Showcasing New Zealand's business talent

Imagine this. Eighteen business presentations, each capturing the essence of their value proposition, being open about financial performance to date, and explaining why someone should invest in them - all in eight minutes per business.   

You can be forgiven for immediately jumping to the conclusion it was an episode of popular TV show Dragon's Den, but compared to what I witnessed at the New Zealand Angel Investment Showcase this week, Dragon's Den is amateur hour.

Sponsored by business incubator Icehouse, IT company Gen-i and the regional economic development agency, ATEED, the showcase was an outstanding event.

While we were all well fed and lubricated, the latter purposely designed to encourage that compulsive reaching for cheque books that angel investors are famed for, I saw none of the ego-driven mentality that is typically present at auctions. You know, where you one bidder is pitted against another and neither willing to back down.

This was no auction. If anything it was designed for sophisticated investors who could bring both equity and business advice to grow a number of potential export enterprises.

Ably anchored by ICE Angels director, Ken Erskine, the evening moved at a fast enough clip to keep even those with the shortest span of attention fully engaged; another quirky trait attributed to angel investors.   

What also intrigued me about the 300-strong gathering was that it included a number of well-known business leaders as well as the usual serial investors. Given the nature and stage of the companies on show, I can only presume that the big boys were there to potentially invest in their own right.  

Does this herald a brighter outlook on our otherwise grey economic horizon? Or does it mean that corporate New Zealand has woken up to the fact that early stage tech investment, if nurtured properly, might be more value creative than any of the traditional businesses they currently manage.    

And by 'tech', I don't just mean ICT.  While there was an abundance of innovative ICT investments on offer, there was also a range of potentially world class human health, agri-tech, beverage and financial innovations. All founded in New Zealand.

As I watched the flow of enthusiasm and energy roll seamlessly from one founder and one company to the next, in tightly managed segments, I reflected on New Zealand's shallow capital markets and our attitude towards Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). Yes those old chestnuts.  

I'm an avid supporter of FDI and was pleased to have the opportunity to argue the case for it publically during Unlimited magazine's Great Debate on foreign investment last August.  

In my view, New Zealand is desperate for growth and needs practical answers as to how to grow offshore.  

And for that to happen, as a NZIER report stated earlier this year, "We need to align our thinking internally in New Zealand to form economic, political and institutional relationships that collaborate with and reinforce each other to create a meaningful and value creative FDI regime".

Many of the great - little - New Zealand companies that presented to potential investors on Tuesday will ultimately need offshore investors to grow internationally. Some have the potential to become big or to be absorbed into existing bigger entities. Ultimately, most will be "lost" to offshore owners.

I congratulate the organisers for creating an environment in which 18 of our leading entrepreneurs can showcase their innovative enterprises and, in so doing, showcase the potential of New Zealand's future export growth.

Take a moment and see who presented; it'll take you less than eight minutes to read about them. You'll be surprised to see the range of what's happening in innovative, small business, New Zealand.

* Booktrack: Synchronised movie-style soundtracks to eBooks.

    * Pictor: Simultaneous testing of multiple blood samples.

      * InvisiShield: Combats damage caused by birds to high value fruit crops.

        * SYL Semantics: Semantic search engine technology for big data.

          * Im-Able: Interactive systems for recovery from stroke at home.

          * 1Above: Aerotonic flight beverage to combat the impacts of flight travel.

            * Vigil: Wireless patient real-time vital signs monitoring technology.

              * BigLittleBang: 3D virtual world for children to be creative with music.

                * Polybatics: Platform for production of functional nanoparticles.

                  * 77Pieces: Software to realistically predict how clothing will look and fit.

                    * Caldera: Early diagnostic tests for prostate cancer.

                      * SmartShow: Enabling event producers to "mobilise" their events.

                        * KlickEx: Currency exchange for everyone!

                          * Stolen Rum: Premium rum with low-fi design and rock'n'roll values.

                            * Stay Today: Same day hotel booking on your iPhone.

                              * Transcribe Me: Crowd sourced audio to text transcrption.

                                * Photonz: Secure, safe and scalable source of omega-3 fatty acid EPA.

                                  * Lightknight: Illuminated high visibility vests for low light work environments.

                                    - Tenby Powell is an entrepreneur, builder of organisations, and the driving force behind the New Zealand SME Business Network. Join the SME Business Network on LinkedIn and follow him on Twitter at tenby.powell