A growing wave of New Zealand companies start up in Colorado


More than two dozen New Zealand companies, many start-ups, have settled in the metropolises of Denver and Boulder in recent years, making the region a launch pad for their American ambitions.

New Zealand has about 900,000 fewer residents than Colorado, so it has a limited domestic market even with customers from nearby Australia. Although small, the country is a hotbed of innovation with global reach. These startups are increasingly choosing Denver over Silicon Valley and other competitors when it comes to building US businesses.

“The Colorado mindset is a great fit for New Zealanders,” said Andy Burner, vice president of people and business operations at Xero, a provider of cloud-based corporate accounting software. “I was overwhelmed by how welcoming and open the city is.”

Xero, a rapidly growing competitor of QuickBooks, moved its American headquarters from San Francisco to the Denver metropolitan area in 2017. Of around 80 local employees prior to the move, Denver is now home to more than 200 of the company’s 300 US employees.

The company is a leader in New Zealand’s tech community, and its decision to leave Northern California, the typical tech transplant landing site, helped put Colorado on the map. Burner and other Xero executives are actively promoting Denver and making it easier for their compatriots to land here.

Most New Zealand companies coming to Colorado are technology-oriented, and some are focused on aerospace, an industry that Colorado is a leader. Agriculture and energy are also overlapping areas. Kiwi companies operating in Colorado include AD Instruments, Adeption, Auror, Cin7, FileInvite, Fingermark, Holmes Solutions, Medtech Global, TracPlus, and Vend.

Burner and other New Zealand executives gave similar reasons why they chose Denver over Northern California and why Denver beat rivals like Salt Lake City, Austin and Chicago.

Access to capital, customers and talent are the main reasons Denver rose over the alternatives, said Ky Hacker, vice president of Revenue and Operations at FileInvite, a document-sharing platform that Denver selected as its North American location in June is supposed to bring about 140 jobs to Denver after all.

Denver and Boulder have strong technical expertise and a skilled workforce is ready to move here, which is helpful for overseas companies trying to explore the US job markets. Denver’s inland location and the variety of domestic flights make it easy to get to other markets.

When it comes to connecting to the home office in New Zealand, the Mountain time zone also works. And the entry cost is lower than in more expensive coastal markets.

“What really sealed the deal for Denver for us was a quality of life and a culture that went well with our business and New Zealand culture,” said Hacker. “We both want to work hard and grow fast, but we do it in a human way.”

A joint effort

Although the recruiting efforts themselves have now picked up pace, an important accelerator has been active engagement by Denver Economic Development and Opportunity and the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade, which led a trade mission to New Zealand and Australia two years ago.

Stephanie Garnica, DEDO’s global business development director, said Denver was recruiting overseas companies through trading offices until the Great Recession forced it to pull out. In 2018, the city restarted its international presence with Garnica and two other employees and paid off heavily in interest and removals.

“New Zealand and Australia are great standouts. They are two of our target markets here because of our success and the existing community, ”she said.

Programs like Denver Startup Week and Global Landing Pad help established and foreign startups connect with the local business community. New Zealand and Australia have become so important as sending countries that DEDO dedicated a complete Global Landing Pad program to them in the spring.

“We also know that having a positive experience with Colorado, from early research into one company to breakthroughs and hires here in the state, will lead you to meet other companies. We have seen a lot of this lately when New Zealand and Australian companies referred companies on their networks to investigate how they too can successfully grow their businesses in the state, ”said Michelle Hadwiger, assistant director of global affairs for the state Development, in one email.

Hadwiger said Australia is the third largest source of FDI in Colorado alongside Germany. Despite its small size, New Zealand is the sixth largest provider of foreign direct investment, alongside France and Switzerland.

A cultural fit

Although the Bay Area is a mecca for tech startups, doing business there is expensive and the competition for talent is fierce, Garnica said. And with so many options available, employees tend to be less loyal.

“You want to do interesting work and work hard, but you also want to enjoy the outdoors,” said Tom Batterbury, co-founder and co-CEO of Auror, pronounced “ora” of the common ethic, the New. connects Zealand is more closely related to Colorado than the highly competitive culture of Silicon Valley.

Aside from the oceans, New Zealand and Colorado share majestic landscapes and many opportunities for recreation.

“There is the clichéd place of San Francisco, and we quickly ruled that out. We went to Portland, Ore., But it didn’t feel right to us, ”he added. Another shortlisted city, Chicago lacked the outdoor vibe, leaving Denver and Austin behind.

Auror offers crime intelligence software that helps retailers track and report thefts to authorities. The company realized early on that to be successful, it needed to partner with retailers around the world. Although the Denver operation currently has six employees, including Batterbury, rapid growth is expected as the North American market opens.

“Realistically, 90% of our business will likely be outside of North America in the next few years, and we expect we will have over 100 people on this team,” he said.

One thing that helped Batterbury was a conversation he had with Burner about the advantages of Denver over other cities. Batterbury is now recruiting more executives from New Zealand. And he notices small changes that have made life here more comfortable.

“There are a few places that serve New Zealand and Australian style meat pies and there are now two New Zealand style ice cream parlors including one next to Sloans Lake,” he said, noting that English meat pies are no substitute. “You feel at home there.”

Further confirmation that he had made the right choice came when he and his wife had their second child and neighbors came to support them, replacing the family and friends they had left behind.

For hackers, the presence of other New Zealand companies wasn’t as big a factor as the welcome from the Denver business community.

“We could tell when we were having conversations that we could express a feeling of welcome and a close community there. People have felt comfortable making recommendations, ”he said, adding that FileInvite has a hope of accessing local venture capital sources to fund growth.

The New Zealand Bureau of Commerce and Business, the country’s economic development agency, has a representative in Denver who emphasizes the importance of the connection. And in another sign, New Zealand named Burner Honorary Consul to Colorado this summer.

“Colorado is an increasingly important market and a growing US hub for New Zealand companies, particularly in the information technology and aerospace sectors,” said New Zealand Consul General in the United States, Jeremy Clarke-Watson, when announcing the appointment of Burner.

Even more so than restaurants serving their favorite cuisine, New Zealanders who have moved to the state could cement the relationship that a non-stop air route between Denver and Auckland would be. The 7,200-mile stretch could save two or three hours from current Los Angeles connections and better fit sleep schedules, Batterbury said.

For him, confirmation that Denver could support a non-stop flight came when he saw many of the people who flew with him between Auckland and Los Angeles board the flight he took to Denver.

According to Laura Jackson, Vice President of Air Service Development at the airport, Auckland is a target market for future non-stop services.

“The fundamentals of our business case are solid, backed by continued corporate investment between Colorado and New Zealand, and we expect efforts will pick up again when travel restrictions ease,” she said.

About Gloria Skelton

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