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First deep-dive report on Māori-owned tech firms shows a world of potential

Peter Griffin, Editor. 03 February 2023, 10:28 am

The first deep-dive examination of Māori-owned and operated tech companies reveals a thriving ecosystem of small and mid-sized businesses that will need a larger talent pipeline to grow.

The Toi Hangarau report published by consulting firm Paua Interface and led by ITP Tāmaki Makaurau, Auckland Branch committee member, Robyn Kamira, identified 72 companies with at least one owner identifying as Māori, collectively employing 1,310 people. The vast majority of the businesses (81%) are consider “micro or small businesses” employing fewer than 20 people.

Of 16 "deep dive" featured companies, which are estimated to generate annual revenue of $24.3 - $48.7 million between them (commercial sensitivity precluded an exact revenue figure), 37% of them have a workforce that is at least 50% Māori.

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Source: Toi Hangarau 

Toi Hangarau points out that the Māori economy has grown from $16 billion to $70 billion in the last decade and is expected to reach $100 billion by 2030. But there are two main risks facing it.

“First, the Māori economy is heavily reliant on the primary sector - farms, forests and fish, and that sector is not yet positioned for the opportunities and risks of technology disruption,” the report notes.

“Second, high-value skills are needed to withstand future trends in business and work. The participation rate in technology jobs and businesses for Māori overall is low,” it adds.

An “accelerated uplift” in capability and growth in Māori tech companies is required for them to take advantage of the opportunities ahead - and help New Zealand industries rise to the challenge of technological disruption.

Only 4% of the IT workforce is Māori, which means the pipeline of skilled tech workers looking to contribute to the digital aspects of the Māori economy is thin. Among the 72 featured companies is rising Christchurch financial education start-up Banquer, co-founded by Kendall Flutey (Ngāi Tahu, Ngāti Kahungunu).

“I quit my job as an accountant without a plan, then retrained through a software boot camp,” Flutey says in an interview excerpt in the report.

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Head office locations of the 72 Maori tech companies. Source: Toi Hangarau

Other companies include Sir Ian Taylor’s Dunedin-based graphics company Animation Research, Kiw Digital, which makes localisation technology for screen content, Wellington-based VR/AR creative agency Wrestler, and Tai Pari Mōhio, an Auckland-based developer of software for reducing wait times in hospital emergency departments.

Writing in the report, seasoned Wellington-based tech investor Dave Moskowitz believes Māori-owned tech companies have a “different feel” to them.

While they are often purposeful businesses that “contribute to Aotearoa and our communities”, they can also be difficult to compare to others. As we enter a tougher market for raising capital, that could pose a dual challenge to Māori tech firms, Moskowitz writes.

“First, they will likely need to work harder to attract non-Māori investors, and secondly, they must choose investors that are aligned to their kaupapa.”

Globally focused

The Toi Hangarau report found good alignment among the 72 companies with four key technology trends - cloud computing, cybersecurity, human-machine interface technology such as artificial intelligence, and the Internet of Things. Of the 16 feature companies, 81% provided products or services in those categories.

For the report’s founder Robyn Kamira, Toi Hangarau which was assembled with the support of sponsors including NZTech, Google, Catalyst Cloud and the Southern Initiative, will be an ongoing project serving to increase awareness of Māori tech firms, the opportunities for them and the barriers to them achieving their goals.

There is limited ability for small Māori-owned technology companies to build professional development pipelines for their Māori employees in technology fields - and existing external programmes are disjointed and fragile,” she notes.

Toi Hangarau will, over time, aim to highlight solutions to the tech talent issue and others facing our growing cohort of Māori tech businesses.


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