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New Zealand, Israel close to signing bilateral innovation agreement, summit told

Friday 11th November 2016

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New Zealand and Israel are close to signing an innovation agreement that would lead to joint research and development.

Israeli ambassador to New Zealand Itzhak Gerberg told a Start-Up Nation summit in Auckland today that the tech collaboration agreement was close though not yet signed as it was still “in the hands of the lawyers”.

The bilateral R&D agreement has been pushed by New Zealand’s chief scientist Peter Gluckman who was part of a New Zealand Innovation mission to Israel in June led by Spark chief executive Simon Moutter. Gluckman said today he wasn’t in a position to comment on the progress of the deal.

New Zealand recently signed a film co-production agreement with Israeli that will encourage collaboration between the screen industries in both countries and covers film, television, animation and digital productions.

A small but vocal group of Auckland supporters of the Palestine Solidarity Network protested outside today’s meeting, saying Israel was trying to foster links with countries such as New Zealand for political not economic reasons. The network labelled the co-production agreement as a “calculated entanglement of New Zealand with Israeli’s propaganda agreement”.

Spark's Moutter told the meeting he was pushing eight key actions that came out of lessons learnt from the innovation mission that centre around building a stronger innovation ecosystem in New Zealand. They include building a corporate venture capital innovation fund which Moutter said he was getting a warm reception to from the other corporates he’s approached for backing.

“It’s an unusual idea to have a corporate-backed VC. Corporations don’t normally go around throwing money into VCs unless you’re a big, tax-dodging US company with piles of money in Ireland and Dutch bank accounts,” he said.

A lot of work had gone into the idea with the current funding community to figure out the best way to construct it so it would be “large scale additive” to existing capital, he said.

“There’s a reasonable chance we can make that come to life and it certainly would be of substantial scale, much bigger than anything we have today which was the idea.”

New Zealand has an estimated $500 million gap for expansion capital for existing start-ups beyond their early seed capital.

Israeli entrepreneur Dov Moran, whose M-Systems company invented the now ubiquitous USB stick and was sold for US$1.6 billion, said if Israel with its small land mass and lack of resources can build a flourishing innovation eco-system then New Zealand can too.

“New Zealand is in a much, much better situation, you don’t have enemies knocking down the doors every day and you have much greater natural resources,” he said. “ If you don’t have local money, most of Israel’s money came from external smart money that did very well for its investors and there’s no doubt you can do it, but the sooner you do it, the sooner it will happen, that’s the key message.”

Moran also founded Grove Ventures, a venture capital fund that’s primarily investing in cloud, big data and the internet of things. He said New Zealand lacks experienced entrepreneurs used to running big, global companies but they can be brought into the country to help initiate this industry.

Moran has just written a book about the pain points for entrepreneurs and how success comes from not giving up despite rejection after rejection. He posed the same question he did at an Australia-Israeli investment conference in Sydney earlier this week: if you’re locked in a room with 100 doors and each one has only a 1 percent chance of being unlocked, what’s the chance of getting out of the room?

People’s backgrounds tend to shape how they answer the question with finance workers tending to be more pessimistic and answering under 10 percent while entrepreneurs tend to shoot for the more optimistic 100 percent, he said. One of the best answers he’s had was from an Australian entrepreneur who said “if this door doesn’t unlock, then the next one will”.

The answer is the chance of every door being locked is 0.99 to the power of 100 which equals 36.6 percent so that means the chance of at least one door being unlocked is 63.4 percent.   

Success rates for start-ups are a lot lower than that – averaging between 1-and-10 percent in Israel, he said, though the ones that have been successful have made the venture capitalists backing them lots of money.

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