Seeds of inspiration planted by visiting agribusiness entrepreneurs

For the first time in three years, the Asia New Zealand Foundation hosted Southeast Asian entrepreneurs in Aotearoa New Zealand, welcoming seven young agribusiness leaders to the country to learn from and share ideas with their local counterparts.


The visit was part of the ASEAN Young Business Leaders Initiative (YBLI), a programme that brings entrepreneurs from the ASEAN region to New Zealand and takes New Zealand entrepreneurs to Southeast Asia to make connections and learn about doing business there.

The seven delegates who took part represented diverse agribusinesses from across the ASEAN nations, including cell-based meat production, agricultural drones and e-commerce platforms.

A key aspect of the YBLI programme is to hear from the visiting entrepreneurs about innovations in the ASEAN region and share expert knowledge from their areas of work with entrepreneurs and business leaders in Aotearoa New Zealand.

The entrepreneurs looking at New Zealand produce on a supermarket shelf

The group visited supermarkets to get an idea about what's on the shelves locally

During the eight-day programme, the group met with business leaders, toured facilities of Kiwi agricultural innovators, and learned more about Aotearoa New Zealand, its people and culture.

Starting in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland, the entrepreneurs were straight into the green room to film sessions for digitally delivered event, ‘The Future of Consumption’ – the first in the Aspire Asia Aotearoa speaker series, produced with the Auckland Chamber of Commerce.

The panellists and host, Chamber CEO Simon Bridges, discussed where they can see innovations in Southeast Asia and New Zealand changing the way food and beverage is produced and consumed.

You can watch the two sessions here:

Three of the visiting entrepreneurs sitting on stools in a television studio waiting to be interviewed by Auckland Chamber of Commerce chief executive Simon Bridges

Three of the entrepreneurs being interviewed by Auckland Chamber of Commerce chief executive Simon Bridges

Next on the itinerary was a visit to Waiheke Island where the group had a behind-the-scenes look at the processing facilities of Te Matuku Oysters with director Carlo Simoni as well as a tour of Destiny Bay Vineyard with owner Sean Spratt.

Business programme director Nick Siu says bringing together business owners from Southeast Asia and New Zealand to talk shop is at the heart of what makes the YBLI programme special.

"Not only did the entrepreneurs learn from the New Zealand business leaders, but it was also an opportunity for a two-way exchange of ideas and a chance to make connections and build networks. ”

Stopping in at The FoodBowl, a pilot-scale food processing facility helping businesses to develop new products, the group heard from director Grant Verry about Foodbowl’s business model and the potential impact of facilities like it for start-up businesses in New Zealand.

One of the entrepreneurs smelling a sample of tea leaves

Visiting Zealong Tea Estate in Waikato

From there the group headed south to Waikato where they visited New Zealand's only commercial tea estate, Zealong Tea Estate. There they heard from CEO Gigi Crawford about how the history of Zealong and how it was developed into a thriving business with some 48 hectares of trees. 

In Waikato, the entrepreneurs also attended Fieldays - the largest agricultural event in the Southern Hemisphere.

Among tractors and gumboots of Fieldays, the group got to experience exactly why New Zealand has a reputation for being a farming nation, and one at the forefront in developing and implementing technological advancements in the agriculture sector.

N ew Zealand Trade and Enterprise and Callaghan Innovation took the entrepreneurs on a tour of the award-winning technological and agricultural innovation hubs around the expo, connecting with members of the Foundation’s Leadership Network and industry leaders along the way.

Philippines entrepreneur Brian Cu, CEO and co-founder of SariSuki - a community selling platform in the Philippines that enables local farmers to sell their produce online - says coming to the Fieldays was an eye-opening experience.

“I’m really hoping we can bring some of that back to the Philippines - see how we can collaborate more with a lot of the innovations that we’ve seen, especially in water quality, which is something that is very important in agriculture … and I think it would benefit the relationship between the Philippines and New Zealand.”

Two of the visiting Southeast Asian entrepreneurs trying chocolate fish for the first time

The entrepreneurs discovered chocolate fish were not as bad as as the name suggested...

Following Fieldays, the entrepreneurs headed to Christchurch where they spent the day with Dean Fraser from Ngāi Tahu. They also got to meet with the team at Leaft Foods Ltd, who are changing the way we source protein from plants, and CEO Duncan Bates at Akaroa Salmon to hear more about their processes and values.

Finishing up in Ōtautahi Christchurch, the group had two `busy days at E Tipu IFAMA 2023, Aotearoa’s biggest primary sector conference.

Group members Dr Sandhya Sriram, CEO of Shiok Meats, and Huiqi Low, head of growth at Aonic, presented at the conference, sharing insights and innovations from their work.

One area of the agricultural sector that continues to advance is technology. Coming from Malaysia where these advances are quite different from New Zealand, Huiqi provided fascinating insights into how technology is adopted by farmers in his home country.

“When it comes to technology adoption in farming communities, trust is key.

“Having the right technology is only the first step, the most important factor to success is to ensure our technologies are well used by the end users. Here’s where we create impact.”

Entrepreneurship programme senior adviser Lingy Au says the visit has reinforced the value of running in-person, sector-specific delegations.

“We’ve already seen some clear connections and future projects brewing throughout this trip.

"We’ve had delegates connecting New Zealand business leaders with contacts in Asia, brainstorming collaborations with each other, and one delegate walked away from Fieldays wanting to translate a book about New Zealand agriculture!"

The Foundation's entrepreneurship programme supports emerging New Zealand entrepreneurs to build connections and facilitate business relationships in Asia, and supports Asian entrepreneurs to build connections in New Zealand.

The ASEAN Young Business Leaders Initiative (YBLI) is a key part of the New Zealand Government’s ASEAN strategy. The aim of the programme is to facilitate trade and build connections between business leaders and entrepreneurs in New Zealand and Southeast Asia.