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Diversity and Innovation at PlantTech | Meet Our Multi-National Team
30 October 2019
Diversity and Innovation at PlantTech | Meet Our Multi-National Team

PlantTech in Tauranga, New Zealand is seeking to accelerate innovation and find solutions to horticulture challenges through Artificial Intelligence technology.

A normal day at the PlantTech office involves a multi-national team conducting interdisciplinary research. PlantTech CEO, Scotsman Dr. Mark Begbie, reflects on the innovation advantages of this cultural diversity.

Our PlantTech research team has experience in precision agriculture, astronomy, bioinformatics, machine-learning, artificial intelligece and robotics. This technical diversity was strategically planned for. However, the cultural diversity of the PlantTech team was a happy accident.

We simply set about creating a high quality research team. The stand-out candidates we hired come from Scotland, China, Bangladesh, France, Chile - and, I'm pleased to our say, our team will shortly include a woman researcher from Serbia. 

There are many strengths to this diversity.  Our cultural upbringing and environment affects our experiences, our view of reality.  Technology is a common language we share as a team, but one of the challenges in research is trying to avoid being overly influenced by our prior experiences and assumptions.  Having a diverse team definitely helps us avoid that pitfall.  When our team gathers, we immediately have a range of starting view points. This helps to foster innovation, intellectual agility and inventiveness.  

For example, some members of our research team have grown up with large-scale Western horticulture and agriculture.  Zulfi from Bangladesh, and Hao from China, bring the perspectives formed by personal links to smaller, low-tech family farms in developing countries. These varying experience grids make us a stronger team.

As well as opportunities there are also challenges. Different cultures have different norms and conventions.  Something which may be quite acceptable in one culture, may be offensive in another. As a management team, we are mindful to make sure that each person feels comfortable. Also, some team members come from cultures with a more traditionally hierarchical staff structure. It can go against the grain for them to speak up. As managers, it’s our job to keep an eye on this and make sure that everyone’s voice is heard.

With a team that is new to New Zealand, there is, by default, a lack of exposure to Māori culture.  So, starting in Feb we are working on a programme of cultural understanding. We are working to deliver the objectives set under Vision Mātauranga, seeking to equalise opportunity across New Zealand European and Māori in science and technology sectors. For our team, it’s about growing our cultural awareness, understanding historical context and then building relationships with relevant groups in agriculture and environmental husbandry.

AI and data science are competitive talent markets in New Zealand at the moment, with demand continuing to outpace supply. I was surprised that more Kiwis didn’t apply for our roles. I suspect that people in Auckland and other New Zealand cities may still be overcoming a lingering perception of Tauranga as a sleepy little backwater. That is certainly not the case. Once ambitious technology professionals realise that there are compelling career opportunies here, for them and their partners, then I think we will see an increase in local representation.

Having experienced the strength of a multi-national team, we will actively seek to continue that trend as we grow into the future.

Let's meet the research team.

PlantTech Principal Scientist

Alvaro and his family moved to New Zealand in early 2019, seeking new challenges.  With a PhD in Astrophysics and a decade of experience in computational cosmology, Alvaro is no stranger to challenge. Now he is transferrring his experience of classifying galaxies into the more grounded domain of agricultural innovation. He joined the PlantTech team as a Principal Scientist in August, 2019. 

"The current rise of Data Science as a discipline caught my attention some years ago. I was intrigued by the possibility of using my skill set in an applied field. Agriculture was on my radar, considering its impact on the lives of people and the challenges of climate change. PlantTech allows us to work in an area that demands innovative solutions to tackle these problems, and that is very exciting."


PlantTech Research Scientist

Hao has been working as a machine learning engineer for seven years, in various roles. Previously, he worked on Recommendation Systems, Natural Language Processing, Computer Vision, and cloud and device  based AI. He moved to New Zealand in 2014 and joined the PlantTech team as a Research Scientist in June 2019. 

"I was drawn to working at PlantTech because of the opportunity to be part of interdisciplinary research on artificial intelligence and horticulture. My  colleagues have diverse backgrounds and deep knowledge.  I'm excited to work with and learn from the founding members of PlantTech. Tauranga is a great place to live. For me, beautiful nature and family-friendly society inspires creativity. I'm surprised by the vigour and vitality of the tech scene here." 


PlantTech Principal Scientist

Louis moved to New Zealand in 2005 and completed his PhD in Evolutionary Biology and Bioinformatics at Auckland University, where he worked before moving to Canberra in 2015.  He returned to Auckland in 2018 as a Machine Learning Engineer at Biomatters. Louis joined the PlantTech team as a Principal Scientist in October, 2019. 

"What attracted me to PlantTech was the opportunity to do applied research as part of a cross-disciplinary team. I feel excited to be part of this innovative research institute. Tauranga is a growing city at a great location. There are a lot of outdoor activities to enjoy while the city offers all the services needed. It's a great place for young families. The relatively small scale of the city makes it easy to get around and the ocean is never far away!"

PlantTech Research Scientist

Zulfi moved to New Zealand in 2010 to undertake a PhD in Artificial Intelligence for Robotics.  He took on an academic role at the Manukau Institute of Technology, whilst extending his knowledge in the fields of sensor based autonomous systems and computer vision. Zulfi joined the PlantTech team as a Research Scientist in July, 2019. 

"I was attracted to joining PlantTech because they are working to meet current issues in the horticulture industry and to bring positive impact to the communities through AI innovations. To my fellow tech professionals, if you like friendly and considerate workplaces, if you want the challenges of solving real problems that make a difference and if you love great beaches, then Tauranga is your destination!"


Ready for a Change?

PlantTech is a key company in Tauranga's growing agri-tech sector.

"Strong growth in Tauranga has led to significant skills shortages in our AGRI-TECH sector. Key companies want to connect with Kiwi expats, migrants and tech-professionals from within New Zealand with relevant expertise." ~ Nigel Tutt, Priority One CEO  




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