Ubco: Kiwi Electric bike maker starts first order

Bay of Plenty-based electric off-road bike maker Ubco has begun assembling, testing and shipping its first production models to meet pre-order and dealer demand in New Zealand and Australia.

The award-winning startup, which was co-founded by Whakatane-based Antony Clyde and his partner Daryl Neal in Wellington, is also seeking $1.5 million to $2.5 million in second stage funding from the Bay’s early stage funding group Enterprise Angels.

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You can’t take it with you: software entrepreneur Scott Houston

According to the old saying, many entrepreneurs sell out for the boat, the bach and the BMW.

But in Scott Houston’s case, things went exactly the opposite way. He sold his boat, his rental, and even his house in order to keep his software business GreenButton afloat during the Global Financial Crisis.

Before Green Button, Houston was Weta Workshop’s IT manager. When the Lord of the Ring’s massive supercomputing power looked likely to be switched off until the next film, Houston suggested renting them out.

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Chicken chunks made from peas bring in investors

A start up company that makes peas into chicken chunks has already attracted $1.2 million from international angel investors.

Kiwi investors were given the same opportunity after Sunfed Meats founder and chief executive Shama Lee pitched her plant-based chicken product to them at the New Zealand Agribusiness Investment Showcase near Palmerston North. The chicken is made from yellow peas imported from Canada in a process undisclosed for commercial reasons,  and tastes and looks like chicken.

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The Moxie Sessions: Faust-stage funding: is the devil in the dollars?

It’s almost 6pm but it’s hot in the upstairs kitchen at Auckland innovation hub GridAKL. Condensation beads on our beer bottles and sweat stains the t-shirts of the dozen or so tech types around the Moxie Sessions table. Outside, the monkeys scream and squabble, and as the ceiling fan strains to stir the syrupy air a bright green gecko stalks a spider in the highest corner of the room.

OK, I started lying from the monkeys onwards but it sure was hot.

Despite the warmth, we’d gathered in the fashionably-free-of-air-conditioning venue to point the Moxie ponder-gun in the direction of something equally hot – tech startup companies – and ask what happens when one first takes on funding. What are the downsides to the dollars? And is one dollar (or million) as good as any other?

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Out-weighing the competition

In 2013, while jointly working on a container handling device, Dunedin-based brothers Greg Fahey and Dr Mark Fahey discovered new international container weighing laws on the horizon.
From 1 July 2016, shippers must ensure that the weight of every laden export container is verified using one of two weighing methods – weighing the entire packed and sealed container, or calculating the container’s gross weight by weighing the contents and adding the container’s tare weight.
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Agribusiness Investment Showcase connects business to capital

OPINION: New Zealand ticks all the boxes for its potential to produce world leading agricultural technologies – it has an economy built on primary industries and a long history of expertise in agriculture, as well as a culture of innovation.

This is why I see huge potential for New Zealand agritech businesses to grow internationally.

The latest estimates value the agritech sector at around $1.2 billion, and investors are taking notice.

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Business could take off like Lightning

Life is about to get busier for Virginia Fay – and she can’t wait.

The former Dunedin woman has been selected for Lightning Lab XX, New Zealand’s first-ever female founder focused business accelerator.

Ms Fay, who lives at Mapua, near Nelson, founded Patternsnap, a digital library of wallpaper and fabric samples for interior designers.

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Spark: How to change an entire industry

‘There must be a better way’ is a phrase that’s ignited countless entrepreneurs – including Gene Turner, who has given up his day job as a partner in a law firm to found a tech start-up.

Turner is the man behind LawHawk, a cloud-based tool providing legal document templates to generate customised legal documents in just a few minutes. It’s a disruptive concept in the legal industry, where documents are traditionally ‘handcrafted’ through a manual and time-intensive process of drafting and reviewing, which also involves multiple lawyers.

While some legal document automation does exist, says Turner, it is basic and allows only limited customisation.

LawHawk was born out of Turner’s own experience and frustrations as a partner at a major law firm. He saw much of the effort and cost in producing documents was spent on the first 80 per cent of pulling together a draft, leaving not enough time to work on the final 20 per cent – where the real legal expertise is applied to the situation involved.
So he turned to technology, creating the cloud-based LawHawk software to forge his ‘better way’: “LawHawk’s essentially the tools I wish I had when I was in practice, and how I think most lawyers will want and need to work. In many ways, it’s similar to what Xero has done for accountants, freeing them up to become valuable business advisors, do higher margin work and enjoy their work more.”

LawHawk launches in May, and Turner has high hopes for the company’s growth.

“Because it’s entirely based in the cloud, LawHawk doesn’t have the same constraints to growth applying to a traditional legal business selling time. It can be as big as LawHawk’s customers want it to be.”

While Kiwi inventors in the past may have turned to No. 8 wire, today’s entrepreneurs are increasingly taking advantage of digital tools and online connectedness to create new businesses and business models disrupting traditional ways of doing things.

The ‘evolve or die’ message isn’t new but it’s perhaps more pertinent now than ever, according to Richard Sandford, head of business marketing at Spark home, mobile and business. Sandford points out that, while technology is helping usher in big change, it’s the customer who’s leading it.

“Businesses need to keep pace with the customer because they’re the ones that are setting these trends, not the technology. The technology becomes the enabler,” he explains. “Customers are becoming more demanding and they expect products and services now to be delivered in a certain way. That means businesses need to be one step ahead.”

Despite this, almost half of small businesses in New Zealand have no online presence, according to Spark research, with only 53 per cent having websites and only 28 per cent of those are mobile-optimised.

They are missing out, says Sandford, as last year New Zealand businesses lost $1 billion of online spend to overseas competitors.

Andy Hamilton, CEO of business growth centre The Icehouse, points to a number of sectors – such as finance, logistics, tourism and media – where digital innovation is driving new types of companies and ways of doing business.

For example, innovation globally in the financial sector in recent years has triggered the rise of the likes of peer-to-peer lending, equity crowdfunding, blockchain and bitcoin, and is leading to “a fractionalisation of finance into really small units that are not just the domain of the uber-rich”, he says.

“What we forget is how quickly this transformation is happening. We all take for granted having smartphones now but, when you actually look at what you do with your smartphone these days, you see how the innovation happening in some sectors has become quite pervasive.”

However the fundamentals of business don’t change, says Hamilton: “In New Zealand our challenge is how we get our businesses to scale, to get good margins and returns when the market is inherently small. Digital helps take out some cost for businesses but then the question really is ‘how can it be used to disrupt?’ That’s the exciting thing – unless you’re being disrupted yourself.”

Sandford acknowledges business owners are often time- and cash-poor, particularly in smaller operations, so a crucial initial step for many is understanding technology can add real value – internally through increased efficiency and productivity and by opening new revenue streams.

Businesses need to start simply; the first point for many is to get their businesses online. Creating a mobile-optimised website is imperative, given half of all traffic to some websites is now coming from mobile devices and 45 per cent of Kiwis have purchased a product or service via mobile.

Spark’s web builder product, powered by Putti, for example, is free to Spark business mobile customers and allows them to create a mobile-optimised website in 20 minutes.

“That’s at the heart of growing your business footprint, and optimising your cost to serve too. For example, if you’re a bricks and mortar retailer, using online as a sales channel is like having another store; simply put, it’s another way to reach more customers and sell more things.”

First published on nzherald.co.nz 8 March 2016

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Angel Investors Pumped $24 Billion Into Startups. Here’s How to Get Your Share.

Angel investors are still the lifeblood of early-stage startups, despite the surge of activity in crowdfunding and an increasing early interest from venture capitalists. According to the Angel Capital Association, at least 300,000 people have made angel investments in the last two years, totaling $24 billion in the U.S. alone. These are all accredited investors who risk their own money.

As an active angel investor myself, I understand how the process works, and I see the disappointment in the eyes of entrepreneurs who approach angel groups for funding and often get turned away for not being timely or prepared in the minds of potential investors. In the interest of getting you off on the right foot, here is my priority list of recommended preparation activities.

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“The job is by no means done yet”: Marcel van den Assum defends the NZVIF

Angel Association Chair, Marcel van den Assum, applauds a decade of progress and sets out what’s needed to continue to build on it.

It’s great to see increasing interest and discussion about the importance of commercializing innovation for our economic wellbeing. There is a massive passion for NZ Inc.

The creation of the NZ Venture Investment Fund a decade ago is a reflection of that passion and it’s been a powerful catalyst for the creation of a growing early stage venture capital community.

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Increase in IPOs on the cards, says report

After 15 years and $150m of taxpayer funding, Venture Investment Fund boss Franceska Banga is leaving. Where to for her — and the fund? asks Liam Dann.

Venture capital is a brutal game. The most dangerous end of the capital markets, an environment where few investors dare to tread.

It is an unlikely space for taxpayers to invest but, say supporters, if we want to develop a high growth, start-up sector in a small market, it is also one where companies need government support.

“It is high risk but always with the expectation that the business could deliver a good return for investors,” says outgoing New Zealand Venture Investment Fund (NZVIF) chief executive Franceska Banga.

“We know that not all of them will, probably only a small number of them will. We also know that it is a numbers game. If you want 10 Xeros or Orion Healths then you are going to have to invest in hundreds of companies. But you are talking about high risk/high growth investment.”

READ MORE:
• Creating our own Silicon Valley
• Trailblazing venture fund future in limbo
• Franceska Banga: Angels on our shoulders
Banga, NZVIF’s founding CEO, steps down next month after 15 years spent steering some $150 million of taxpayer money into 190 start-up and early stage companies.

There are some big names among the NZVIF alumni — NZX listed Moa, Xero, and Orion Health among the best-known.

The fund hasn’t yet delivered a massive return, although it hasn’t cost taxpayers money either.

Its portfolio is valued at about $180 million but it has partnered with private venture capital funds which have invested $1.7 billion into the fledgling sector.

Given that the original brief — drafted in 2001 at the height of Helen Clark’s Knowledge Wave fervour — was never to make a financial return, most people in the sector are comfortable describing it as a success, albeit a qualified one.

“We now have a rapidly maturing venture stage market,” says NZ Venture Capital Association executive director Colin McKinnon.

But the mid-tier space is still extremely tough, he says.

“It is maturing from the angel level up rather than from the VC level down.”

When looking at NZVIF’s performance, it is important to consider its main venture capital fund and its smaller Seed Co-Investment Fund (SCIF) individually, he says.

Everybody in the industry would acknowledge that the activity, the leadership and the best practice market development that VIF has done with the seed fund has helped us come on a lot faster than we would have done if left to our own devices.
The latter, which can invest up to $4 million in angel stage start-ups, had been considerably more successful than the former, which can invest $25 million in a company.

“Everybody in the industry would acknowledge that the activity, the leadership and the best practice market development that VIF has done with the seed fund has helped us come on a lot faster than we would have done if left to our own devices,” McKinnon says.

The seed co-investment fund has a total of $40 million available and invests alongside accredited investment partners, with NZVIF putting in up to $4 million per co-investment partner, with the potential for another $4 million subject to a partnership review.

But in the next stage, the true venture capital space, the job is far from done.

New Zealand, along with almost everywhere else in the world outside of Silicon Valley and Boston, is still struggling to get scale in the venture capital market.

“Taken overall, both programmes have been successful,” he says.

“Did we get the outcomes we expected? With SCIF, yes we have and with VIF, probably not. With hindsight did we get value? Yes for both.”

Banga doesn’t disagree about the difficulty of the job in the mid-tier market.

“I think there is still a challenge there,” she says.

The problem for high growth companies in New Zealand comes once they move past the first phase, having raised $2 million or so, “when they realise they need $5 to $10 million but they’re nowhere near ready for the NZX,” she says.

“We have always said that it is a 25-year game plan so I think we’ve made pretty good progress — we’ve probably got another 10 years to run.

“When you look to other countries — and the US is the standout — we know that when they started out almost 50 years ago now … it takes a long time to build an ecosystem.

“A fundamental view I have is that government support for very early stage investment is an ongoing thing. It doesn’t matter where you look in the world, even the US — that idea of providing funding for early or angel stage business is an accepted part of the role of government.”

If we are serious about keeping high growth companies in New Zealand then some level of commitment from government is crucial, she says.

“We would do well in New Zealand to get past the should we/shouldn’t we [debate]; the end game is you are trying to bring through some significant companies and that doesn’t just happen out of thin air.”

But it remains to be seen how committed this Government is to NZVIF in the long term.

Minister of Economic Development Steven Joyce has said his officials are reviewing the fund’s performance and looking at its structure. It could be that there may be no more taxpayer funding and it moves to a self-sustaining model, or even an orderly government exit from the investments.

A fundamental view I have is that government support for very early stage investment is an ongoing thing. It doesn’t matter where you look in the world, even the US — that idea of providing funding for early or angel stage business is an accepted part of the role of government.
Banga says she accepts that the fund could become self-sustaining, with new investments being made with returns from the fund.

That has always been one of the long term goals, she says.

There are several international precedents for a self-sustaining approach, notably the Small Business Investment Company in the US, 3i and CDC, both originating in the UK, and YOZMA in Israel.

Each of these funds started off as a government backed initiative intended to increase capital for small high growth businesses in their home market.

That said, she is in no doubt about what she’d do if she held the political power to write the budget.

“Personally, I’d put some more money into this programme if it was up to me,” she says.

“It has been an incredibly cost- efficient programme for taxpayers.”

Short of stumping up more cash, Banga would also like to see some fresh policy developed to foster investment in the high growth end of the market.

In particular, she would she would like to see some more focused targeting of migrant investment.

“We could do so much better in how we utilise the capital that comes in,” she says.

“In the $2 million and $10 million categories … we know that most of that money goes into low risk capital. Even just the interest off that money would make a significant difference to the early stage end of the market. There is always nervousness about migrants coming in and losing money … but there are ways to ensure that some of the money goes to growth and that engages them in the local market.”

Personally, I’d put some more money into this programme if it was up to me.
For the record, Joyce, who confesses he is philosophically no fan of government involvement in start-up investment, has plenty of praise for Banga and what she has achieved.

“The early stage capital market was certainly not as healthy before VIF was there. It doesn’t necessarily mean that VIF has catalysed that although I think the presumption is that it has,” he says. “The hard part is working out what would have happened anyway.”

Perhaps, as one market player who asked not to be named says, there is a concern that the fund can’t maintain momentum without someone of Banga’s calibre driving it.

Certainly, Joyce feels the departure of Banga after 15 years marks an appropriate time to take another look at its structure.

The Venture Capital Association’s McKinnon thinks that is fair enough.

“VIF was best practice at the time,” he says. “The problem hasn’t been fixed but we understand a lot more about it.”

The industry still needs some help but the help is not necessarily just capital, he says.

“I don’t know what the answer is but I do think we need to keep some sort of government liaison role in that post-angel space,” he says. “If we don’t keep having that leadership then it will fragment and the market failure will become more apparent again. I just think we have to finish the job.

Over 15 years Banga had been a huge asset to the sector, he says.

“I’d say she has been outstanding. They’ve struggled with some big challenges and she has been an exemplary leader in this space and we’re going to miss her.”

As for what’s next , the former Treasury and Reserve Bank economist is keen to make her mark in the private sector as a company director.

Franceska’s advice for startups seeking money:
• Talk to entrepreneurs who have gone before. What does that mean for their company? A weakness in NZ is we don’t learn from others’ mistakes.

• Get really focused on the right sort of investors for your company. Avoid the scatter-gun approach.

• Don’t waste time talking to investors who are not going to invest. Do your homework.

• Get your story right, your business plan. Be clear. You can’t just go on raw emotion about how good your invention is.

• If your specialty is the technology or science side, make sure you’ve got access to the business expertise in your team. If you can’t afford to employ people, look for people in your wider network who can help.

First published on nzherald.co.nz 26 February 2016

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Startups are finally revealed for the 2016 Auckland Lightning Lab Programme

Today, New Zealand’s premier digital accelerator has announced the ten digital startups that will embark on the 2016 Lightning Lab Programme in Auckland.

Reyedr, Wireless Guard, Foodcourt Online, Sonnar Interactive, WayWiser, Pheonix Audio, SeekStock, Dexibit, Slick Software, and Rock.ai all made it through the extensive application process to be the ten teams to receive $20,000 seed funding, intense mentorship, and the opportunity to work on the business 24/7 through the four month long Lightning Lab programme.

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Boost for Christchurch as Microsoft returns to CBD office following 2011 earthquakes

Just days after the city of Christchurch marked the five-year anniversary of the 2011 earthquakes, Microsoft New Zealand has announced that its Christchurch based operations are returning to the CBD as part of the new GreenHouse innovation hub.

The tech giant – which employs around 220 staff in New Zealand – has had a presence in Christchurch for many years, with four employees serving the business community from their inner city office, with regular support from the company’s Auckland headquarters.

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Is NZVIF directionally correct?

The New Zealand Venture Investment Fund was set up 14 years ago with the best intentions – to foster an early stage investment sector in New Zealand by being a fund of funds. It’s had $250 million for VC and PE funds but only $129.7 million of that had been invested to June 2015 and $100 million of it is an underwrite facility.

NZVIF later added the now $50 million Seed Co-Investment Fund (SCIF) which co-invests alongside accredited angel investors. As at June 2016 it had placed $38.2 million of that.

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Swiss sportswear company launches global equity crowdfunding offer including NZ platform

Australian-founded, Swiss-based premium sportswear brand Skins has launched a global equity crowdfunding campaign today incorporating New Zealand, Australia, the UK, and Europe.

The offer involves raising a minimum of $800,000 in New Zealand and Australia through the Equitise platform and the rest in a parallel offer on the UK-based platform Seedrs. The company hopes to attract $4.42 million from retail investors in an overall fundraising of $9.8 million.

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NZVIF Investment Report

The investment performance to 30 June 2015 highlights both the volatility of early stage investing and the reliance on a few ‘outlier’ investments to generate the bulk of the returns.  The overall portfolio result is positive based on a very conservative valuation assessment.  While it is down on the previous year, this is due mainly to the volatility of listed portfolio companies, which now comprise over 40 percent of the value of NZVIF’s portfolio.  The volatility is illustrated in that – post the reporting period – the portfolio’s value rebounded from $156 million to over $181 million at 31 December.

Click here to download the NZVIF Investment Report for the year to 30 June 2015.  It is the second such report on the performance of NZVIF’s two funds – the Venture Capital Fund and the Seed Co-investment Fund.

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5 straight-talking questions about the NZVIF report

It’s all on for the New Zealand Venture Investment Fund (NZVIF).

At almost the same moment the NZVIF’s report was released on Monday, Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce announced that a review of the investment organisation’s structure was currently underway.

Given the primary function of the fund is to support New Zealand’s start-up and venture ecosystem – rather than explicitly turn a profit – Joyce’s comments raised eyebrows. Just what do the numbers mean? How is the fund actually doing? And what’s the benefit to the taxpayer?

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Video giant Vimeo picks Wellington startup Wipster for global partnership

Wellington startup Wipster has struck a partnership with United States technology giant Vimeo in a “David and Goliath” deal that could be worth many millions of dollars to the three year-old firm.

Vimeo will market Wipster’s software as a paid add-on to its video-sharing suite, promoting it to the 700,000 people who already pay to use the paid version of Vimeo’s app.

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AANZ backs NZVIF

“Without a thriving early stage ecosystem,
New Zealand simply has no future”

Responding to the release this morning of the New Zealand Venture Investment Fund (NZVIF) Investment Report and suggestions the future of the Fund is in doubt, Marcel van den Assum, chairman of the Angel Association of New Zealand (AANZ), encouraged the government to stay the course.

“Building an early stage capital ecosystem and generating returns from the ventures receiving funding requires fortitude and commitment, and without a thriving early stage ecosystem, New Zealand simply has no future.”

Van den Assum, the 2015 Arch Angel award winner for his support and encouragement of Kiwi entrepreneurs, early stage companies and early stage investors, noted the government’s original concept was for a 25-year early stage investment programme.

It’s important the programme stays true to the original aim to build a strong and professional early stage venture capital community, he said. “It’s also important the Fund’s portfolio of ventures are managed to provide the best possible opportunity for the returns investors are looking for.”

Van den Assum said he is supportive of NZVIF taking a more active approach to managing what is a very valuable portfolio. In this respect and commenting on the Investment Report itself, van den Assum said it was still early days. The bulk of the Seed Co-investment portfolio had been generated in just the last two-to-three years.

The AANZ works closely with its members to raise awareness about the importance of portfolio management and how best to support their portfolio companies to achieve the sorts of returns expected for the higher levels of risk associated with earlier stage investing. NZVIF is a key support partner in sharing these risks and the associated rewards, he said.

And by any measures the leverage generated from the government’s investment through NZVIF to date was stunning, said van den Assum. “Putting $147 million in to generate $1.7 billion is impressive no matter how you look at it.”

And it’s not leverage just in financial terms, he added. “The country’s angel investors don’t just share the financial risk with the government, they bring substantial capability, experience and international connections to our young companies.”

Van den Assum said building and supporting early stage, high growth companies required ongoing commitment from government, professional services providers and investors. “No one group can do this alone. All partners and stakeholders need to commit fully and for the long term for us generate the socio-economic goals we are all seeking for the future of our country.”

–Ends–

For more information, please contact:

Marcel van den Assum, AANZ chair on mob: 021 963 459 or email: [email protected]

Suse Reynolds, AANZ executive director on mob: 021 490 974 or email: [email protected]

The Angel Association of New Zealand (AANZ)

The Angel Association is an organisation that aims to increase the quantity, quality and success of angel investments in New Zealand and in doing so create a greater pool of capital for innovative start-up companies. It was established in 2008 to bring together New Zealand angels and early stage funds; to support the angel networks and help create new networks; to promote the growth of angel investment in New Zealand by encouraging and educating entrepreneurs, new angel investors and angel groups; and to ensure the ongoing success of the angel movement through developing industry strategy, encouraging collaboration and educating the wider New Zealand public about the importance of angel investing in growing our economy.  AANZ currently has 14 members representing more than 650 individual angels associated with New Zealand’s key angel networks and funds. Recent NZ Venture Investment Fund data revealed angels have invested more than $NZ370 million in over 640 deals in the last 8 years. For more, please visit: www.angelassociation.co.nz

 

NZVIF

Start-up companies need capital to grow

The NZVIF was established by the New Zealand government in 2002 to build a vibrant early stage investment market in New Zealand. It has $300 million of funds under management which are invested through two vehicles: the $260 million Venture Capital Fund of funds; and the $40 million Seed Co-investment Fund.

All its investments are made either through privately managed venture capital funds, or alongside experienced angel investors, who it partners with to invest into New Zealand-originated, high-growth potential companies.

It is based in Auckland and governed by a private sector board of directors who provide oversight to its investment management team. It also plays an active role in market development, alongside investors and the New Zealand Private Equity & Venture Capital Association and the Angel Association New Zealand.

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Powerhouse Ventures is here to help universities to commercialise their ideas

New Zealander Stephen Hampson thinks Australian universities need help commercialising their ideas, so he’s bringing his company Powerhouse Ventures here to assist.

Mr Hampson said the biggest problem is universities do not have sufficient funding to take their intellectual property from the basic idea to a point where it can be sold.

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Rocket Lab signs satellite company Spire as customer

New Zealand space company Rocket Lab has signed a deal with a United States satellite company.

Rocket Lab will send Spire satellites into orbit on up to 12 missions from late 2016 throughout 2017.

Spire uses small satellites to provide “high-fidelity” weather and ship tracking information.

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Wipster video success in US triples revenue

From day one, the aim of Wipster was to be international, says its founder.

Now the cloud-based, collaborative video review platform boasts 40,000 users in 120 countries and its revenues are rapidly growing.

Former filmmaker Rollo Wenlock started the business as beta in 2013 and launched it at the end of 2014 with a team of creative media tech experts in Wellington.

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Crowdfunding laws a turnoff for venture capitalists

Any business that raises capital using equity crowdfunding laws that passed the House Of Representatives on February 10 will have no chance of attracting venture capital investors in future, a leading angel investor says.

Adrian Bunter, a prominent member of the Sydney Angels investor group, says venture capitalists won’t want the hassle of investing in businesses with potentially hundreds of underlying shareholder agreements.

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Twelve Questions: Alexei Drummond

An inspirational story about the sort of impact angel investment can have and the incredible people who are making a difference because of it!

Biologist Alexei Drummond has designed computer software that’s transformed the study of biology worldwide. The 39-year-old University of Auckland professor recently became the youngest fellow of the Royal Society of New Zealand.

1 Did you grow up with science?

Dad’s a quantum physicist and mum’s an artist. They met at Harvard ” he’s a Kiwi and she’s American. Of their four children, two are biologists and two are musicians ” we’re all creative.

2 When did you learn to programme computers?

When I was 8, Dad bought me a Commodore 64. He was living in a tiny flat in the city after separating from mum. Back then there was no mouse or internet, just a blinking cursor on a blue screen. I began typing in pages of code from computer magazines without really knowing what they meant, hoping to be able to play a game by the end of the weekend. Eventually I was recognising commands that cropped up again and again and began modifying the code to change the games. I became convinced a computer could do anything if only it was programmed the right way. Genetic engineering and cloning naturally appealed to me. As an undergraduate I was determined to learn how to reprogram myself to live as long as possible. I wrote sci-fi and really wanted to find out what would happen in the future.
3 You’ve been in the news lately with your study using mobile phone data to track how the flu virus spreads – how did you get into that?

I’m an evolutionary biologist and what’s nice about viruses is they evolve a million times faster than humans so you can see evolution occurring. Influenza in two years will be as different from today as humans are from chimpanzees. Every winter a new flu arrives in New Zealand on a plane or a boat. We’re trying to understand how it spreads. The H1N1 pandemic in 2009 occurred mainly in NZ’s main centres the first year and mainly in the regions the next, which is peculiar – you’d expect it to go everywhere the first time – so that suggests some complexities. Our initial research shows it’s multiple events that set off parallel outbreaks with significant differences in strains between regions. Knowing where and how fast a virus like flu spreads will be useful if a more lethal virus arrives.

4 How will you use computer software to study the flu’s spread?

Mobile phone data shows us how many people move between areas and how close together they get. We also have rich genetic data on the flu virus which evolves so rapidly we can identify where and when each mutation occurred. If we can write software that puts these two sets of data together in the right way we should get a lot of predictive power.

5 How did you get into making software for biologists?

When I started my PhD in the biology department 16 years ago, I was almost the only one who could program a computer. I was surprised they didn’t have easy-to-use software for the kinds of operations they needed to do – like Excel for biologists. They were doing it all manually and making errors every time they had to convert data between formats. It was terrible.

6 What’s been your most important contribution to science so far?

Creating the scientific software BEAST which is used for data analysis by thousands of biologists worldwide to publish groundbreaking research. I developed the ideas and did the early programming during my PhD here at the University of Auckland and then went to Oxford and worked with Andrew Rambaut to co-create BEAST. Since our paper was published, that software’s been cited in something like 10,000 different studies. It’s free for all scientists to use.

7 What does your company Biomatters do?

Biomatters develops software to sell to pharmaceutical companies, bio-techs and universities. It is used for data management and visualisation for problems including genetics, ancestry, ecology, conservation, population studies and infectious diseases. Every Top 100 university in the world has our licences.

8 Was it hard to set up a company?

I couldn’t get research funding to develop the software because although it supports science it’s not actually research. I got very depressed until an entrepreneurial friend of mine pitched it to an Auckland investment group called Ice Angels. The first couple of years were hard. We were terrible at sales and marketing so it was convincing one scientist at a time. There’s no way I could’ve built that software in an academic environment. There’s not the motivation to make the customer experience smooth and effortless. What I love most about our company is we’re sending high-value products to the other side of the world at almost no cost to the environment. You never hear about the “knowledge economy” in New Zealand anymore. It seems like we just want to fit in as many cows as we can.

9 Is New Zealand looking after its scientists?

New Zealand has a high number of scientists per capita but we invest two or three times less per scientist than comparable countries. There’s been a huge sea change in the approach to science funding in the past 10 years, requiring research to demonstrate economic benefits to New Zealanders. World-class scientists value being able to pursue the most important problems in the world regardless of where they’re based. If they can’t solve them here, they’ll leave and New Zealand will miss out on the spillover benefits. Small advanced economies that [prioritise] science research like Scandinavia and Singapore do way better than us.

10 Why do you stay in New Zealand?

So my son can grow up with wide open spaces, beautiful beaches, bush walks and hiking in the mountains. I’m also excited to be launching a new Centre of Computational Evolution here this year.

11 Are you religious?

Humans aren’t going to last forever, no species ever has. It’s hard for me to believe there’s anything afterwards. I’m a collection of atoms that are going to become dirt and stardust. What’s beautiful about science is that you’re adding a little bit of knowledge that will survive you. Even if it’s wrong, it’s a step that you’re taking for the rest of humanity.

12 Do you have fears for the future of our planet?

For many people the “truth” of economic growth being good is stronger than science, but in the natural world we’ve seen a million times that when you grow exponentially for too long, you get a massive crash. I find it disgusting that in my generation or the next, humans may precipitate a mass extinction the likes of which have not been seen for 65 million years. I’m also bewildered by how we can call ourselves intelligent when billions of our fellow humans live in abject poverty.

First published on nzherald.co.nz 28th January 2016

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As Angel Investors Pull Back, Valuations Take a Hit

Agreeing the valuations is often a spicy discussion. In this Wall Street Journal article some of our US-based colleagues – Bill Payne, Rob Wiltbank and Allan May – set out their views on data showing valuations are taking a bit of a hit.

A dose of reality may be hitting angel investing.

After valuations for young companies seeking funding soared to five-year highs last year, some angel investors—or wealthy individuals who buy stakes in startups—are starting to pull back.

On AngelList, a crowdfunding site aimed at such investors, the average valuation for a company receiving funding reached $4.9 million for two quarters last year, its highest level in five years. But valuations dropped to $4.2 million in the fourth quarter, the lowest level since early 2012. Dow Jones VentureSource data shows that deals involving angel investors fell by 16% last year.

Read more

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How to start investing in tech and innovation startups

Some tips and tricks in this story which you might like to share with those exploring angel investment by Idealogue’s Henry Oliver.

We talk to Suse Reynolds, executive director of the Angel Association of New Zealand, and Greg Shanahan, managing director of the Technology Investment Network, about how to start investing in early-stage tech and innovation companies in New Zealand.

One of the consistent threads running through the history of this publication is that New Zealand needs to get over its obsession with housing, dairy and tourism, and start investing in technology and innovation.

Sounds great! some readers have said. But how? How does a ‘mum and dad investor’ help fund, and (let’s be honest) profit from, the high growth of those sectors are experiencing in New Zealand?

Read the full interview here

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Winging it with crowdfunding

Some fascinating perspectives about the intersection of crowdfunding and angel investment are discussed in Lesley Springall’s article written off the back of ABAF.

The old and the new went head-to-head at the recent Angel Summit, as equity crowdfunding took to the platform to sell its case to more traditional start-up investors.

Internationally-known Scottish angel investor and angel fund manager Nelson Gray has travelled the world discussing best practice in early stage investment, to help encourage more business people to dig deep, don wings and take the early stage investment plunge.

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MEA Mobile wants to spread success of photo print app to Aus

The journey of an angel backed venture to success is never a straight line. This wonderful story by Fiona Rotheram sets out MEA Mobile’s journey well with some interesting lessons for angel investors.

MEA Mobile expects to sell its photo-printing app in Australia this year after following up a successful launch in the US and Germany with a deal in its home market of New Zealand, offering the service through Warehouse Stationery.

The Hamilton-based app developer and creative agency took the unusual step in 2012 of launching its home-grown app, Printacular, directly into the US rather than first selling it in New Zealand.

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Smart fabric start-up Footfalls & Heartbeats raises loan after problem with technology

Angel-backed Footfalls and Heartbeats next steps.

Smart fabric start-up Footfalls & Heartbeats is about to close a $250,000 convertible loan after having to pull a crowdfunding campaign in September and let go its newly-hired chief executive after a problem emerged with its technology.

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Lightning Lab accelerator programme increasing investment in 2016

An enthusiastic review of one of New Zealand’s most successful “angel food generators”

An accelerator programme which has helped startups raise millions of dollars in investment is sweetening its offer in 2016 to attract more entrepreneurs.

Founded by Wellington incubator Creative HQ, Lightning Lab is a business incubator which mentors digital startups over three months.

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