Wharf 42 out to accelerate tech startups
By Josh Martin,
What 42 believes it could be the missing piece of the puzzle when it comes to Kiwi tech startups.
The news of instagram’s sale to Facebook for $1 billion earlier this year is further testament to the power and value of technology start-ups. At the time, Instagram had only 13 employees from its base in California.
Brett Roberts from Tauranga-based Wharf 42 believes his company is the missing piece in Kiwi tech start-ups that could become the next Instagram or TradeMe. He reckons the key to success for New Zealand is a foot in the door at Silicon Valley, California – the infamous tech hub where innovation meets money.
Roberts and his business partner Peter Wren-Hilton are quick to quash any suggestion that their business model mirrors the myriad of incubators, accelerators and trade agencies currently offered.
“We’re complementary to those, because what we’re doing isn’t being done at the moment – plugging tech start-ups right into the heart of Silicon Valley,” says Roberts.
Instead, Wharf 42 sees itself as a connector. The company will swap equity stakes for capital and connections in the sunshine state, and take the roles of consultant, agent, mentor and investor for tech firms in their early stages of life – a life that will be based in Sunnyvale, California.
Roberts and Hilton have chosen Sunnyvale’s Plug and Play Center to be the American partner accelerator for their clients. Their office will be among the other 200 tech start-ups vying for the attention of mentors, HR specialists and the all-important venture capitalists.
One look at their website reveals this is the school where tech start-ups go to graduate. Roberts agrees it had a boot camp feel to really test these small Kiwi businesses, helping them grow even faster.
“It’s just such a different world, sitting in the lunch room and hearing colleagues talk about what they’re building, who they’re dealing with, who they pitched to yesterday – it’s amazing,” Roberts says.
“It’s a quantum leap ahead of what we have in New Zealand, just because we are small and remote.”
He believes the American corporate culture will be a fitting environment where innovators can get on with what they do best and not be afraid to take risks, for fear of failure – in direct contrast to New Zealand’s oft-cited tall poppy syndrome.
“In the US, if a person fails, it’s seen as their idea failing, but the entrepreneur is allowed to move on. In New Zealand, if a person fails, people talk about the people failing when they haven’t – it was the idea that failed.”
Roberts was also philosophical when asked about sending our best and brightest overseas while we continue to experience a brain drain back home.
“There’s massive wealth to be extracted from good ideas to spread wealth and IP across borders, and you can’t arbitrarily legislate to stop that from happening. If we can have more Kiwi tech succeeding overseas, that’s got to be a good thing.
“Most people will not leave our shores never to be seen again – they do come back and repeat the cycle. We need more of those battle-scarred entrepreneurs and developers in our talent pool.”