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Tairawhiti tech

Every business needs to radically change to realise the possibilities of the world we live in. That’s the call from Barry Soutar, a Ngati Porou entrepreneur with a vision for Tairawhiti to go forward in the growing global tech industry. He spoke with reporter Shaan Te Kani about this vision and Hack Tairawhiti — an event that will bring exporters and top tech talent to Gisborne next month.

When thinking of East Coast/Tairawhiti industry, the first thoughts are usually forestry, agriculture and fishing.

But there is another industry that is ripe for the picking, and “we need to act now”, says Ngati Porou entrepreneur Barry Soutar.

Mr Soutar is the executive director of Te Tira Toi Whakangao (T3W), which is an external group of New Zealand Trade and Enterprise.

It is a project that was initiated by global Maori tech companies and Maori sector investors, who work together to build a virtually-connected Maori business support ecosystem.

Driven by Maori and supported by NZTE, the hub aims to create a pipeline of Maori tech start-ups from regional New Zealand to global markets.

Mr Soutar believes “tech” is the way forward for Tairawhiti.

“There’s a recognition that global tech is the future, and right now, we’re in what they call the fourth industrial age.

“What that means, is that the technology is bringing a lot of innovation and disruption.

“When the Ford Model T car was released by Henry Ford in the early 1900s, horses were the main mode of transport. But by 1913 the ratio of horses to cars pivoted incredibly. That is disruption.

“Disruptions usually occur in 12-13 year timeframes. Today we’re seeing them five or six happening at once.

“We have probably never seen disruption on the scale that we are currently seeing.

“The question is, what are we doing to recognise all of these changes? The global tech peak is expected to arise in 2022.

“It takes nations and societies a decade to pivot. We are four years away. We need to be on the bus now.

“One of the ways we’re going to change that is by bringing the conversation to Gisborne.”

Gisborne to host groundbreaking eventThat conversation will be made through a groundbreaking event called Hack Tairawhiti.

It is a 48-hour “hackathon” that will be held on May 18-20 as part of TechWeek 2018.

The event will bring New Zealand exporters and the country’s top tech talent together in Gisborne, to unlock the region’s potential to support entrepreneurs across New Zealand.

It is being led by NZTE in conjunction with T3W, together with support from Datacom, global Maori tech companies and Maori sector investors.

“Maori tech companies will pitch their most disruptive idea that will happen in the next few years to a panel of judges.

“Then senior developers from across the country, who are all creators, designers, thinkers and entrepreneurs will break into teams and work on the idea that is most compelling to them.

“They will then crash out commercial code. Two years of software development will be crammed into 48 hours. We can’t buy that type of development.

“Out of 20 teams, eight will be selected. The judges will pick the winners, who will receive a whole heap of support from NZTE and IT company Datacom.”

The possible flow-on effects have plenty of potential for the region, says Mr Soutar.

“The idea is that when you have 150 of the top tech talent and entrepreneurs in town for a weekend, there’s a spill-over effect that they may fall in love with Gisborne. You can calculate a result on that in terms of dollars.”

But this event is all part of a bigger plan to help the region to develop a strategy for tech with global growth in mind.

The mission nationally is to help build 100 Maori tech companies by 2023 — adding $500 million in international revenue, creating 2500 high-value jobs, operating from 50 regional tech hubs in Maori communities, with $200 million of capital investment into Maori venturing.

“How do you transform a region? We have to be connected, but we’re not. Everyone operates in silos,” says Mr Soutar.

“Collaboration is key to increasing capability and accessing investment and networks.

“By working together, companies can grow faster than they would on their own, and so can Tairawhiti and Aotearoa.

“We’re trying to build the next wave here. This also gives our young people in our region some vision. This all feeds in to the bigger plan.

“Connecting whanau to the tech venture ecosystem plays a vital role in improving Maori prosperity, which is why Hack Tairawhiti is so important.”

The Hack Tairawhiti concept is the first of its kind nationally, and could have happened anywhere.

But there were key reasons why Gisborne was selected.

“Tairawhiti has the highest proportion of Maori entrepreneurs in the country.

“From an investment point of view you know you have a higher rate of success.

“But this is also the second most economically challenged area in the country. Doing it here sets it up well for the other regions.

“When we asked many of the senior developers about coming to Gisborne, they blew us away in what their reasons were for wanting to come here.

“A lot of them are ‘new’ New Zealanders, and their number one reason was the richness of the cultural experience they will have here.

“Number two, was the beauty of the place. Number three, was the people.

“Fifty percent of the population are Maori. Our visitors will experience a part of New Zealand they wouldn’t get access to usually.

“The fourth reason was that they would be part of a movement to transform the country, by using their expertise and abilities.

“They will produce $1.2 million worth of code. To produce that in 48 hours is a stunning impact.

“The cultural experience, networking, participating in a project that gives their name and skills mana. It is the best form of marketing.”

T3W has travelled to the global centre of high technology, Silicon Valley in the US.

While there T3W learned that we need a New Zealand-wide Maori tech connector to support innovation.

The environment of Tairawhiti, the history and culture, makes this a good place to develop all these kinds of approaches and strategies of tech.

“Today, it is possible for a 16-year-old to have a successful global company.

“You don’t need a lot of money to start up because of the internet.

“That’s what technology is making possible these days.

“It’s a different world now — embrace it and work out how to not get left behind.

“The advantage that we have here in Tairawhiti is that these traits of innovation are in our whakapapa.

“We just have to remember that fact, and give ourselves the permission to be what we have always been — high innovators.”

Hack Tairawhiti will be officially launched at Whangara Marae on Monday, April 9 at 12pm.It will be a livestreamed event that will feature presentations from guest speakers.

HACKING A PLAN: A conversation about growing global tech industry in the Tairawhiti region will be raised when Gisborne hosts the Hack Tairawhiti 48-hour hackathon event next month. Part of the team behind the project are customer managers for Maori customers New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, Teresa Pollard and Barry Soutar, who is also the executive director of Te Tira Toi Whakangao (T3W), and Leanne Mercer, business advisor Maori strategy NZTE. Picture by Liam Clayton
Tairawhiti is being earmarked as a region to develop and extend into the growing tech industry.