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A picture’s worth a thousand words…or not in our case Peter Kerr Dec 16

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I’m a sucker for a good diagram – a picture’s worth a thousand words and all that jazz.

So I thought I’d see what, if anything, came up in a search about New Zealand’s science and innovation system; diagram-wise.

The image below, taken as a screenshot, is what Google came up with when I searched under ‘science and innovation system, New Zealand’ (selecting the Google images icon as well)

S & I system NZ, Google images

Google screenshot, science and innovation system, New Zealand

To state the obvious – nothing terribly much here to explain what goes on in godzone, not a hint of a plan you’d have to say.

Well, what about a comparison with other countries?

So, I did the same for Denmark, a country that we like to compare ourselves to, frequently.

This is it here.

Google screenshot, science and innovation system, Denmark

Google screenshot, science and innovation system, Denmark

Again, to state the obvious – much more illustrative, many more models and examples of how Denmark’s ideas to products continuum hangs together.

What the heck, decided to do the same for Fiji (a near neighbour we’d possibly like to think we have a bit of a science and innovation lead over).

Here’s their Google search result.

Google screenshot, science and innovation system, Fiji

Google screenshot, science and innovation system, Fiji

Now, there may be some peculiarity in Google algorithm for my searches. (Though I had some of my non-sciencey colleagues search too, and they came up with something very similar).

And, it could be an unfair search term for NZ Inc

Or, it could be that there is no plan.

It could be that we’re doing lots of science, lots of innovation, lots of commercialisation – but it is all adhoc and uncoordinated, relying on luck and synchronicity and who the heck knows what.

I’m also hoping I’m wrong.

If anyone’s seen a plan, please point it out.

It would be a kind of relief to see one.


Bringing Biggs to the party an inspired move Peter Kerr Oct 29

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The appointment of Peter Biggs as inaugural chairman of the new Wellington Regional Economic Development Agency, is an inspired bargain.

I briefly dealt with ‘Biggsy’ as he is commonly known, in a former life.

My observation is that he’s great at doing deals and, even more importantly, making things happen.

That, in Wellington’s case as all and sundry circle but never get any traction around the idea that ‘we need to do something’, is why he will be great in this position.

As a colleague commented once, the job of a chairman is to get down and dirty and be fighting in the trenches.

Arguably, one of Biggs’ main attributes is this figurative hand-t0-hand combat skills that he possesses.

The former Wellingtonian of the Year (2003) is extremely well connected and networked at all levels across government and industry.

One of his mottos (according to one of his former colleagues), once a decision has been made is to “let’s pile into this guys”.

This is exactly what our city and wider province needs – essentially permission to execute something, and a bit of a blow-torch up everyones’ collective rears to make it happen.

As a motivator, a string-pullerer, loosener of wallets and most importantly of all, an enthusiast for a good idea that needs backing, having Peter Biggs onboard is fantastic.

So, welcome back from eight years in Melbourne Peter.

There’s plenty of things we could be doing here, plenty of ideas, some of them potentially big.

We look forward to you helping to kick them off in the new agency.

Collectively (adding to the WREDA’s four C’s – cohesion, confidence, conversion and communication) there’s a region that’s really behind you.

Note: WREDA’s so new, I couldn’t find an URL that directly relates to it. The closest is here.

Note: Feel free to also check out Punchline – Messages that Matter, my new business, based on a Secret SAUCE


Of course nobody notices – there’s no photo opportunity! Peter Kerr Oct 07

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Naturally it has escaped the attention of mainstream media…

But, the fact is that two Kiwi IT companies are still in, and contributing to, the world’s largest IT project – the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope. (See a press release here).

Thousands of radio telescopes to be built in Southern Africa and Australia between 2018 and 2024 will monitor and survey space, producing vast amounts of data.

It will require real-time analysis of 120 terabytes per second – the equivalent of streaming one million high definition movies at once.

This is a massive Big Data project, and will require new developments in both hardware and software.

A team led by Open Parallel including Catalyst IT engineers has devised and delivered the initial version of the Software Development Plan for how participants in the project will develop software and/or firmware to achieve design goals established for the SKA.

Now, Open Parallel’s director, Oamaru-based (yes, you’ve read that correctly) Nicolas Erdody has also been the inspiration and driver behind three Multicore World conferences (now in its fourth consecutive edition – Feb 2015, Wellington). These assemblies of global IT heavyweights are looking how to take advantage of massive computing power available through multicore computers (where there’s many many processors on one chip).

So far no one has effectively cracked how to write the parallel programs (coding) that takes advantage of this power.

But, by being part of the SKA project, Open Parallel and Catalyst have positioned themselves to both learn, along with others, and ride the inevitable wave of parallel programming, big data, cloud and green computing, and many more state-of-the-art technologies.

So what?

Well, if it comes to pass, there will be a huge opportunity for New Zealand to be at the forefront of what will be a whole new basket of knowledge and technologies around multicore and programming for them.

The opportunities for our IT sector(s) to be ride this parallel computing wave will be immense – way bigger than the movie industry, with much more potential to branch into different fields.

Naturally, Erdody and Catalyst IT managing director Don Christie aren’t part of SKA solely as their contribution to knowledge about our universe.

But they are taking a longterm view, positioning their own companies to be part of the knowledge creation for the project, and clearly identifying themselves as clever and competent operators in an ever-expanding field.

It is doubtful that either of them have any clear idea of where their involvement will lead.

However, their leadership and vision will in the near future be of immense benefit to our country. After all, what computer programmer wouldn’t want to live in New Zealand to be part of both SKA and ongoing developments in multicore and parallel programming.

Not that the government or media would have a clue.

It’s not something that has a photo opportunity.

It also requires the ability to think.


Name change signals expanded ability for patent owners to leverage their IP Peter Kerr Oct 01

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A name’s an important clue to how a company represents itself to the world.

So, the change to IP Nexus from IP Exchange represents a business and philosophical change for the Hong Kong based but globally oriented company.

Its founder and CEO Hidero (Hidi) Niioka got hold of sticK to remind New Zealand SME owners of the marketplace which aims to connect patent owners with others looking for the solutions the patents’ offer.

The Nexus (rather than Exchange) term seems appropriate for an organisations that’s grown considerably since first mentioned in stick in June 2012. (One definition of nexus is a connection or series of connections linking two or more things).

For startups, inventors, universities, SMEs and other entrepreneurs looking to use their IP beyond New Zealand’s shores, the continuing development of IP Nexus offers considerable advantages says Hidi.

Part of this built on three (new) pillars, compared to IP Exchange.

  • Ask an expert – post questions and get expert answers for free

  • Services marketplace – post jobs nad gets experts’ bids

  • Directory – search for specific technical or regional expertise worldwide

Hidi points out that while the NZ government (and many others around the world) promotes innovation, accelerator platforms and the like, there is a need to make related advice and services more accessible for those launching new ventures, especially those who are looking outside their home markets.

The goal of our new services is to make it easier for inventors, startups and other small businesses to develop their ventures and protect and monetise their IP,” says Hidi.

Signing up is free, so if you are just looking for basis advice, it won’t cost you anything. On the other hand, if you need specialised technical or cross-border expertise, you connect easily to the relevant professionals through a simple search.”

IP Nexus’ experts are able to answer some questions for free, and prices for services are negotiable beyond that. It has over 200 IP experts onboard representing a broad base of global and technical expertise from New Zealand and Australia, to Silicon Valley, Europe, Japan and China. It also has over 61,000 patents and other IP available for search.

Under the company’s model, patent owners can upload as many patents as they want for free for marketing to potential commercialisation agents such as IP brokers, law firms and interested technology companies.

Patent owners only pay a success fee of 4-12% is there successful sale or licence of the patent.

As is often pointed out about NZ patent holders, Kiwi businesses often completely ignore the option of selling or licensing patents overseas.

Given that most NZ inventions will also be applicable in other countries, IP Nexus is an idea worth exploring while protecting the patent. Check it out at ipnexus.com


Name change signals expanded ability for patent owners to leverage their IP Peter Kerr Oct 01

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A name’s an important clue to how a company represents itself to the world.

So, the change to IP Nexus from IP Exchange represents a business and philosophical change for the Hong Kong based but globally oriented company.

Its founder and CEO Hidero (Hidi) Niioka got hold of sticK to remind New Zealand SME owners of the marketplace which aims to connect patent owners with others looking for the solutions the patents’ offer.

The Nexus (rather than Exchange) term seems appropriate for an organisations that’s grown considerably since first mentioned in stick in June 2012. (One definition of nexus is a connection or series of connections linking two or more things).

For startups, inventors, universities, SMEs and other entrepreneurs looking to use their IP beyond New Zealand’s shores, the continuing development of IP Nexus offers considerable advantages says Hidi.

Part of this built on three (new) pillars, compared to IP Exchange.

  • Ask an expert – post questions and get expert answers for free

  • Services marketplace – post jobs nad gets experts’ bids

  • Directory – search for specific technical or regional expertise worldwide

Hidi points out that while the NZ government (and many others around the world) promotes innovation, accelerator platforms and the like, there is a need to make related advice and services more accessible for those launching new ventures, especially those who are looking outside their home markets.

The goal of our new services is to make it easier for inventors, startups and other small businesses to develop their ventures and protect and monetise their IP,” says Hidi.

Signing up is free, so if you are just looking for basis advice, it won’t cost you anything. On the other hand, if you need specialised technical or cross-border expertise, you connect easily to the relevant professionals through a simple search.”

IP Nexus’ experts are able to answer some questions for free, and prices for services are negotiable beyond that. It has over 200 IP experts onboard representing a broad base of global and technical expertise from New Zealand and Australia, to Silicon Valley, Europe, Japan and China. It also has over 61,000 patents and other IP available for search.

Under the company’s model, patent owners can upload as many patents as they want for free for marketing to potential commercialisation agents such as IP brokers, law firms and interested technology companies.

Patent owners only pay a success fee of 4-12% is there successful sale or licence of the patent.

As is often pointed out about NZ patent holders, Kiwi businesses often completely ignore the option of selling or licensing patents overseas.

Given that most NZ inventions will also be applicable in other countries, IP Nexus is an idea worth exploring while protecting the patent. Check it out at ipnexus.com


Should you bother with venture capital funding…the numbers suggest no? Peter Kerr Aug 20

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The scramble that many startups make to secure venture capital funding may be detrimental to the budding business’s health.

In fact John Mullins, writing in Havard Business Review’s blogs, makes the point that the vast majority of successful entrepreneurs never take any venture capital (his italics). Mullins is an associate professor at London Business School.

He gives examples from around the world, but the observations are almost undoubtedly true about New Zealand too.

He quotes venture capital investor Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures.

“The fact is that the amount of money startups raise in their seed and Series A rounds is inversely correlated with success. Yes, I mean that. Less money raised leads to more success. That is the data I stare at all the time.”

Wilson’s observation demonstrates there are a number of serious downsides in raising capital too early, and that these drawbacks have profound implications at all stages of the investment cycle. I’ve summarised the five drawbacks to VC funding made by Mullins, who also provides some interesting links supporting these arguments.

1. Pandering to VCs is a distraction.

Raising capital demands a lot of time and energy, when an entrepreneur is better off convincing prospective customers to buy – or perhaps learning why they won’t.

2. Terms sheets and shareholder agreements can burden you.

To protect their own downside risk, investors will require what are often seen by entrepreneurs as onerous terms.

3. The advice that VCs give isn’t always that good.

Unfortunately, entrepreneurs will be very likely obliged to follow the VC’s sage ‘advice’.

4. The stake you keep is small – and tends to get smaller

If money is raised later in the entrepreneurial journey, with customer traction in hand, the startup owner is in the driver’s seat, and is much more likely to find a queue of investors outside their door.

5. The odds are against you

In the VC game the very few winners pay for the losers, so most VCs are playing a high-stakes all-or-nothing game. Such odds make it extremely questionable whether entrepreneurs should put their own business into such a play.

Mullins’ take home point is that especially in the early stages, a startup business is much better off being funded and grown entirely by its customers’ cash.

Outside funding is not the be all and end all – though it can quite easily be the unintended end of the startup.

The article also has some excellent comments (as you’d expect for a HBR type article which add further insights to Mullins’ observations).


Is the future for our sheep their milk? Peter Kerr Jul 16

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Being the farm raised boy I am, I’m keen on the idea of clever new and profitable products from our ability to convert sunlight, soil and water into them.

So, Blue River Dairy, the sheep milk products company which is over 10 years old, is something to keep an eye on.

It is the creation of Keith Neylon, a 60-something entrepreneur, who has had previous lives in deer recovery (owned 10 helicopters at one stage) and salmon farming (co-pioneered its development in NZ) among other things.

He was semi-talked into exploring sheep milk potential by a meat company chairman – and saw opportunity.

There’s sheep milked around the world – but almost all is consumed in Spain, Portugal, Sardinia (four million sheep for two million people) and their own country of origin.

There’s was also an Asian and China angle. Over 85% of these countries’ peoples are allergic to cow’s milk.

The resut has been over a decade’s worth of front loading all the expense of setting up a market to production entity, investing in plant, genetics, farms and an entire system to produce sheep milk products.

He didn’t do things by half during this ‘research’ phase. Keith spent three months on an Israeli kibbutz that was one of its top sheep milk farms. Some of the knowledge from these experts has been incorporated in BRD.

Now, year round (having perfected lambing five times in two years), 4000 ewes are milked twice a day.

A new drying plant in Invercargill receives milk that has had 85% of its water removed on-farm, and most of it converted to whole sheep milk’s powder, canned onsite, most as infant formula.

This sells at a considerable premium to cow’s milk powder, though as Keith explains, it is better .

Sheep’s milk takes a baby 30 minutes to digest, compared to four and a half to five hours for cow’s milk. It has 500% more vitamin D. It doesn’t make babies skin become rashed.

Currently, hundreds of thousands of cans are tied up on China’s borders as The Middle Kingdom sorts out an issue of what it considers to be too many (up to an estimated 2000) brands of infant formula). This will pass.

But Keith is more than confident that at least 10 million milking sheep would not be an oversupply and continue to hold a price premium.

He says BRD has the best genetics, allied to a retail market position that is way ahead of any other land-based product from New Zealand.

He envisages a revitalisation of the sheep industry based on their milk – and remember they still produce lambs and wool.

Another strong point in sheep milk’s advantages is that “you never get leaching off sheep country.”

Keith is proposing that farmers become participants in the opportunity through a franchise-like system (including the all-important supply of sheep genetics), in which New Zealand, and its reputation and image, deliver high value products to a growing market.

This potential is one reason Landcorp is seriously considering an sizeable investment in the industry – perhaps alongside BRD.

I was privileged to hear him speak recently in Wellington.

This is ballsy entrepreneurship (a 10+ year lead time!), that plays to our strengths.

One day I predict he’ll be acknowledged as the man who saved the sheep industry.

 


Local, thinks global and quickly gets asked if it is for sale Peter Kerr Jul 02

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Many Kiwis struggle to appreciate the size of the global internet market, and how to tap into it says John-Daniel Trask.

The co-founder of Wellington-based Mindscape (“We build fantastic tools for developers”) recently spoke at the NZ Entrepreneur Club.

As an aside, the messages/language on Mindscape’s web pages are a model of simplicity and appealing description. Check out the company’s ‘About’ page to get a flavour of how others should do it.

Business, and more particularly digitally-oriented business has been in John-Daniel’s blood since high school in Palmerston North, including selling a program on a disk that masked other schoolboy’s internet search history on their family’s computer!

Torn between doing a business degree or computer science degree at Massey University, J-D opted for a relatively open-ended computer course – and shoved in as business papers as he could.

He (easily) got a job at IT solutions company Intergen, and from day one was quizzing its bosses about revenues, sales, margins and the nuts and bolts of how it operated.

Not surprisingly he quickly rose through the company; and while he was doing it bought as many shares off other employees as he could.

Soon he was one of the largest non-founding shareholders, and the option of buying the fourth largest shareholder’s portion came up. This would’ve made him the largest non-founding shareholder of Intergen by a long margin. The deal fell through however.

J-D then quietly, and completing the deals all at once, sold his shares back to other employees within Intergen, pocketing a tidy return at the same time.

In 2007, along with Jeremy Boyd, Mindscape was brought into life, creating software development tools as its products, concentrating on Microsoft’s .NET environment.

Mindscape’s main product these days is ‘Raygun’, error reporting software which was launched in 2013.

This software has had exceptional growth – so much so that Mindscape received a number of inquiries whether it was up for purchase.

Instead, and boasting real growth and revenue, Mindscape recently went to the market and raised capital.

J-D and Jeremy Boyd still own 87% of the company – but given that Mindscape’s doubled revenues since April, investors are probably pretty happy.

He says that lessons learned along the way is not to become too scattergunned in its projects or offers.

“Put your energy into one thing,” he says.

He sees a new wave of potential in virtual reality, arguing that the present fixation on the visual component ignores the touch, sound and audio.

In the meantime Mindscape’s focused on its revenues, as this keeps its future options wide open.

“We could carry out an IPO, we could be attractive as an acquistion, or we could continue to make a lot of money,” he says.

This Entrepreneur Club talk was a great example of a well-executed business, firing on all cylinders.

Without doubt, the winner of the Hi-Tech Young Achiever Award in 2009 will do something else clever again – probably sooner rather than later.

Watch this space.

 


A buried treat in WordPress’s Terms of Service Peter Kerr Jun 26

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It’s in keeping with the spirit of WordPress that its Terms of Service are simple, freely available to be repurposed by others, and, the tiniest bit quirky.

WordPress co-founder, and part owner of its tech-tools parent Automattic, Matt Mullenweg, pointed out there’s a ‘here’s a treat’ buried in the ToS.

Speaking recently in Wellington, he reckons that so few people actually read these legal bits, putting in a hyperlink is a nice surprise for those who bother. Go have a look yourself.

The San Francisco based open source enthusiast was on a whistlestop tour around Japan, Indonesia, Australia and NZ, spreading the word and looking to add to the globally-spread development team.

The scarily young Matt seems pretty savvy and modest all at once. His photo and bio is buried, alphabetically on the Automattic page (though he did point out the pun on his own name in the parent brand).

Part of the savviness comes from a 1970’s computer science graduate dad who encouraged his then six year son to play with the home computer’s code in the late 1980s – with the proviso he fixed what he broke!

A fair bit of looking under the hood later in 2004, Matt was looking around for, and failing to find, simple blogging software or platforms.

So, along with Mike Little he built the open source, free, WordPress. They quickly realising they couldn’t do it alone, and encouraged others to come into development team.

As well, they set up Auttomatic.

He describes Jetpack as the site’s tool with the most promise. This allows plugins that are available on WordPress.com to be available on self-hosted WordPress installs, powered by the cloud.

More than 130 Wellingtonians attended the Shed 6 presentation, including a colleague Harry.

Harry can’t code, but he too was impressed with the open nature of what Matt’s helping create in the net, and dispersing it around the world.

With only 22% of the internet sites, there’s 78% to go says Matt.

His lofty goal is to democratise publishing.

He might just do it Harry reckons.

 P.S. – In case you can’t find the tasty treat, check out paragraph 16


Branding’s dark arts leans to build, measure, learn Peter Kerr Jun 18

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The dark arts of branding received an illumination when Brant Cooper spoke to a packed house at Wellington’s Lightning Lab.

The ‘Lean Entrepreneur’ co-author from San Diego popped in on invitation on his way to Australia, and talked about how startup businesses should also take a lean approach to branding – from day one.

This lean build, measure and learn approach to branding (also taken for the product creation and validation) – is defined as a two-way relationship that creates value for a customer.

“You’re in a relationship from the moment a customer is aware of you,” says Brant.

“By putting off branding, you’re already branding, and affecting that relationship.”

Along with Jeremiah Gardner, Brant’s writing a new book, ‘The Lean Brand’. The pair crowd funded its publishing, with 441 pre-orders, obtaining $23,020 from a target of $12,500.

Brant says the Madison Avenue types of branding consultants and experts traditionally concentrate on the artifacts of a brand, such as a logo, tagline and mission statement.

Where brand meets lean is working out what elements of your brand are needed to create value for your customer. This is done through validated learning – moving unknowns to knowns as is carried out for product development.

More so says Brant because initially, startups don’t know the value they’re creating, or for who they’re creating it. With customers comes the opportunity to learn what aspects of brand you should be concentrating on.

Ultimately, Brant says a business is after passionate customers. The aspirations that a business shares with a customer are its brand.

All this is encompassed in a story he says.

This startup story starts with questions such as:

  • Who are you?
  • Why do you exist?
  • Why should I care?
  • What is your rallying point?
  • What is your shared aspiration?

A brand can grow out of answering these questions, as a startup build, measures and learns, and uncovers the elements that provide an emotional resonance with a customer. In other words, experiment to discovering the emotional value of a startup product – hypothesis testing to validate learning.

Brant says startups should own their own brand design and not send this side of the business out to an agency.

“Entrepreneurs can and should own their brand creation,” he says.

“A brand development is not a black box to be owned by others.”

This self-effacing American, who got plenty of laughs during his presentation, will be doing no great favours for branding experts when The Lean Brand Book is published.

But, since under lean, brand is much more than its logo, such disruptive thinking will mean startups start branding right from the get go.

 


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