Posted by: glennandert | 1-September-2008

Create the Talent Pool

I was just reading another excellent post by Dave Moskovitz, with a reference to a NZ Herald article discussing “The Blueprint for an innovative New Zealand”. Great stuff, I recommend it.

Silicon Valley is one of the great places on the planet for creating amazing technology companies. It is what it is because of an intense feedback loop of being a magnet for talent because there is money what wants to invest in great new ideas, and a magnet for money because of the incredible talent pool. How do we create that feedback loop here?

I’m still a new guy on the block (having recently washed ashore in my sailboat), but my impression is that here in Wellington there is a shortage of investment opportunities for angel investors. Further, execution on great business ideas are often blocked by a shortage of talent, not capital. Mind you, I don’t have real data to back that up, just an impression.

It’s well documented that a lot of local talent leaves everyday for jobs overseas. So I think we have a feedback loop, in the wrong direction.

I think a good place to start is with the universities. We need to be graduating world class talent from our schools. That in itself is no small feat, since you first have to attract some amazing teachers into the universities in order to create a world class learning center. It takes a lot of government support to make this happen. Funding university research is one of many necessary actions.

In the beginning, a lot of the graduates will dissappear overseas, where the action is, and where wages are higher. That will require “staying power” with this strategy.

Give the local business community the best support you can, so they can provide interesting and potentially rewarding opportunities to those graduates, and more importantly, retain the local talent pool. That means make it easy for business.

Once there is an adequate stream of graduates, then attract a few major companies to come set up technology centers here in New Zealand. Get a high flying company like Google or Apple to create a development center here. I takes a lot of government support to make it attractive for such a company to do that. Ireland did it. It can be done here. These companies create an anchor for the whole business ecosystem, a bit like a major store in a shopping center. And they are also the source of hundreds of spin off companies. Many of the new companies in the early days of Silicon Valley were people that left great local companies like Hewlett Packard to start their own companies with great ideas that HP was not interested in funding.

Invest in infrastructure. Build the infrastructure using local talent. This helps support the local business community. This also takes lots of government support.

Here is an example: Build a cloud computing center the likes of amazon.com or google. I’ve talked elsewhere about the risk to New Zealand that we are simply left behind in the wake of companies worldwide adopting this technology.

Here is an another example. We actually have a big pile of equipment all ready to go to light up all of Wellington CBD with free wireless. Do it. Invest in the infrastructure. Imagine what services you can create with that infrastructure in place – see my discussion on the iPhone replacing the PC as the personal platform. Now you are on the bleeding edge. Now the local companies can compete with the rest of the world to create these innovate services.

In the world we now live in, there are many businesses that can be operated anywhere in the world. And more will come. In a sustainable world, you can’t have people driving for an hour to get to work. New Zealand’s interest in sustainability might be part of the formula for making New Zealand a world class place for world class people to live and work.

To create another Silicon Valley, I think we need to focus on creating, and retaining, the talent pool.

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