Getting cosy with Silicon Valley

Two Silicon Valley heavyweights hit our shores recently to foster links with Kiwi entrepreneurs and get them to brag better in the run-up to ‘New Zealand in Silicon Valley’ in September.  

US networking aficionados Bill Reichert and Adiba Barney were invited to do a whirlwind tour of New Zealand recently to learn about our start-up ecosystem and to spread the word that if you want to go global you have to get yourself to Silicon Valley and you have to be a little less modest.

Reichert, a leading figure in Silicon Valley’s start-up ecosystem, heads up Garage Ventures, a seed and early stage venture capital company based in the Valley, while Barney is CEO of SVForum, the Valley’s largest entrepreneur network that works with governments to help support overseas entrepreneurs as they endeavour to break into the lucrative US market.

Hosted by the inevitable corporate, in this case ASB, and a slurry of public departments, Reichert’s and Barney’s visit was the brainchild of Peter and Jacqui Wren-Hilton, founders of Wharf42, a Tauranga-based consultancy that runs the Meteoroid programme. Meteoroid is a $50,000 programme run in conjunction with Plug and Play, the well-known Silicon Valley business accelerator, that springboards Kiwi start-ups into, hopefully, Silicon Valley investment, growth and international success.

The trip was the forerunner to a whole series of events being staged by Wharf42 (with the help of SVForum) in Silicon Valley in the first ten days of September, where select Kiwi start-ups, with a few runs on the board and an itch to take that big overseas leap, can meet with a host of Valley bigwigs and learn more about how to make it in Silicon Valley and thus the US.

“If you’ve spent any time in the Valley, you know it’s all about networks, networks and networks,” says Peter Wren-Hilton. “[‘New Zealand in Silicon Valley’] in September is designed to open doors immediately to the right people, so start-ups can focus on their business and their pitch rather than finding out who they should be networking with.”
Barney says her organisation works with countries across the world to help their start-ups learn more about the Silicon Valley ecosystem and avoid expensive time-wasting. New Zealand, to be honest, is a little late to the global start-up party, she says.

“New Zealand has been doing some great things, but it really needs to accelerate that because most countries have a lot of activities going on in Silicon Valley, so New Zealand needs to be a lot more visible.”

Don’t hold back
From the snapshot of Kiwi entrepreneurs Barney and Reichert were exposed to in their whirlwind Kiwi week, one standout observation was how modest our entrepreneurs are, says Barney. “They really need to think bigger; they are holding back too much. They need more belief in themselves to go after the big dream, while understanding what that is and how it will affect them.”

Reichert, who was last in New Zealand in 2009, when he was asked to present at the annual Kiwi entrepreneurs conference Morgo, says Kiwi entrepreneurs’ modesty isn’t just because of our culture, but because we don’t celebrate our Kiwi success stories more.

In 2009 he met Rod Drury, who’d just listed his new accounting software company Xero on the New Zealand Stock Exchange, pre-revenue. Now look at Xero, he says. He also met serial tech entrepreneur Claudia Batten, who had recently sold her pioneering advertising-in-video-games company Massive for a reported $US400 million to Microsoft – as well as Scott Houston, the Kiwi founder of cloud computing software firm Greenbutton, sold to Microsoft last year.

“So there are plenty of great stories to tell and plenty of interesting emerging entrepreneurs here,” says Reichert. “And we have met some companies on this trip that absolutely have the potential to be global success stories.

“The challenge for me is where will I find a Kiwi investment? And almost certainly I will find it in Silicon Valley. They will have escaped from the bach, BMW and boat gravitational pull. They will have stepped up to the global entrepreneurial market and will be standing with confidence in front of a large audience in Silicon Valley. Then I will invest in them.”

If you’re a tech start-up and you’d like to be part of “New Zealand in Silicon Valley,” it will cost you your expenses, but nothing more, says Peter Wren-Hilton. But places are limited. For more visit the landing page at

Lesley Springall is an Auckland-based freelance business journalist.  

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