Catalyst reveals the secrets to its success

From the thrill of live results on election night to streaming music with Spark, Catalyst is behind some significant and exciting projects. The New Zealand-owned company specialises in open-source technologies both here and abroad. In the second of our sponsor interviews, we speak to the Catalyst team.

Could you tell us a little bit about Catalyst and its approach to business?

Catalyst is a talented team of open source technologists. We live and breathe open source. Our unwavering belief in free and open source software hasn’t changed through our twenty year history.

From our HQ in Wellington as well as our other offices around New Zealand, Australia and the United Kingdom, we take great pride in producing intelligent solutions for tricky business problems.

We help our private and public sector clients with all kinds of web applications and the back-end systems which support them. We also provide UX and design services, consulting, and our own Catalyst Cloud.

Catalyst is New Zealand’s largest open source service provider. What makes your Cloud service unique and successful?

The Catalyst Cloud is the first NIST-compliant and API-driven public cloud in New Zealand. Our cloud has introduced real cloud computing flexibility, scalability and elasticity into New Zealand. It has similar functionality to, and full compatibility with, other cloud services like Amazon AWS.

Catalyst developed the system used in the general election, including processing votes and providing live updates on election night. Tell us more about Catalyst’s work on enrolment and election software.

We’ve worked on the Electoral Commission’s enrolment and election management systems for more than ten years, and we’re proud to say our solution helps the Electoral Commission maintain one of the most accurate voter rolls in the world.

We’ve delivered the core election management system for the last four general elections, as well as a number of by-elections. The system performs the MMP calculations and provides detailed voting data to all the major media organisations. It also supports election planning and management of properties such as polling places and advance voting facilities, personnel management and inventory management. We also host the public election results website.

For 2016’s flag referendum, we introduced OCR recognition software, allowing completed voting papers to be ‘read’ electronically, making the job of election officials much easier.

Such mission-critical systems are at the heart of what we do – having worked with us for so long, the Electoral Commission trusts us completely to provide failsafe solutions.

How would you describe the technology scene in New Zealand? Are companies friendly with one another or is there a competitive spirit?

Catalyst is a founding member of NZRise, an organisation which represents the interests of New Zealand technology companies. Members collaborate to influence government policy in this space. Kiwis can and do compete globally on the tech scene and we support other kiwi businesses who want to go global.

How has the market for open source software changed in recent years? How big a player is New Zealand on the international scene?

In the last 4-5 years, there has been increased willingness by enterprise players to use and invest in open source for core infrastructure and applications. This change has accelerated more recently with the prevalence of cloud computing, as well as young developers’ interest in open source projects. Young developers like open source because it’s easier to innovate, leading to better solutions for everyone.

Why is Catalyst sponsoring the Tech Summit? What benefit does the Tech Summit bring to the industry?

We see the value of people in our industry from across the region coming together in one place to inform and inspire each other. We’re also keen to make new connections across the technology sector.

Catalyst are Gold Sponsors of the Canterbury Tech Summit


Q & A with eStar’s COO, Kevin Rowland


Can you tell me a bit about eStar?

eStar is Australasia’s leading eCommerce solutions provider, delivering an outstanding experience for some of the region’s best brands through a combination of thought leadership, user experience development and design and partners. We are a company that, in many ways people haven’t heard of, but I would say that most people have used our sites at one time or another. Currently we are working with clients such as David Jones, Country Road, Witchery, Taking Shape, fashion brands in Australia. In New Zealand, our most recent go-live was Freedom Furniture a couple of weeks ago. The next will be Snooze. We also work with Swanndri, Briscoe Group and many, many more.

Something we’re incredibly proud of is that we’ve got 80 team members from many different backgrounds, and 43% are female, which is almost unheard of in IT.

It’s down to the culture we’ve been working on here. We’ve created a team model based on Patrick Lencioni’s ‘The Five Dysfunctions of a Team’. If you think of a company like a house – the foundation is trust. I trust that our employees are coming to work to do a good job. I also know that our employees are humans, and people make mistakes. That’s actually okay. And the pillars are robust debate, commitment and ownership. The robust debate is so we can have real discussions and engagement and problem solve.  We’ve created an atmosphere where that discussion can be had. And if you get all those bits right, the results will come.

We focus on four things for our results:

  • Team Members
  • Clients
  • Execution
  • Profit

Where do you see the retail industry changing over the next 10 years?

I think online and physical are going to move even closer together than they have been. When I was growing up, you would go into a shop and ask the man behind the counter for everything. Then we came to what we call self-service retail in the UK. From there we moved into what became known as multi-channel with the advent of the internet in the late 1990s and early 2000s. We now call it omni-channel. Pretty soon we will just call it retail and every retailer is going to have to be in a position where they can offer their products anytime, anyplace, anywhere. Consumers have great power and are often more informed than sales representatives. So, online and physical purchasing is going to get closer and closer together until it’s a seamless solution.

Do you think that because of that there will be less traditional bricks and mortar stores or do you think they will still have quite a big role to play for retail?

I think there will always be a huge place for them. One thing that we say to everyone is that the flagship store is the digital store and there’s lots of reasons for that. To make a change into a physical bricks and mortar store is incredibly expensive compared to what you can do in an online space. But worldwide online is less than 10 percent of all retail. We are always going to want physical bricks and mortar stores. There are certain things that really do lend themselves to eCommerce. So, while we say and agree that everybody’s online store is going to be the most visited store in the network, there’s always going to be a place for bricks and mortar stores as well.

Why did you decide to start working in the technology industry?

It’s very simple, I’m a retailer. I started working in retail when I was 14 years old and I spent 20 years in stores. And it gets to a point where you realise that retail, in a forward-facing environment, is hard. I started learning programming before I started in retail. I attended a very forward-thinking school and started learning how to write code in 1976 and did it as part of my degree. So, it came to a point 20 years ago where I thought, I wonder if I could combine my knowledge of computers with my knowledge of retail. eCommerce is still retail. Later this year I celebrate 40 years in the industry.

Do you think that for the people working in retail now, there is an opportunity for them to add a technology side to their job role?

Yes, I think there is. Particularly with the people coming through now. Everybody talks about digital natives and it’s true. They are used to technology being a large part of their lives. They are used to thinking ‘technology first’. So, there is a lot of room for retailers to move into this space. We’ve sort of reversed it at eStar if you like, we’re retailers first. Andrew Buxton is the CEO and his background is in logistics and supply chain side whereas mine’s store side. Which means it gives us the ability to look at things from a client’s perspective.

What advice do you have for people looking to advance their own career in technology?

I think you need to pick an area. I really think there’s massive opportunities out there. We know that technology, or IT, is going to be the number one industry in New Zealand in the next couple of years. We don’t have enough people with the right skillsets to support that. So, it’s a case of deciding what you want to do and going for it.

Canterbury has got the most amazing, innovative, technical group of people that I’ve come across. I lived in Auckland for eight or nine years and the Auckland scene is totally different to the Canterbury scene. There is such an amazing infrastructure of people here that want to work with each other.

Is there anything else that you think is unique to the Canterbury technology sector?

I think there does seem to be much more of a ‘can-do’ feeling here as opposed to ‘can’t-because’. I think the biggest thing here is just the way that the Technology Cluster, for example, brings people together every month from a wide range of different technologies and it offers the networking opportunities, understanding what’s going on and learning from each other. I’ve not come across this anywhere else and there really is a feeling that everybody will try and help everybody else where they can; try and really push technology. Push Christchurch, push Canterbury because the more that is going on, the better it is for everybody.

Why did eStar decide to support the Canterbury Tech Summit?

It’s the second year we have sponsored the Summit – we started last year. When I relocated here in June 2015, I got involved first with Canterbury Development Corporation. They got us talking to people in the Software Cluster (as Canterbury Tech was called then), and I was just amazed by the work that was being done. We quickly became a business partner and then we sponsored the Canterbury Tech Summit.

It’s just an amazing event, the Summit itself. To have more than 500 people in a regional conference like this is just amazing. And last year it was opened by John Key and then Ray Avery was the keynote speaker! I mean, you can’t get much better than that!

We also want to make sure that people are aware of who eStar is and what we do. It’s all about raising awareness of eStar.

What advice do you have for tech companies looking to expand overseas?

Know your market. For us it was easier, as we’ve gone into Australia on the back of already having a strong Australian client base.  Clients like Country Road Group and Taking Shape, want to see you present in their market, so we opened a Melbourne office to be closer to our clients.

I have seen all types of companies go overseas and fail, and that failure is from not understanding the client and market. The important thing is to understand your strengths and if you are going overseas, understand your market before you go.

What are you looking forward to the most at the Canterbury Tech Summit this year?

I’m just looking forward to meeting everyone. It’s a really good event. I learn something every year from both the speakers and from going around talking to the other people who have stands there. It’s all about learning and talking to people. It’s just an incredible event in many ways and we are very glad to be a part of it.

Estar are Silver Sponsors of the Canterbury Tech Summit

‘Brought to you by Concentrate’

CDC has changed it’s name to ChristchurchNZ

ChristchurchNZ as a new entity brings together Canterbury Development Corporation (CDC), Christchurch & Canterbury Tourism (CCT) and the Convention Bureau, International Education, and the Christchurch City Council’s Major Events and City Promotion teams as of the 1st July 2017. You will notice shortly after this time new branding and website content aligned to ChristchurchNZ.
What does this new entity mean for you?

The great message for you as a CDC supported business, is that your business service team and client manager will continue to provide the support you’ve come to know and appreciate from CDC. As the new entity evolves, ChristchurchNZ will continue to develop its service offering for the benefit of its existing client base and networks and look to expand its support for businesses within the tourism industry.

Why is this happening?

Christchurch NZ will be working to optimise the economic opportunities that tourism, major events, city promotion and economic development can bring to Christchurch and Canterbury. This will be achieved by providing leadership on issues of economic development, visitor attraction and city promotion. It will ensure the business environment supports successful and sustainable enterprise and encourages creativity and innovation, develop a strong positive city profile and promoting the city to residents, national and international audiences, and attract visitors, migrants, students, new business and investment through integrated marketing, major events and conferences.
In summary, we continue to be committed to working with businesses and industry partners to increase the prosperity and economic success of Christchurch.

Where will ChristchurchNZ be located?

ChristchurchNZ will be located in the heart of the city in the new BNZ Centre, Cashel Mall (not far from where CDC is currently located).

Who will lead ChristchurchNZ?

The recruitment process for the role of ChristchurchNZ’s chief executive is underway.
CDC chief executive Tom Hooper, who has been leading the planning and organisation of the transition to ChristchurchNZ has advised he does not wish to be considered for the long term role of heading up the new organisation. He has agreed to stay on in the role of transitional chief executive and will lead ChristchurchNZ from 1 July until handover to the new chief executive later in the year. CCT’s current interim chief executive, Vic Allen, has completed his role and is handing over at the end of June.
Should you have any questions at any stage during this transition period, please feel free to contact your CDC representative directly.

Sam Bailey
Business Growth Manager
Canterbury Development Manager

The Internet of Things: A Revolution in Health & Wellbeing?

You are invited to a one-off event featuring international thought-leader Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino hosted by SIGNAL ICT Graduate School and Ara, Institute of Canterbury.

How might data about people be gathered, and by whom? How might that data be used to improve the delivery of health services? Where is there potential for commercial products and services which use publicly gathered data? How do we benefit from access to valuable information while respecting privacy and data anonymity?

Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino is an interaction designer, product designer, and entrepreneur based in London and director of designswarm. She was named 1st in a list of 100 Internet of Things Influencers (Postscapes, 2016), 2nd in Top 100 Internet of Things Thought Leaders (Onalytica, 2014) and in the Top 100 Influential Tech Women on Twitter (Business Insider, 2014).

WHEN: Wednesday 12th July, 7.30am – 8.30am

WHERE: Visions On Campus Restaurant, Ara City Campus, Cnr Madras, Ferry Road and St Asaph St, Christchurch

Free with light breakfast

Registrations essential. Register here by 5 July.

NZTech Board Nominations required by 14 June 2017

Board Nominations

Nominations for the NZTech Board close 5pm next Wednesday 14 June.

We encourage you to send in your nominations for a role on the NZTech Board.

This year there are vacancies for the following positions:

  • Major Corporate (3 positions)
  • Corporate – Other (2 positions)
  • Business (1 position)
  • Government/Education (1 position)

It is important to note that while the board candidate must be a from an NZTech member organisation, they do not need to be from the same membership tier that they wish to represent on the Board, provided that they are nominated by at least one Member of that tier. The details of what’s required and who is entitled to be elected are set out on the attached form.

If you wish to nominate someone for a position on the Board, the nomination must be forwarded to Chantal Thomas by 5pm Wednesday 14 June 2017.

Notices and Remits
If you wish to propose any notices or motions to be considered at the AGM, please send them to Chantal Thomas by 5pm Thursday 29 June 2017.

Electronic voting and Other Key Dates
The voting will take place electronically in advance of the meeting and the results will be announced at the AGM

Please see the current constitution for an outline of Board Membership and election processes.

The NZTech AGM is scheduled for the 20 July 2017 and is to be held in Auckland. We will be holding the formal AGM presentation from 4pm, followed by refreshments and given it is election year we are working on getting a panel discussion from the various political parties to discuss their thoughts on tech.

Key dates related to the AGM are as follows:

  • Now: Call for Nominations for Board representatives issued to Members
  • 14 June: Deadline for nominations to be received by NZTech for Board representatives
  • 21 June: List of Board nominees to be issued to Members and electronic voting commences
  • 29 June: Any proposed notices, motions or remits to be advised to NZTech
  • 7 July: Electronic voting closes
  • 13 July: Members to have confirmed attendance at the AGM
  • 19 July: Any proxies for the AGM received by NZTech
  • 20 July: AGM event in Auckland, results of electronic voting announced.

Nomination Form

Entries Open 2017 NZ Innovation Awards!





From the humble paperclip, to building rockets, to feeding hungry kids, to cola with a conscience. Kiwis have innovation in their bones and we want to recognise and celebrate innovation. Tell us about your product, service, process or business. You could be a one-man band, a company of few or a large corporate – we just want to hear from you!

You smart kiwis have innovation in your bones and it’s time to recognise and celebrate you!



2017 Tech Skills Demand Survey

The 2017 Tech Skills Demand Survey is now live and our members have been invited to take part.  Created by the New Zealand Digital Skills Forum, this survey will determine exactly what skills are required by the industry for tomorrow.

Survey answers will provide the tech sector and Government with the first real picture of the state of skills in our sector and help us forecast in demand skills.  The survey results will also help inform education and immigration policy, plus the development of public and private sector initiatives to support future growth.
The survey only takes 15 minutes to complete, answers will be kept anonymous and all participants will receive a copy of the survey results.

Thank you from NZTech in anticipation of your involvement and spreading the word for this landmark survey.

Digital Wedding Planner Wins Startup Weekend Christchurch


Startup Weekend is a format of super intensive business accelerators held around the world in which entrepreneurs are required to conceptualise, test, and build the foundations of a new business in just 54 hours. This weekend was the fifth in Christchurch.

Binder was awarded first place this evening, coming out on top of 12 other startup teams.  The app helps brides and grooms-to-be plan their weddings with all the service of a human wedding planner and the convenience of a smartphone.  The team has won a month of free co-working space at The Ministry of Awesome on top of the experience of forming a business over a weekend.

Binder co-founder Fionna Fraser says she’s stunned by the win. “I wasn’t even going to pitch the idea on Friday night, and wouldn’t of if it wasn’t for my amazing work colleagues who forced me into it. I’ve learnt so much in such a short amount of time. I can’t believe my idea actually lasted the whole way through. There was amazing support, amazing mentors and it’s definitely something I’d recommend doing.” The startup hopes to capitalise on the lucrative wedding market and help take the stress out of planning the big day. Last year there were 20,235 weddings in New Zealand and the average cost of a wedding here is $35,000, meaning the annual spend domestically is around $700m every year.

Following Binder as runners-up was Buzz Keeper, who pitched an anti-theft alarm system for beekeepers, and in third place was Freeze My Glass Off with its wireless car defrosting and heating system idea.

15-year-old Ollie Brakenridge from Christ’s College pitched his business idea called GapFinder, which is an online platform to allow greater public engagement with local councils through social media. “I came in just thinking ‘this could be interesting’ and I’m so surprised as to how much further we’ve progressed from a very simple idea on Friday night to where we are now. The highlight of the weekend was definitely in those last hours when it was all coming together. It’s pretty hard not to feel that overwhelming sense of pride in that you’ve helped create something so awesome.”

Organiser Geoff Brash says the calibre of this year’s contestants is the best he’s seen in Christchurch. “Half a decade of Startup Weekends here and the ideas and execution of the teams always astounds me,” he says. “It’s an incredibly exciting time for the Christchurch startup ecosystem. Innovation is at an all time high and we have widespread proof of that here this weekend. Some of these people will lead the economic growth in the city in coming years with smart uses of technology which makes lives better around the world.”

Successful New Zealand companies such as financial education software Banqer and edible insect supplier Anteater were founded during Startup Weekends domestically, as well as multi-million dollar automation software Zapier internationally.

Silicon Valley-based Olivia Borsje attended this year’s Startup Weekend Christchurch. Her background in tech startups includes almost two years in Dropbox’s marketing team.

“The weekend had all the highest highs, lowest lows, and lots of caffeine typical of startup life all condensed into a weekend!

“I really enjoyed working with people with different perspectives and backgrounds. It helped challenge some of my automatisms and taught me to work differently.”

Startup Weekend is run entirely by volunteers and is open to developers, designers, marketers, product managers and startup enthusiasts to come together to share ideas, form teams, build products and ultimately launch startups.

More information can be found at:

For further information, comment, or interviews, please contact Alex Procter directly on +64 27 4245 493 or at High resolution photos are available here.

2017 Hi-Tech Awards winners announced

Record number attend gala dinner


  • Pushpay named PwC Hi-Tech Company of the Year
  • Frances Valintine inducted into the NZ Hi-Tech Hall of Fame
  • RedShield Security takes out two awards
  • Record number of entries
  • 910 attendees at record-breaking gala dinner

Pushpay was the big winner at the 2017 Hi-Tech Awards gala dinner in Auckland tonight, claiming the PwC Hi-Tech Company of the Year category and the IBM Innovative Company Award. A record breaking 900 people attended the awards dinner, held to celebrate the successes of New Zealand hi-tech companies across 13 categories and to recognise the 2017 Flying Kiwi, Frances Valintine.

In selecting Pushpay as the PwC Hi-Tech Company of the Year, the international judges said, “Pushpay was first to recognise a worldwide unserved market need: credit and collections help for churches and charities. They have combined hi-tech with an innovative business model and quickly gained impressive traction both locally and in America; as a result they are now in a strong position to dominate those markets even as they diversify their product line towards more conventional commercial customers. Pushpay is solidly profitable and a truly great example of nimble, fast-moving Kiwi innovation.”

Another big winner tonight was RedShield Security, garnering two awards – the Duncan Cotterill Innovative Software Product Award and the Kiwibank Innovative Services Award.

The judges remarked, “We were impressed with RedShield’s proprietary, patent-pending technology. RedShield uses a clever combination of security shields and consulting services to protect and mask clients’ security vulnerabilities and extend the life of their complex, high-value web applications. This approach allows fast, secure deployment, whilst the underlying security flaws in clients’ core applications can be addressed over time. RedShield’s IP is a complex set of algorithms and processes, which scan and shield web-apps to address both technical and business logic vulnerabilities.”

The Hi-Tech Awards judges, said the calibre of this year’s entrants was at all-time high, making the job of selecting winners exceedingly challenging for the more than 50 local and international judges who assessed entrants across the 13 award categories.

Tonight also marked the unveiling of the 2017 Flying Kiwi, Frances Valintine, founder and Chair of the MindLab by Unitec and recent founder of the Tech Futures Lab.

New Zealand Hi-Tech Trust chair Wayne Norrie said it’s great to be able to recognise the achievements of Frances on such a momentous night.

“Frances has achieved so much and is truly an inspiring and passionate individual. She is changing the way people think about technology and the pivotal role that it plays in our lives, not only today, but critically, how important it is to our future as a country. Frances is just an awesome person and a true role model for us all. It’s great that her peers recognise the contribution that Frances is making to New Zealand. She is truly a worthy recipient of the prestigious Flying Kiwi award,” said Norrie.

The 2017 NZ Hi-Tech Award winners are:

2017 Flying Kiwi and inductee into the Tait Communications Hi-Tech Hall of Fame
Frances Valintine

Xero Hi-Tech Young Achiever Award
Winner: Aliesha Staples
Highly commended: Kendall Flutey

Qual IT Best Hi-Tech Solution for the Public Sector Award
Winner: Orion Health & HealthOne

IBM Innovative Company of the year Award
Winner: Pushpay

ATEED Best Hi-Tech Solution for the Creative Sector Award
Winner: Shotover Camera Systems

Callaghan Innovation Hi-Tech Maori Innovation Award
Winner: Biolytix

Duncan Cotterill Most Innovative Hi-Tech Software Product Award
Winner: RedShield Security

Endace Most Innovative Hi-Tech Hardware Product Award
Winner: Adherium

Kiwibank Most Innovative Hi-Tech Services Award
Winner: RedShield Security Highly commended: Navilluso Medical

NZTE Best Hi-Tech Solution for the Agritech Sector Award
Winner: Compac

Quick Circuit Most Innovative Hi-Tech Mobile Award
Winner: oDocs EyeCare

New Zealand Venture Investment Fund Hi-Tech Start-up Company of the Year
Winner: Latipay

Coretex Hi-Tech Emerging Company of the Year
Winner: Timely

PwC NZ Hi-Tech Company of the Year Award
Winner: Pushpay

The NZ Hi-Tech Awards
Now in its 23rd year, the New Zealand Hi-Tech Awards celebrate the success of our producers of goods and services from the software, electronics, telecommunications, mobile, agritech, creative and other hi-tech industries. The Awards are run by the NZ Hi-Tech Trust, a not-for-profit organisation that supports and promotes the wider industry. The board is made up of ten trustees: Bennett Medary, Vaughan Rowsell and Erin Wanbrough in Auckland, chair Wayne Norrie, John Fokerd, Kirsty Godfrey-Billy and Jennifer Rutherford in Wellington and South Island-based Owen Scott, Helen Shorthouse and Ian Taylor.

Could Christchurch become New Zealand’s Silicon Valley?

With Christchurch’s first Techweek over and done, Jonathan Cotton takes a moment to look back and ask the question seemingly on every tech-conscious Cantabrian’s lips: Could Christchurch become the centre of New Zealand’s burgeoning tech boom?

‘The Next Silicon Valley’ seems to be a term that describes everywhere and nowhere at the same time.

The next Silicon Valley is in Seattle, right? Or was it Austin, Texas? Somewhere in India? The North Shore? Contenders for the title are myriad and we’ve heard it all before – is there a city in the world that doesn’t want to be the centre of the new digital economy?

But you know what they say: You have to break a few eggs … and following the devastation of the 2010/2011 Christchurch earthquakes, many people started thinking about just how to make the most of Christchurch’s scrambled ground zero.

Cue the creation of an innovation precinct in downtown Christchurch. Part of the city’s 2012 blueprint, supported by the Canterbury Development Corporation (CDC) and the Ministry of Business, Innovation & Employment (MBIE) and covering three city blocks, the hub focuses on tech-based companies, from startups to established global organisations. Majors already occupying space include Vodafone, Wynyard Group and Kathmandu.

For (currently) smaller companies looking to make it big, the GreenHouse is one of the co-working spaces on offer, already housing several burgeoning startups – including Property Plot, Debtor Daddy and the great hope of financial education, Banqer.


Banqer, a simulated online banking platform for classrooms provides a hands-on environment for young people to “get curious, creative, and ultimately, confident” with money. They’ve been winning awards everywhere and are currently expanding into Australia. And they’ve managed it all from the Garden City. Perhaps even more surprising, that’s by design rather than accident.

“We did a big search of New Zealand before we made a move,” says Banqer CEO and relentless achiever Kendall Flutey. “I’m a Cantabrian. I grew up here, so I knew the city. I was away for around eight years but moving back was like moving back to a new city. The quakes had happened of course, and this conservative little city had now become this exciting, risk-seeking place.”

“We had launched in Wellington and some of our team were starting to go full time. We needed office space, so we did a search of the country and we were just attracted to the GreenHouse.”

The GreenHouse is a collaborative hub in the central city focused on supporting and commercialising small business, specifically digital and ICT start-ups. “There’s a spectrum for these sorts of places,” says Flutey. “They’re either completely hands-off, or they’re incubator style. The Greenhouse is great for us because you get a lot of support from the Canterbury Development Corporation (CDC) without the equity investment.”


The purpose of the CDC (the oldest agency of its kind in the country) is to identify sectors in Christchurch with high growth potential and to support businesses in those sectors. And, so far, it’s working.

“The tech scene here is really connected,” says Sheralee MacDonald, client manager at The Agency. “We’re talking about world-class businesses here, businesses that are renowned in their niche tech sectors. There’s a lot of collaboration going on. We’re not doing things in isolation.”

“These are clever people getting on and doing their thing, and there are so many companies here doing astounding things. It’s just that no-one here has heard of them. That’s what Techweek has been about for us – getting those names out there. The unique thing about Christchurch is that there’s a definite vision that’s evolving”.

That vision is producing interesting results. Case in point, the ’gamified’ crossing technology that’s been popping up all over the city.

SmartCross is a New Zealand-born technology that combines traffic signal technology with gaming concepts to produce ‘while-you-wait’ diversions at central road crossings.

In essence, SmartCross promotes road safety via an interactive touchscreen device that allows pedestrians to play Pong with each other while they wait to cross the street. The game is linked to the red pedestrian signal which means the game finishes when the signal turns green. The platform also offer a unique method of advertising for business as well as an opportunity traffic-based notifications.

Similarly, the oversized 1980’s arcade-style game Attack of the Cones, which appeared at a Tuam Street crossing in December last year, hints at the creative possibilities open to a city rebuilding itself, and deciding what that rebuild is going to look like.

Produced by creative urban regeneration initiative Gap Filler, the project, the first of its kind in the world, boasts an oversized joystick, giant buttons and 5 metre-wide screen mounted on the Vodafone Building. The game requires two to three people to operate, forcing pedestrians to make friends with other Cantabrians while they go about their day. (High scores here).

And while diversions such as the above may seem trite for a city building itself in the wake of disaster, the Christchurch tech sector has the numbers to back up its claims as New Zealand’s most exciting innovation hotspot. The tech sector currently contributes $2.4 billion to the city’s gross domestic product annually and employs almost 15,000 people.

While it’s not without its own heavy-hitters (including e-commerce solutions heavyweight SLI Systems) the big names can usually still be found in Auckland, increasing numbers of remotely-based companies are starting to make their mark in New Zealand and on the world stage.

“Christchurch is beginning to attract attention as a place where you can really do great business,” says MacDonald. “We’ve got a lot of very, very good companies doing amazing things here and overseas, and it’s not just about the opportunities available to CEOs. The people in these companies are finding themselves in really good positions. The people who have come up through these companies – the initial dev people for instance – some of them are now heading up really big teams, here and internationally.”

Employers in Christchurch report that the region is becoming more attractive for staff weary of the economic burdens of other areas. “Christchurch has got it all for us,” says Gwyn Edwards, CTO of game development studio CerebralFix.

Having worked with some of the biggest names in the gaming industry (including The Walt Disney Company and DreamWorks) and with roots firmly in the mobile and casual gaming markets, CerebralFix forms part of a rapidly-growing game development scene in Christchurch including Digital Confectioners, who also occupy a space at EPIC (Enterprise Precinct and Innovation Campus).

“It’s got talented people, a good work/lifestyle balance and an unbeatable cost of living,” Edwards says. “It’s about affordability. We’re a smallish company and were we paying Auckland wages we simply wouldn’t be sustainable. If we were in Auckland the salaries would be probably 50% higher and our staff still wouldn’t have the opportunities they have here in Christchurch.”

With soaring house prices in Auckland and an unenviable cost of living, Christchurch is increasingly attracting both employers and staff who want to achieve great things and not go bankrupt doing it. “It’s really useful to be able pay wages that allow staff to actually buy houses,” says Sam Evans, director at Digital Confectioners. “Especially when you compare here to Auckland, where that’s just not possible. Sure, there is a positive network effect of being in a larger city, you have a bigger talent pool to pull from, but I have no temptation to move there just because of that. Your staff being able to buy houses, that’s important, and now that we’re growing a bit factors like that are becoming more and more important to us.”

So does Christchurch offer the big city experience comparable to the big city, without the big city price tag?

“If you’re used to living in a small centre it’s great,” says MacDonald. “There is a real convenience to Christchurch and that’s attracting people to the area.”

“You see out the tech people out on the mountain bike tracks every weekend. It’s easy to live here, it’s easy to find a park and when you do it’s only $10 a day. The cost of living is better and you’re able to buy a house. I’ve heard companies say there’s so much interest from dev people outside of Christchurch wanting to buy a house and not being able to do that anywhere else.”

“Oh, it’s all about lifestyle,’ says Edwards. “For me personally, I fish, I mountainbike, roadbike, ski, and all these things are on my doorstep. Christchurch has a big city feel – there are decent restaurants, things to do, and there’s plenty to make you want to stay here.”

And these days the commute to those things – whether it’s Auckland’s bar scene or your product’s target market – can be a perfectly acceptable time commitment. “I still spend a lot of time in Auckland,” says Flutey. “It is the heart of New Zealand corporate business after all. When we meet with our partners, launching new features, Auckland is usually a part of that. It has the economies of scale. But the great thing is Auckland is very accessible from Christchurch. And these days you can really conduct business anywhere.”

Edwards agrees. “You can 100 percent work from anywhere. For this business, it doesn’t matter where we are, we just need strong infrastructure – strong IT pipes – to get data into and out of the country easily. We’re a completely cloud-based organisation, so that’s important. We’ve even got an office in Westport and even there we’ve got decent upload and download speeds.”

When teams and founders move it’s often for the purpose of being close to their markets – If your customer base is in Auckland it might make a lot of sense to be there. “There are companies here that might set up an Auckland office or travel a couple of times a week,” says MacDonald, “but for a lot of the businesses we work with, Christchurch isn’t the market they’re targeting. And neither is Auckland.”

In fact many of the companies occupying Biz Dojo, the GreenHouse and EPIC in the innovation hub have their sights set firmly on the international market.

“Most of these started off here and the founders live here and can quite easily do the job from here,” says MacDonald. Modlar is a good example. The platform connecting architects and building product manufacturers and with a network of over 179,000 architects, designers and construction professionals was founded in Christchurch and most of their product and development them are still here.

“The manufacturing is not New Zealand-based however and the sales and marketing team are in the States,” he says. “They didn’t need go to the international market via Auckland.”

The elephant in the room of course is that Christchurch lies on some very active fault lines. But for these entrepreneurs, the quakes are more about resilience and opportunity than of disruption or loss.

“We were hit hard in the quakes but we still consider ourselves very lucky,” says Evans. “When the quake hit, our office was in the red-zone but we managed to save our equipment. We effectively got a short period where we could get into the office and get our computers out and we just worked from [partner] James’s [Tan, director at Digital Confectioners] living room for the next couple of months. And here we are.”

“There are so many stories like that,” says MacDonald. “Stories of our people being able to say ‘no problem’ and work out of garages and living rooms and just getting on and making it happen. I think in part that’s thanks to Christchurch having such a cool, connected community in the tech sector and that’s only become more so after the quake.”

| Guest writer | |