Overview

Taranaki has developed a burgeoning technology and innovation ecosystem, attracting like-minded people to ideas and start-ups and providing scope for further development and investment.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, technology and innovation became more prevalent than ever before, as Taranaki enterprises raced to collaborate and transform quickly to support productivity and functionality during the restrictions introduced around the country.

Innovation is coming to the fore across all sectors, backed by the region’s world-class fibre broadband, which enables online business to grow, connect and communicate with collaborators and markets around the world.

Existing local networks, innovation events, incubators, and co-working spaces can help kick-start ideas or provide connections to help ideas grow. These include Technology Taranaki, Taranaki Software Developers, and meet-up events on a range of topics, such as blockchain and cloud computing. A range of support facilities are also available, such as connecting entrepreneurs with investors via the angel investment entity Launch Taranaki.

Taranaki has a range of events where ideas can be proffered, picked up, nurtured and supported, including Start-Up Weekend Taranaki, Hack Taranaki, TechWeek and IdeaSummit/incubation support.

The region also has a wealth of well-established innovation and IT knowledge across specialist engineering, manufacturing, energy, and food companies. This enables the engagement of talented and skilled specialists from within the region – people with established local knowledge and connections.

As Taranaki’s economy expands, technology and innovation are helping the region plot an exciting path into a future full of opportunities for new enterprise and investment.

International Volunteer HQ

Dan Radcliffe believes the successful global online business he started from his parents’ remote Taranaki farm has only scratched the surface of what’s possible.

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International Volunteer HQ (IVHQ) links travellers with volunteer opportunities across the planet in a range of fields from teaching, childcare, medical and refugee support, to construction, environment and wildlife conservation, sports, art and music.

A former volunteer traveller himself, Dan believed he could build a company offering a better experience at a more affordable rate – an attractive proposition for cash-strapped young travellers.

Founded in 2007 and consisting of Dan, a computer, dial-up internet and a $30,000 loan, prior to COVID-19, IVHQ was the world’s leading volunteer travel company. The New Plymouth central-city office employs 32 staff and another eight are in the tech team in Auckland.

Since its humble beginnings, IVHQ has placed more than 110,000 volunteers in programmes across
52 countries.

“We’re placing around 20,000 people a year, but we see the opportunity being a lot larger than where we are at. We think we’re really only scratching the surface,” says Dan.

Hit hard by the New Zealand borders closing during the COVID-19 pandemic, IVHQ worked quickly to create new initiatives to ensure continued success of the company during a time when international travel was not permitted. Online internships and online language classes were two initiatives rolled out to ensure the company stayed on its feet.

Dan’s success and that of his growing company has drawn attention both nationally and internationally.

In 2014, the Taranaki man was named New Zealand Entrepreneur of the Year and, in 2016, IVHQ was named Taranaki’s best business at the region’s annual Chamber of Commerce Business Excellence Awards.

The following year, Sydney-based investment company Mercury Capital bought 77% of IVHQ, enabling Dan to step away from the day-to-day running of the company but remain as a director.

“I was clear that I would love to continue to have the company based here and they recognised there are advantages to basing the company in regional New Zealand,” he says.

“You can build a good workforce here relatively affordably. A lot of our competitors are based out of the likes of London, Los Angeles, and Sydney, and they’re at a disadvantage to us because the wages and rent are much higher.

“There’s a great lifestyle here too; the city is easy to get around and it’s a simple way of living. That’s a big attraction for a lot of people.”

Dan says the world-class fibre broadband infrastructure and connectivity in Taranaki has enabled the company to grow without being constrained by location.

“Running an online business, the technology infrastructure here is as good as any of the big centres – London, New York, anywhere. The beauty is that you can be based anywhere these days, compete globally and grow at the same time. We’ve relied heavily on our online channels to market ourselves, such as Google Ads and our social media channels. By nailing those key marketing channels we’ve been able to grow effectively from a small provincial city.”

A champion for Taranaki, its lifestyle and enterprise opportunities, Dan sees untapped potential across Taranaki, and is investing further in the region.

In 2019, he entered the thriving New Plymouth hospitality sector, establishing craft brewery and brew pub Shining Peak – a “passion project” with a focus on brewing Taranaki beer that tells Taranaki stories.

He also has farming interests and is looking at diversification.

“We’re doing feasibility studies around bringing kiwifruit into Taranaki and also growing avocados,” he says.

“We want this province to go well into the future. I think we need to start looking ahead and work out how we can use the fertile land we have here.”

Automio

An entrepreneurial Taranaki lawyer’s innovative idea has taken her out of the courtroom and into the boardroom.

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Claudia King is the chief executive and founder of legal tech company Automio, which helps lawyers scale their law firms using automation. Automio designs and builds software that lawyers can use to automate repetitive and time-consuming tasks, such as drafting contracts and legal documents.

Using an interview ‘bot’ and document builder, Automio asks clients a series of questions that quickly generates a customised automated document. The bots are multilingual – they can be created in any language – and can be sold in more than 130 currencies.

Since it launched in 2017, Automio has experienced rapid growth and gained international attention. It has more than 200 law firm customers in Australia, New Zealand, the United States, Canada, and parts of Asia. In 2018, it was included in influential magazine Forbes’ list of 60 international women-led start-ups. Automio was the only New Zealand company to feature.

“No one else in New Zealand is doing what we’re doing,” says Claudia, who leads a team of 15, six of whom are based in the New Plymouth head office. Several others work remotely throughout New Zealand, Sydney, Manila, and Sofia, Bulgaria.

“We do have competitors further afield, but most of them target big law firms, whereas we focus on law firms of up to four partners, and sole practitioners.

“We also developed a training programme to go alongside the software. A lot of lawyers want to innovate and be more efficient and go online, but they often don’t know how. So the step-by-step programme helps them to roll it out into their business and implement it successfully,” Claudia says.

“Since doing that, we’ve started to see big growth – it has become our competitive advantage.”

Claudia’s transformation from a practising lawyer, to a tech company boss, began with the launch of her online law firm Legal Beagle in 2012. Legal Beagle was a nationwide online service that sold online legal services and documents.

This led to the creation of her own automation software, which became Automio.

Over a series of capital raisings to develop and expand, the company has attracted more than 30 investors, most from within Taranaki.

“A lot of investors are based here – people who knew me through my law firm and whom I had built professional relationships with. A lot invested when we didn’t have a product – it was just an idea and a vision – so it was amazing to have that local support,” Claudia says.

“Being in a smaller place, a lot of people know who you are, and often Taranaki-based people like to invest in a Taranaki company.”

She says working from a smaller city hasn’t been a hindrance to Automio’s ability to grow and succeed.
“Our company is an online company, so everything’s done through webinars, video conferencing, and collaborative online workspaces where we meet with our team and customers online.

“We can operate from anywhere we can get a wifi connection, and the broadband connectivity here is as good as anywhere,” Claudia says.

“The software can be applied to any professional business that has processes where information needs to be collected from team members or customers – we’ve already got financial advisors, a bank, and insurance companies as customers, so there’s room for a lot of growth.

“There’s also scope around related products to complement what we’re doing now, and service."

As Automio is an online business, with the structure and systems already set up for online, and with the majority of the team already working remotely, COVID-19 has had a mostly positive impact on the business. Their target audience of sole practitioners and small law firms are suddenly inspired to take their firms online and automation, so Automio have continued to hit their growing revenue targets. Their customers have had amazing results over the last few months and have experienced growth too.
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