Appetites strong for kiwi tech products.
Asia is a land of opportunity for innovative Kiwi entrepreneurs seeking to expand their business overseas. Two New Zealand high-tech companies showed the fast-paced region exactly what they could offer when they demonstrated the latest models of space-aged bicycles and rugged amphibious boats at Singapore’s Clean Energy Expo earlier this month.
Yikebike is a minimalistic, foldable, battery-powered bike intended for city commuters. Its futuristic Et-like design causes a stir wherever it goes, and earned it a Time magazine cover in 2009.
Founder and chief executive Grant Ryan says the bikes are selling in 30 countries and demand is already far outstripping supply. Current annual sales are around the 500 mark. “What we’re trying to do is work out which markets are the most promising and then stimulate those markets”, says Ryan. Yikebike sees Asia as the ideal expansion market because of the region’s interest in technology and culture of early tech adoption.
Singapore looks particularly promising because of its flat terrain, advanced public transport network and affluence.
“It’s a modern, forward-looking city. At the moment we’ve got more sales and interest in Asia so we’re getting some early leads here.” The company doesn’t yet have the production facilities to keep up with demand, but Ryan says it will ramp up its presence in the area as soon as it is capable.
Asia is also an important market for Sealegs International, but for different reasons.
The amphibious craft is an inflatable boat with retractable wheels at the bow and stern. The wheels let the user drive short distances to launch without using a car or trailer. Popular in New Zealand and Australia as recreational vehicles, the boats have been more successful as a rescue and military boats in South-east Asia.
In 2009, five years after the company was formed, Sealegs received an order from Malaysia to help with flood rescue.
“It wasn’t something that we’d conceived of in 2004, it was something the Malaysians came up with themselves,” says chief executive David Mckee Wright.
That first order of rescue boats has given Sealegs a niche in the region. The latest flood order has come from the Thai government to ferry supplies and people around flood-stricken Bangkok. A recent development in Sealegs’ technology has given the craft another point of difference – using an electric motor to power the boat’s wheels rather than an inefficient two-stroke petrol lawnmower engine. Besides being cleaner than petrol, the engine is quiet, and combined with an electric outboard motor it makes almost no sound at all. “If you’re thinking about military applications, they want to be stealthy,” says Mckee Wright. His goal is to have five global bases, including one in Asia and to grow the company by 50 to 100 per cent annually.
“The hardest part is getting one boat into a market; once one boat’s seen working and proving its worth the others seem to follow. It’s very viral.”
A recent review of the high value manufacturing and services sector says the sector is currently underdeveloped.
Science and innovation minister Dr Wayne Mapp says the plan is to spend $200 million over four years to increase the number and value of grants to innovative companies.
“I see a big future for green technology and I want to ensure to focus on building innovation,” says Mapp.
Yikebike is a minimalistic, foldable, battery-powered bike intended for city commuters.