Mitchell Pham is a shining example of tech business support. A recent Kea World Class New Zealand Award recipient, he is also a technology champion who borrows from his Vietnamese heritage to help Kiwi tech firms grow offshore.
When Mitchell Pham walked out onto the stage at Auckland’s Viaduct Events Centre to accept his Kea World Class New Zealand award on June 21st, it represented a remarkable achievement in a journey that began as a 13-year-old refugee arriving in this country in the mid-80s.
Thirty years on, the milestone is recognition for the work he is doing to encourage the connection of ICT and hi-tech businesses in New Zealand and Southeast Asia.
It’s a story that has come full circle – the significance of this was not lost on people in the audience, or Mitchell himself.
Mitchell’s immensely proud to be the recipient of a “Tall Poppy” and understands the importance of being nominated and recognised as a World Class New Zealander.
For him the ultimate highlights of the evening included being recognised alongside his Kiwi heroes who are world class in their respective fields.
“Having my whole ‘Phamily’ there with me was special too – my parents especially as they had flown in from Ho Chi Minh City to be at the awards,” he says, adding that he was grateful his colleagues and friends from his own company, Augen Software Group, and the tech industry could be there too.
Most Kiwi companies I know want to grow internationally – some are further ahead than others. But none would describe that journey as quick and simple.”
The awards are not given out lightly, so I asked Mitchell what drives him to help Kiwi firms work in offshore markets such as Vietnam.
“I originally came from offshore, so I carried my heritage, linkage and ‘other home’ with me as I established my life and developed my business career in New Zealand. Most Kiwi companies I know want to grow internationally – some are further ahead than others,” he explains. “But none would describe that journey as quick and simple.
“My own journey has been assisted by many others, including government agencies and other members of the Kea network, both in New Zealand and overseas,” he adds, “so I feel a personal connection to this particular activity of [growing businesses].
“This led me to join the diverse community of people and organisations who help Kiwi businesses grow offshore at various commercial, industry and government levels.
“I am only one of many, and I do this alongside Augen’s business activities, so I take my hat off to those who dedicate their whole job and entire career to doing this.”
Mitchell was instrumental in launching the Kiwi Connection Tech Hub in Ho Chi Minh City in June 2016. It has been described as an operations centre to help ICT and hi-tech businesses accelerate both presence and engagement with on-the-ground facilities and personnel resources in the Vietnam market – as well as establish a base to support business activities across the ASEAN region.
“The first 12 months were mainly to implement a new business model that we’d never done before, so it was a steep learning curve for everyone involved, explains Mitchell. “In the last year, we have been learning how to refine the established model into a cost-effective system that could be operated seamlessly, and how to make it easy for Kiwi businesses to work with us.
He says ShapeShifter, which provides cut-planning software solutions to garment manufacturers, is a good example of how a small Kiwi tech company could leverage the Kiwi Connection Tech Hub to accelerate presence and engagement in the Vietnam market.
The coming year will be about exploring collaborative partnerships to bring a wide range of services to Kiwi companies who want to expand into Southeast Asia.
“There is much more work to be done as we continue to grow and evolve, and none of it will happen overnight.”
Taking up the chair
It is challenging enough to run a business, let alone take on an industry leadership role. However, that’s what Mitchell did in 2016 when he became chair of NZTech.
It is one of the best organisations to be on the board of, he says.
Mitchell describes the NZTech board as a well-bonded team of business leaders from a diverse sector, “each bringing amazing talent and experience, and taking the lead to engage with members and the wider industry.
“It is a real privilege to be part of such a team, and to be chair. I learn so much from everyone else on the board.”
For 25 years Augen Software Group has been working with tech companies as customers or business partners. “Those customers who are not tech businesses are in industries that are rapidly transforming with tech, such as financial services, healthcare, transport/logistics, professional services, etcetera,” Mitchell says.
“We are part of New Zealand’s technology innovation ecosystem and understand how individual companies will thrive as the whole industry becomes more connected, better promoted and further advanced. “It makes perfect sense for us to invest some time and resource in supporting the industry and its ecosystem.”
While Mitchell chairs both NZTech and FinTechNZ, he’s not the only one at Augen involved in industry development at board and leadership level. Colleague Shane Kerr is vice-chair of EdTechNZ, and Jason Roberts is chair of InsurTechNZ – while Peter Vile is on the executive committee of the ASEAN-NZ Business Council and runs the Kiwi Connection Tech Hub operation.
“This is another high-calibre, high-impact, high-performance team that I am fortunate to be a part of,” says Mitchell.
As the tech sector continues to quickly grow and broaden its engagement to accelerate growth across the rest of the New Zealand economy, it is also ready for more international engagement at the wider industry level with “scale, cohesion and coordination”, says Mitchell.
“We welcome closer relations with, and more direct involvement at the top level from ‘NZ Inc’; organisations such as Kea, New Zealand Trade & Enterprise and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs & Trade, and applaud NZTE for nominating a candidate for our NZTech board election.
“NZTE is also joining our industry-specific tech communities such as FinTechNZ and InsurTechNZ to work closely at ground level on international engagement initiatives,” he says.
“International engagement has been sitting on the NZTech board agenda as one of the strategic priorities, one I anticipate will start to receive more attention this year.”
Access to tech talent, investment capital and large customer markets continue to be growth barriers for Kiwi tech companies – however, Vietnam and the ASEAN region continue to hold some keys to unlock our tech sector, says Mitchell.
“So Augen will continue to assist more companies to scale for growth and speed-to-market, and Kiwi Connection Tech Hub will continue to collaborate with other organisations in New Zealand and offshore – as well as explore new relationships with new partners to bring more capabilities and expand our offerings.”
Article by Glenn Baker, editor of ExporterToday online and NZBusiness magazine and website.