There’s been talk by Auckland Council to transform Auckland into a technology innovation mecca in the Asia Pacific Region. Specifically, the proposal is to transform the Wynyard Quarter precinct into a mini Silicon Valley much like the actual Silicon Valley in San Francisco Bay Area in the US. It’s good to see the government recognizing the importance knowledge driven technological innovation as a source of economic growth in New Zealand. However, I feel that the government might be overlooking what really makes Silicon Valley an innovation powerhouse and its definitely not the technology parks. In fact, most companies in the valley are famously started in suburban garages or university dorm rooms. I’m not saying don’t develop technology parks, by all means, please do and get the IBMs, the HPs, the Microsofts to move in there but its going to have a limited impact on the startup scene in Auckland. To forge a culture of innovation you have to make Auckland an attractive place for young smart people from around the world to move to live and work.
The easiest thing the administration can do to attract highly mobile young bright people is to develop world class universities. Our top universities are always crying out for funding and what they receive easily dwarfs in comparison to their American and European counterparts. Once you attract top geeks from around the world to your universities, eventually some percentage of them would fuel into the local economy and even smaller percentage would try to build companies and still a smaller percentage would be successful. This will start a feedback loop, smart people would attract other smart people and eventually you would have thriving innovation centre. Secondly, you have to make Auckland a city where venture capital is easily available for startup founders. While local government can and does help with capital but ultimately this would come from the ex founders who cashed in on their successful gigs and are hungry for more. Again, this comes back to the feedback loop which is started by the pouring money into the local university system.
This is roughly the model on which startup hubs all over the world are based on. Below are some that stand out, would be nice to see people adding Auckland to that list!
Silicon Valley, US – Stanford University, University of California – Berkeley
Boston, US – Harvard University, MIT
New York, US – Columbia University, Cornell University
Waterloo/Toronto, Canada – University of Waterloo, University of Toronto
London, UK – Kings College, Imperial College, University College, London Business School, Oxbridge
Singapore – Nanyang Technological University, National University of Singapore
Tel Aviv, Israel – Tel Aviv University
Bangalore, India – Indian Institute of Science, IITs (from all over India)
Auckland, NZ – University of Auckland, Massey University??