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NZ ‘unicorns’ create more than $34 billion in value

08 April 2019

Fifteen years after one of NZ’s largest tech companies was sold to a US buyer for around $100 million, Kiwi entrepreneurs have created at least nine businesses worth more $1 billion each.

That’s the revelation in a new report from New Zealand’s innovation agency, Callaghan Innovation.

The roll-call includes some of our most innovative businesses, such as A2 Milk, Xero, LanzaTech and Rocket Lab, as well as some that are less well-known.

The report, Growing The Pie, estimates these NZ ‘unicorns’ have between them created more than $34 billion in value. However, their total value to New Zealand is much greater than that because of their contribution to other start-ups, and to philanthropic causes, says Callaghan Innovation CEO Vic Crone.

“What most of these businesses have in common is they are helping to grow the innovation ecosystem in New Zealand,” says Crone. “We have come a long way since the sale of Navman 15 years ago, and we are starting to see an explosion in entrepreneurialism in Aotearoa.”

According to the report, another eight technology businesses are estimated to be worth more than $500 million each, and over 20 are worth more than $100 million each.

Seven of New Zealand’s most respected innovators and investors, including Sir Stephen Tindall, Bridget Coates, and Rod Drury, have shared their thoughts in the report on how entrepreneurs are creating a better New Zealand.

They all agree that today’s breed of entrepreneurs are hugely ambitious and socially conscientious, and that the old adage about our businesspeople wanting “a boat, a bach and a BMW” no longer applies.

They also share a strong view that New Zealanders should not fear overseas investment in our best new businesses.

In almost all cases, the investment is a net benefit to New Zealand, helping to improve our business expertise, conquer world markets, and invest in more new businesses, they say.

“For a nation that seems to have no problem understanding how flipping houses can build up a handy nest egg, it’s somewhat surprising that New Zealanders sometimes struggle with this principle,” says Crone. “Unlike houses, businesses are productive assets that often continue to grow and provide well-paid jobs. And even when they don’t, the money and expertise gained from a sale is usually put to good use somehow.”

Navman founder Sir Peter Maire reveals in the report that he has no regrets about selling the company 15 years ago. The reports tracks how the money and expertise gained from the sale has been reinvested in many more businesses since, many of which are now world leaders in their fields.


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