Asia bound

Ap­petites strong for kiwi tech prod­ucts.

Element - - Contents - By Kieran Nash in Sin­ga­pore

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.

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