to get their inputs, as well as government agencies, such as NZTE and Grow Wellington – who have joined. I wanted the association to focus on everybody – from the individual right up to the multi-national and everything in between. That was kind of my first step.

The second area that I wanted to focus on was to look for the pockets where we need to pay particular attention to – the soft spots or Achilles heels. And one of those was the women tech executive scheme that we started. It wasn’t just a reinvention of the old Women in Technology group, but more exactly to look into how we could provide encouragement and support for career development to women who have made it to a senior management role.

What’s next for them? You have gone through 10 to 15 years of career moves, you are at this level, NZ is a fairly small place, so how can we make each other aware of more opportunities and also give them encouragement to stay with the game?

It's also looking at bringing up young women, getting them interested in technology and poaching from other industries. Getting highly talented women from banking or insurance into technology, who have the right skill sets to be in management roles in technology. That’s been going on for a year and a half.

The other area that I wanted to focus on as part of the soft-spots was the education sector. We have gathered up polytechnics and universities in the Auckland area – to begin with. We have got Unitec, University of Auckland, and Massey University on the shore. We have looked at what the current degree programs are, and co-related it with what is in demand in the industry. What does the industry not like in students coming out now, and what more do they want them to do? We are trying to re-tailor these aspects into education. We are also looking at business students and trying to address aspects of technology training they need and that it is incorporated well.

So we started the Auckland Education Advisory Group, and we do a lot of cool stuff in that area.

Those are kind of the big goals that I have. The other one was actually making this a sustainable organisation. The initial funding to get it going came from the multinationals. We were in debt to them in the early days. We have since paid off those debts. We have become financially viable.

Initially it was just membership fees that sustained us. Right now we are trying to focus more on events. Particularly niche events where we can add value.

One of the last areas that I wanted to cover off when I initially started was a change of name. It had to come at an appropriate time when we had accomplished this ecosystem growth. We also wanted to attract high tech manufacturing, robotics and companies from different industries that weren’t ICT per se. We did the name change in August last year. We had an unanimous vote approving the change in name. We had one of our Victoria University architectural student design the logo. That’s the history of where we are today.

Over the last 12 months we really took advantage of the focus around the Americas Cup and the fact that NZTE had committed to leverage various industries like marine, ICT into that region to help some of our companies.

Here we are, essentially selling snow to the Eskimos by taking technology companies to Silicon Valley, but at the same time it was a fantastic way to showcase some of the best and brightest in the companies that we have into a region where they would be truly tested. If you get a venture capitalist’s attention there, or gain traction with this market, you are well on your way to being a success across the US.

In the mission, we took 37 start-up companies into that market.

When you say you are from NZ or that you are a NZ company, that’s a real conversation starter. But very quickly entrepreneurs get that this might get them on the front porch, but they have got to really do their thing to get in the front door and get yourself known in that market. It takes good business practice, it takes a good product, a great team and the ability to move and be agile.

Candace Kinser, CEO, NZTech
Candace Kinser, CEO, NZTech

In the last 12 months, we have also focused on getting better relationships with the government. We have been really working closely with the DIA (Department of Internal Affairs) and understanding and being part of the 2017 ICT blueprint, which is great.

We are also working closely with Immigration NZ to bring skills and talent into the country. We are also working on issues around the employee share option plans agenda, along with the finance bill and patents funds.

If you can think of all the things that work in your favour when you have an office in Silicon Valley, we are just the opposite of that. But we still manage to have some amazing success stories and to win despite the odds.

In the next 12 months we will definitely keep supporting high growth export companies through a digital health program with Callaghan and NZTE. We have got a whole stream of programs and $3 million of funding over the next five years to make that happen.

The main agenda that I want to focus on again is paying attention to the skills and talent framework for the country. So really diving deep into the future, which is about educating our kids, looking into how we can look at policy amendments, how can we look into taking advantage of N4L broadband rollout that is going on.

It's also upskilling our teachers and giving them incentives to use the digital education format in the classroom, right through to continuing the work in trying to onboard the kids into the computer science programs and making more seats available within universities – that has not been reviewed in more than 10 years.

We are also working with Immigration NZ in visa restructuring, and educating our independent participants about the fact that there are so many opportunities for them to work with immigration NZ to fast track people that they need into the country. And then through to career development for women, re-employment within the workforce, and then towards the end of the careers, getting more people with tech backgrounds on to boards.

That is what is in store for the next 12 months – getting that foundation going.

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Tags policysilicon valleyentrepreneurtaxationframeworkDepartment of Internal AffairsCallaghan InnovationdianzteCandace KinserNZ Technology Industry AssociationNZTechgovenment legislation

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