CO-FOUNDERS: Company-X directors David Hallett, left, and Jeremy Hughes.

Company-X owes its existence to the Digital Industry Forum.

I first met fellow Company-X co-founder and director Jeremy Hughes at the Digital Industry Forum in 2009, before we founded Company-X in 2012.

The vision for a one day forum focussed on accelerating the growth of the digital technology industry in the Waikato region was the vision of New Zealand Trade and Enterprise economic development manager Steve Tritt in 2009.

Steve, who now holds the same title at Waipa District Council in Cambridge and Te Awamutu, saw the need for a unique opportunity for business leaders to meet each other, promote their businesses, make new contacts, build their networks and get six months progress in one day. It was also an opportunity to hear outstanding stories of success from other companies.

“I was working for NZ Trade and Enterprise at the time on regional economic development, and there was a massive gap in digital in Hamilton,” Steve said. “A perception gap. There were some really cool companies doing things, but there was no awareness on the contribution of the sector.”

He engaged business incubator SODA Inc business growth manager Petr Adámek to write a study on the Waikato Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector.

“We did a study, worked out there was something to work with, and put together the forum as a way of flushing everybody out and giving people a voice. A few of us got together and created the concept around the Digital Industry Forum,” Steve said.

“We got a lot of support from Soda and they were starting as a creative sector incubator and I was keen to take them into the digital stream.

“We asked Next Corporation strategist Dr Nick Marsh to facilitate the workshop. We had leading-edge speakers, and it was a fabulous day. It was expensive to put on and when the money ran out we never did another one.

“Having a workshop celebration was an awareness kind of thing, and people talked to each other and realised they existed and that work continued in the back rooms.”

The conversation quickly pivoted.

“The agenda was subsumed by the Digital Hamilton Strategy run by Hamilton City Council,” Steve said.

“In the year that followed it was all about broadband roll out. It was early smart city stuff, but most of the effort was on broadband rollout and good on Hamilton City Council. That’s what was required at the time.”

Curiously, Hamilton was ranked 21 in the 2021 Top 50 Smart City Government from more than 230 international applications, beating Wellington at number 33 and Christchurch at number 43.

“The IT sector and start-up kind of got dissipated in favour of infrastructure,” Steve observed. “But that paid dividends during the COVID-19 pandemic, didn’t it? We were in really good shape.”

A lot of companies who met at the Digital Industry Forum continued working together.

“All the leading IT firms got more global, and it was a time to find more global markets and be confident in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and companies realised they could foot it, in the New Zealand context, in the same paddock as Auckland and Christchurch.”

“Looking back at the video on YouTube, it was a great industry forum, it was well enjoyed, and we managed to get some seriously senior people to present and participate.

“The collaboration that goes on afterwards is worth turning up for.”

Waikato companies Jumpflex and Manta5 are prime examples of Company-X clients who have leveraged changes in the technical landscape to take on the world.

Perhaps it’s time for another forum.

  • David Hallett is a co-founder and director of Hamilton software specialist Company-X.