Dunedin's thriving
tech scene inspires

The Asia New Zealand Foundation took a group of New Zealand’s top young tech entrepreneurs to Dunedin recently to learn about the city’s thriving tech scene and discuss how local businesses can make the big, and often daunting, step into Asia.
Four tech entrepreneurs from Timely standing in a row

Left to right: Kristen Lunman (Gareth Morgan Investments), Nick Shewring (co-founder BizDojo) Co-founder and CEO of Timely Ryan Baker, Jason Leong (co-founder of PocketSmith)

Most of the group have travelled to Southeast Asia as part of the Foundation’s ASEAN Young Business Leaders Initiative (ASEAN YBLI), where they met with their Southeast Asian equivalents and learnt about the regions burgeoning tech sector. 

In Dunedin, the group heard from local tech businesses about the advantages and disadvantages of being based in the city and shared what they had learned during their Southeast Asia trips.

Watch this video to get an overview of the day's events

Speaking to the group, Jason Leong, CEO and founder of Dunedin cloud-based money-management software company PocketSmith, who was part of ASEAN YBLI’s 2015 tech visit to Thailand and Singapore, said as a university city Dunedin attracts some of the country’s best and brightest but has traditionally had difficulty holding on to them.

“As a young one, you want to go out and see the world before you understand the worth of a small city – affordable house prices, all that sort of stuff you don’t care about when you’re 21. 

“That’s what we saw in the early years – a lot of the young entrepreneurs, they were fresh graduates [with] bright ideas but they realised that you needed to go to Wellington [or] to Auckland to really get the networks and get established...”

However, while the small size of Dunedin’s tech sector might still be off putting to some tech businesses, the positives now greatly outweigh the negatives, he said.

“Dunedin presents the best of all worlds for a growing tech business: high-speed internet and rents at reasonable rates, a university that produces top graduates, low commute times, a growing start-up community, and an environment conducive to quality work-life balance."

At tech companies Timely, Mixbit and Runaway Play the visitors heard about the companies' products and discussed how or if they intended to expand into Asia.

A theme that came through in discussions was the need for businesses to both do their homework and get their timing right before delving into Asia – making sure they thoroughly know the market they’re entering and are also in a position to scale up should things take off.

Despite there being obstacles to entering Asian markets, New Zealand tech businesses would be remiss if it wasn't at least on their cards, said Nick Shewring, co-founder and chief entrepreneur of co-working-space operators BizDojo.

“Everything about Asia right now is absolutely popping…If you’re not thinking Asia…good luck.”

Co-founder of Wellington-based events discovery platform Square, and Asia New Zealand Foundation Leadership Network member, Katy Wilson said prior to the trip Dunedin hadn’t featured prominently on her radar but going there showed her that although small, the tech community in Dunedin is thriving.

“From a Wellington perspective you don’t really see what’s going on [in Dunedin] …

"There’s a lot of collaboration between different companies in Dunedin...a lot of people are connecting with each other and really supporting each other, so that was really impressive, too.”

Nick Shewring (BizDojo) and Katy Wilson (Square) talk about the value of the Dunedin visit

The day’s activities culminated in a Start-Up Secrets networking event attended by about 60 people from the local business and tech communities.

At the event, three of the visiting entrepreneurs – Ezel Kokcu, founding director, Passphere; Kristen Lunman, innovation director, Gareth Morgan Investments; and Jason Leong, CEO and co-founder, PocketSmith – spoke about their business journies to date, where they saw opportunities for New Zealand tech businesses in Asia and their plans for the future.

It was making these connections and hearing stories of success and failure from other entrepreneurs that was probably the most inspiring aspect of the trip for Katy Wilson. 

“I think a lot of the value of bringing together a bunch of entrepreneurs from around New Zealand is the chance to connect with each other, share stories about what you’ve done, what maybe you shouldn’t do – learn from each other’s mistakes.

“…there’s a lot of potential to leverage off each other in these sectors that we’re quite strong in and to form connections and go out together and maybe form partnerships or help each other get a foothold in other places.”

The ASEAN Young Business Leaders Initiative has brought more than 70 dynamic entrepreneurs and business leaders from Southeast Asia to New Zealand, building business connections and facilitating trade links.

Since 2015, the initiative has taken New Zealand’s top tech entrepreneurs to Thailand (2015), Singapore (2015) and Vietnam (2016) to learn about the tech scenes in those countries and build connections.