NZ angel investors spurn start-ups

First published in the New Zealand Herald on Monday March 5, 2012

Angel investors – rich individuals who back business start-ups – were active in the second half of last year but were keener on supporting existing companies than they were on stumping up cash for new ventures, the NZ Venture Investment Fund (NZVIF) said.

NZVIF, which administers venture capital and seed co-investment programmes for the Government, said “angels” made 97 investments in young, high-growth companies, slightly behind the previous year’s record activity level, but the amount invested was $30.7 million – about half the amount invested in 2010.

The fall in the level of investment was more pronounced in the second half of last year, when angels invested $13.1m, the lowest total since the NZVIF’s Young Company Finance Index began collecting data in 2006.

However, the 44 deals undertaken in the second half was the second highest recorded.

NZVIF chief executive Franceska Banga said the trend of angels investing smaller amounts, in both new and follow-on investment, was indicative of a maturing of a New Zealand angel market and was consistent with similar trends overseas.

“Angels are learning more about how much and when to invest.,” she said.

Angels’ portfolios of new investments grew steadily between 2008 and 2010, in particular.

“A significant number of the most active angel investors are shifting their main focus to supporting their existing companies,” she said in a statement.

This was a rational response to the recognition by angels that companies required follow-on funding, and a lack of material follow-on money from other sources in New Zealand.

“The trends we are seeing in angel investing highlights the need for later stage funds – venture capital funds – to provide the larger investment capital to develop the companies which angel investors have been backing,” Banga said.

Angel investors have cumulatively invested $220m into high-growth companies since 2006, in an average deal size of $540,000. The average deal size in 2011 was $323,549.

Of the $30.7m invested last year, $11.7m was into first round investments and $19.0m comprised follow-on investments in existing companies.

In terms of the stage of investment, $6.6m was seed investment, $23.8m was at the start-up stage, $360,000 at the early expansion level, and nil at the expansion stage, NZVIF said.

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Sparkbox targets entrepreneurs with NZVIF investment partnership

National angel group Sparkbox Ventures plans to back 20 entrepreneurs over the next five years, following the renewal of its investment partnership with the New Zealand Venture Investment Fund.

The co-investment partnership should see Sparkbox Ventures and NZVIF combining to invest around $10 million in start-up companies over the next five years.

Sparkbox chairman Andrew Duff said they are looking for a new type of entrepreneur able to get Kiwi innovation successfully onto the world stage.

“The traits of this new form of ‘extreme entrepreneur’ are people who are capable, knowledgeable, quick to adapt, able to listen, and can learn from the experience of others. They know how to leverage networks, but are creative and can think outside the box and follow a strategic plan to a successful exit.

“We have previously backed entrepreneurs, like Rod Drury of Xero and Grant Ryan of YikeBike, as well as the new breed of successful Kiwi entrepreneurs, like Brian Ward of Mesynthes and Paul Cameron of Booktrack. With the investment partnership with NZVIF, we want to help find the next generation, and our objective is to back around 20 entrepreneurs over the next five years.

“There are some superb ideas and innovation emerging from our universities and research institutes. The key to turning these ideas into commercial success comes down to entrepreneurial abilities. Building successful innovation companies is about identifying the right person and providing them the necessary support and investment.”

NZVIF chief executive Franceska Banga said the initial investment partnership had seen NZVIF and Sparkbox invest around $7 million into over a dozen companies, helping to fund the growth of promising young technology companies like Mesynthes, BigLittleBang and Booktrack.

“Sparkbox is a very active private group which has been investing for over a decade. They are clearly committed to continuing to be an active part of the seed and early stage venture investment market in New Zealand.

“Through our initial investment partnership, NZVIF committed to co-invest $4 million with Sparkbox. That has so far seen us combining to invest nearly $7 million.

“In order to maintain the momentum of investment into start-up companies, NZVIF is committing to invest a further $4 million with Sparkbox. When that is combined with the private angel investment, we can expect that the renewed partnership should see around $10 million of investment into start-ups over the next four to five years.”

Andrew Duff welcomed the partnership renewal, saying Sparkbox’s focus is on early stage investment to back entrepreneurs in sectors including information and communications technology, material science, cleantech, and medical and diagnostic technology.

“We are seeing a lot of promising start-up opportunities needing investment to research, design and develop technology based products and solutions with the aim of taking them to international markets. We are committed to a strategy of specialising on pre-seed and seed investment where we see attractive investment opportunities.”

Media contact:

David Lewis
Cell: 021-976 119

About Sparkbox Venture Group:

Sparkbox Venture Group is New Zealand’s leading early stage investor and has been investing in New Zealand innovation companies since 2001. Our sector preference is Information technology, Mobile, Material science, Cleantech, Communications, Medical and diagnostic technology, Internet and the Cloud. Sparkbox Venture Group provides advisory services to help maximise value from New Zealand innovation. Follow us on

About NZVIF’s Seed Co-investment Fund (Seed Fund):

NZVIF invests directly into companies alongside pre-qualified private investment partners known as ‘angel’ investor groups. (Angel investors are typically wealthy individuals who invest their own capital into entrepreneurial firms). Angel investors assess investment proposals and decide whether or not to invest with a company. Following that decision, NZVIF, through the Seed Fund, is able to match the private capital invested on a 1:1 basis, up to $750,000 per company.

Online fun a money-spinner

Game that teaches children about music can be a major money-spinner, believes entrepreneur Chris White, founder of Big Little Bang, an online 3D virtual world for children aged 7 to 14.

MTV Networks paid US$160 million for Neopets in 2005. Two years later Disney bought Club Penguin in a deal valued at US$700 million (US$350 million upfront, with the remainder dependent on the online game achieving revenue targets). In Britain, Moshi Monsters is estimated to be worth US$200 million ($242 million) after a founding director sold his stake in the company last year.

These are the sort of numbers that White believes will fire investor enthusiasm as he seeks expansion capital to further develop Big Little Bang, particularly in the United States. Stephen Tindall’s K1W1 fund and angel investor Sparkbox Ventures provided initial seed capital, and have committed to the expansion capital round. Other angels provided additional funding to develop the prototype into a commercial game, which launched in July.

It now has more than 31,000 players, more than half of them American children, despite the game only becoming available state-side before Christmas. White is now in the US seeking “accelerators and incubators” to help fast-track Big Little Bang’s growth.

“We’re looking to hit the break-even point in the next 18 months and at that point really accelerate our growth to hundreds of thousands of new users each month,” says White.

White’s game is about socialising and creating music in space, using planets, rocket ships and musical wormholes. As a former music teacher, this website strikes me as an astonishing amalgam of creativity and commercial exploitation. It comes as no surprise to learn that Mike Chunn, music legend and advocate for making music the building block of learning, was involved at an early stage.

The Big Little Bang idea is a great example of the creative fostering that is now embedded in New Zealand corporate culture.

White, who has a master’s degree in creative arts and a bachelor of science, has been through the Spark programme, was adopted by the Icehouse business incubator (“I had access to the executive in residence”) and was assisted in forming relationships with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Santiago.

Revenue is rising and he’s confident a bright future awaits.

First published in the New Zealand Herald on Monday February 6 2012

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Angel HQ


Angel HQ logoAngel HQ is the Wellington Region’s angel investment network. We are here to help young companies with aspirations for high growth get the investment they need to achieve their goals, while generating a healthy return for investors. We’re known for our predilection for deals with a certain ‘geek’ factor in them, technology is one of our preferred areas of investment.

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Powerhouse Venture

powerHouse invests in early stage ventures. We invest utilising managed funds and co-investment. Our approach is to combine the professional management of a venture capital firm with business incubation, supported by the networks and expertise of our investor group. We source ventures from the leading generators of innovation – universities and research institutes – as well as the private sector.

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powerHouse raises an investment fund every year. Each fund targets six investments, typically in the range of $100,000 to $1,000,000. powerHouse also manages The Christchurch Fund, a regional development portfolio.

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Sparkbox Venture Group

Sparkbox Venture Group is New Zealand’s leading early stage investor and has been investing in New Zealand innovation companies since 2001.

Our sector preference is Information technology, Mobile, Material science, Cleantech, Communications, Medical and diagnostic technology, Internet and the Cloud. Sparkbox Venture Group provides advisory services to help maximise value from New Zealand innovation. Sparkbox usually invest up to $150,000 per funding round and can invest up to $500,000 over the life of a company. Our investment approach and flexibility means we can consider early stage opportunities that others cannot. Sparkbox contributes both cash and skills services ranging from access to our experienced business partners to transaction assistance. To date Sparkbox has invested in more than 30 companies. Follow us on

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