The Kiwi firms creating tech for a better tomorrow

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New Zealand’s burgeoning tech sector is growing rapidly and partnering with Australian firms to solve a range of social and environmental problems.

Perched on the edge of the Southern Ocean, New Zealand is one of the most remote corners of the world. So, it is hardly surprising that its smartest minds have developed a flair for doing things differently.

Kiwi tech exports are surging at an annual rate of 25% as innovators there find new ways to solve a range of problems facing the planet and those living on it, according to New Zealand Trade and Enterprise (NZTE), the government agency tasked with helping the country’s businesses grow internationally.

NZTE Trade Commissioner Hamish Campbell says being on the edge of the world has fostered a pioneering spirit in Kiwis that dates back centuries.

“You could say New Zealanders have been pioneering since the time that Polynesians travelled 3,000 nautical miles to discover the country, and the first settlers had to make do with the land without recourse to close large neighbours,” Campbell says. “We’ve recognised that we are a small country at the bottom of the South Pacific, so we won’t get rich selling to ourselves. Therefore, we’ve had to invent, innovate, and co-create our future.”

Renowned for its quality dairy, meat and wood products but bumping up against the limits of its land capacity, New Zealand has been working over the last 30 years to transition to a more value-added agricultural industry and foster a high-tech economy with a highly skilled workforce.

Rockets to writing

One of the most well-known tech success stories to come out of New Zealand in recent decades is Rocket Lab, which, in 2009, became the first company in the Southern Hemisphere to reach space. Today, the country’s tech exporters span a wide range of sub-sectors, including healthcare, education, sustainability, and gaming.

As New Zealand’s tech exports expand, its nearest neighbour and biggest trading partner, Australia has been one of the key beneficiaries of this innovation.

A prime example of a scaling New Zealand tech company meeting a need in the Australian market is Writer’s Toolbox, which produces an educational writing program of the same name powered by patented Educational artificial intelligence (AI) and is used across 500 schools worldwide.

In Australia, a four-year Queensland study found that the 71 schools using Writer’s Toolbox achieved two to 10 times faster improvement in writing—as measured by NAPLAN—than the entire state. Founder Dr. Ian Hunter says writing is an international problem.

Writer’s Toolbox Founder Dr. Ian Hunter says writing is an international problem.

“There have been many studies globally showing a decline in Western nations in the levels of writing ability,” says Dr. Hunter. “In Australia, since the introduction of NAPLAN as a standardised test in 2008, there have been significant improvements in maths and reading, but writing has lagged. In a New South Wales study of 4,000 teachers, for example, 60% said they were ill-prepared to teach writing in the classroom.

“So, if you said, ‘What’s the problem Writer’s Toolbox is addressing?’ it’s twofold: the problem of writing deficiency in our young people, and the challenge of building teacher capability, as for three generations we haven’t taught teachers how to teach writing explicitly.  The exciting thing is, using Educational AI, we’re proving you can close both those gaps.”

Reimagining healthcare

One of the biggest tech sub-sectors in New Zealand is health tech. One New Zealand-based company that provides solutions for Australian hospitals and health organisations is the global software solutions firm Orion Health.

In operation for three decades, Orion Health has about 70 large-scale deployments worldwide, serving about 150 million people across the US, Canada, the UK, Europe, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand. Its core expertise lies in integration, data and interoperability where it looks to improve information flow, reduce administrative burden and reveal insights from health records.

Niru Rajakumar, Orion Health’s Vice President for the Asia Pacific region

“We are looking to reimagine the healthcare experience for all so that the best possible care can be delivered for everyone,” says Niru Rajakumar, Orion Health’s Vice President for the Asia Pacific region. “Our unified healthcare platform is doing that around the world to usher in a new area of population wellness. “

One of the offerings on the platform is Virtuoso Digital Front Door. This omnichannel platform allows consumers to engage with the healthcare system through self-service, digital channels or virtual care. In Ontario, Canada, the government worked with Orion Health to build a digital front door for a population of 15 million people. In the first year, emergency department visits plummeted by 70%. While the cost of one person showing up to the ED for urgent care was from over CA$1,000, that was reduced to under CA$50 when patients used the virtual call centre supported by nurses.

Orion has seven customers in Australia, the biggest being eHealth New South Wales, where it provides its Health Information Exchange technology that allows the sharing of clinical information across the state’s health services. It gives clinicians immediate access to an aggregated view of patient and clinical information and integrates into the My Health Record.

Tech for good

Another subsector of tech where New Zealand has plenty of runs on the board is sustainability. Kiwi tech companies have developed the world’s first biographite, made greener batteries a reality, created a bio-stimulant (a microorganism that enhances the nutrient intake of plants) made from seaweed and are helping the UN locate water for refugee camps.

Campbell says that at the heart of New Zealand’s tech is the Māori intergenerational value of kaitakitanga, or guardianship of people, place and planet.

“It drives us to push boundaries and question how things are done, to seek a better tomorrow for future generations,” Campell says.