Henry finds New Zealand a land of opportunity for innovators
Henry Nguyen always had an entrepreneurial streak, but it took a move to New Zealand as an international student to open up the opportunity to pursue his business ambitions.
A poster promoting study in New Zealand which he spotted on a wall at his school in Dalat, in the central highlands of Vietnam, sparked his interest in a country he knew little about.
“I did a lot of research into New Zealand’s education and culture, and career opportunities after graduation. I looked for feedback from other students and decided it was somewhere I wanted to go.”
Henry says it was unusual for students in Dalat to consider New Zealand as a study destination, but once his parents learned more about the environment he was coming to, they were very supportive.
“The reason I wanted to go overseas to study was to gain a career qualification and experience of another culture, and then be able to utilise my skills. I wanted to work on innovative products after studying engineering and there is not the same opportunity for that in Vietnam.”
So, in 2015, Henry arrived in Christchurch to study mechanical engineering at Ara Institute of Canterbury. “I really enjoyed studying there,” he says. “The learning style was relaxed, and I was impressed that the teachers were open to new ideas, listened to feedback from students, and were very supportive.”
“You learned critical thinking skills, and innovation was welcomed. At Ara, there is less focus on research on more on practical training and knowledge, which is what I was looking for.”
Student Engineer of the Year
So successful was Henry’s study experience, that in 2018 he was named Student Engineer of the Year by Engineering New Zealand for his final year project, in which he created a tidal turbine to generate electricity. It is still on display at Ara. “In New Zealand, there are so many opportunities to be innovative and be recognised for it,” he says.
After graduating, Henry worked in the robotics industry for three years but the drive to run his own business hadn’t left him. It was time at his desk which gave him the idea for his first creation, a device he has called Senpro 1, which acts as a “reminder hub”, tracking sitting posture and using small LED lights to remind the worker to take breaks.
“I have known since I was young that I wanted to run my own business, but I needed the right environment, and New Zealand has provided that for me. It was a key part of my decision in wanting to study overseas.”
He founded his start-up, Vanteks, which will specialise in developing and commercialising preventive health technologies, with support from business incubators like Christchurch-based Te Ōhaka and Ministry of Awesome, and Callaghan Innovation, the government agency supporting hi-tech new businesses in New Zealand.
Henry has big ambitions for his first product. He would like to see the Senpro 1 distributed to millions of office workers around the world to help reduce health risks associated with bad posture and sedentary lifestyles. The device is currently being trialled in a number of Christchurch businesses to provide data to investors and secure funding for the next stage of development.
Giving back to New Zealand
Coming to New Zealand was the “best decision”, Henry says. “I’m a different person now. I’m more confident and not afraid to express my ideas, and I have built productive working relationships.”
“Businesspeople understand the struggle of early start-ups and are willing to spend time offering support without expecting anything in return. I value that the most.”
Henry’s wife recently joined him in New Zealand after more than two years separated by closed borders, and he is working to establish a secure future for them both while also giving back to the community which has supported him.
“I want to build a successful business where I can help to create jobs and contribute to the economy. I would also like to get to the point where I can become a business mentor myself and support other new businesses.”
He believes his experience should encourage others to consider New Zealand as a study destination, and not just the universities in main cities. “Employers are interested in what you can offer them, more than where you studied. You can achieve great career success by going to training institutes where the focus is more on practical training than academic results,” he says.
“New Zealand is one of the best places to study, especially if you are innovative and outgoing. You will be judged on your skills and talents, and if you know what you want to do with your career, you will go far.”