Manawatu Agtech Start-Up Koru Diagnostics Raises $900k Seed Investment

A Palmerston North-based start-up company, Koru Diagnostics, has had impressive success with its first funding round.

Koru, which is developing cost-effective laboratory and rapid farmside tests, was substantially oversubscribed when it closed its seed funding round recently with close to a million dollars.

CEO, Rhys McKinlay, is very happy with the outcome. “We raised over $900k, mostly from angel investors, which will give us a commercialisation runway through until late 2019. These funds will be directed towards product development and commercial scale-up, protecting our IP and securing new commercial partnerships,” he says.

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A cow-whispering fitbit

The big farming news of the year so far has been an outbreak of the Mycoplasma bovis disease in cows, which forced the Government to come up with an $886 million eradication plan last month. But as this month’s Fieldays event showed, it’s not all bad news in our farming sector. When it comes to farm technology – or “agritech” as it’s known – New Zealand is a global leader.

A new report by Callaghan Innovation claims that “New Zealand is seen as one of four locations to watch for agritech solutions alongside Silicon Valley, Boston, and Amsterdam.”

I reached out to several agritech experts to find out why New Zealand is so well regarded internationally. Okay, we have a deep history of agriculture in this country. But it requires more than a pair of gumboots and the clichéd “number 8 wire” attitude to create advanced farming technology.

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Major trends in agtech for 2018

The disruption over the last decade in the retail food value chain gained momentum in 2017 with the IPO of Blue Apron, and acquisitions such as Bai Brands ($1.7 billion), Sir Kensington Condiments and Whole Foods by Amazon ($13.7 billion). This wave of disruption is being paralleled in the agricultural value chain, driven by increasing land turnover and altered land use, renewed focus on sustainability and, as in retail, changing consumer preference.

A continued slump in commodity prices has seen “Big Ag” facing declining margins and prompted a wave of consolidation to get cost efficiency, as well as a search for new innovation over the last three years. As key products in seed and chemistry have come off patent, the change imperative for the Big 6 has only strengthened. Coincidentally, the agtech investment landscape has exploded over the last decade, from a niche, opportunistic clade of the venture capital investment class, to a legitimate asset class attracting focused and generalist funds with dedicated agtech investment allocations.

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Christchurch agritech company CropLogic launches prospectus

Christchurch agritech company CropLogic’s​ long-awaited plans are coming to fruition with the launch of a prospectus to raise A$8 million (NZ$8.45m)

Chief executive Jamie Cairns will lead a roadshow presentation in New Zealand and Australia over the next fortnight.

CropLogic helps improve crop yields by combining research and technology with field support teams to provide
accurate advice to growers.

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Robots to rescue booming kiwifruit crop volumes

With SunGold kiwifruit volumes set to double by 2021, chances are that by then growers struggling to find pickers for a timely harvest will be reaching for a robotic solution.

Dr Alistair Scarfe and his colleagues at Robotics Plus based at Te Puna’s Newnham Park Innovation Centre are well down the track developing a robotic kiwifruit picker that should arrive on the market as kiwifruit volumes start to ramp up strongly.

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CropLogic Secures New Licence for Global Growth

Precision agriculture firm CropLogic has signed an exclusive agreement with the New Zealand Institute of Plant & Food Research to expand the marketing of its patented technology to corn, wheat, soybean and cotton farmers in the United States.

The technology — developed over 30 years out of Plant & Food Research, a New Zealand Crown Research Institute, and guided and shaped for international markets by IP investor Powerhouse Ventures — enables growers using the firm’s predictive modelling systems to pinpoint the best times to apply nutrients and to conserve precious water for maximum plant yields.

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Angels provide the fuel for Rockit Apples to hit world markets

It took a decision from the United Nations before Havelock North grower Phil Alison could call his Rockit miniature apples, apples.

Slightly bigger than a golf ball, the New Zealand-grown variety looks and tastes like a normal apple but was too small to fit the UN’s minimum size grade.

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Investment leads to solving dairying dilemma with data

Software gives farmers a simple tool to help keep waterways clean.

Wellington agritech firm ReGen is helping dairy farmers manage a key issue – disposing of the effluent that cows produce.

The company’s ReGen Effluent system uses on-farm hardware that constantly measures soil moisture, soil temperature and rainfall, then transmits that data to ReGen’s servers, where it is processed by the company’s software.

On-farm systems that record such measurements aren’t new, but ReGen’s innovation lies in its software, which turns the data into a simple daily recommendation. This is sent to the farmer by text message, instructing them either to irrigate effluent out on to their farm, or not.

It’s an important daily decision for farmers, says Bridgit Hawkins, ReGen’s chief executive. “Irrigate effluent on to ground that’s too wet, for example, and it can either run off the surface or flow straight through the soil; either way, potentially ending up in waterways.”

There are tools that allow farmers to check via their computers how much rain they’ve had or what their soil moisture is, but the farmer is still left asking “what does that mean for me on my farm for this particular activity today?”, says Hawkins.

“That’s what we feel is really innovative about us, because generating that recommendation is quite a hard thing to do. It’s easy to display some data on a graph, but much harder to decipher what that means, relative to the key activities on a farm.”

ReGen has customers around New Zealand, but is particularly focused on Southland, where the regional council is relatively prescriptive in terms of how farmers manage effluent, says Hawkins.

“Our customers tend to be early adopters of technology, but we’re now starting to see the next wave of ‘fast followers’ come on board. There’s increasing regulatory pressure on farmers to address environmental issues related to a number of different farm activities, and that’s leading to further opportunities for the company.”

ReGen is also developing a service related to water irrigation, and this year launched a product to help farmers make decisions on the use of nitrogen fertilisers for grass growth.

“Again, there’s a real environmental benefit from using the nitrogen tool, because every time a farmer applies nitrogen and it’s not used to grow grass it ultimately ends up being leached,” says Hawkins. “That’s wasted money for farmers in terms of the cost of the fertiliser, but it’s also a part of how nitrogen ends up in waterways.”

ReGen was formed in 2010, but the genesis of its technology stretches back to 2006, when Hawkins was leading the rural development programme at data science firm Harmonic, and doing some work with researchers at Massey University.

One of the researchers’ areas of interest was deferred irrigation – delaying irrigating out effluent until conditions are right. Mixing that with Harmonic’s data-science focus sparked the ReGen Effluent concept, which was subsequently backed by other industry partners and government R&D support.

In 2011 the firm also attracted interest from New Zealand’s angel investment community, led by life-science/clean-tech investors and venture developers Pacific Channel and the Wellington-based angel investment group Angel HQ.

It was novice angel investor Paul Waddington’s first angel investment and he says several things piqued his interest in the company: Hawkins’ track record in the agricultural sector; the relatively large domestic opportunity for the technology; and its offshore potential.

“The other major attraction with ReGen is it’s a decision-support tool,” says Waddington. “It’s doing more than just gathering and displaying data; it’s actually making recommendations, which is the future in terms of technology, particularly with the advent of big data.”

Produced in conjunction with the Angel Association of New Zealand.

First published in the New Zealand Herald on Friday July 4 2014

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Angel investment in two firms backs new particle analysis technology

The technology aims to make it easier and quicker to test and treat animals in the field. Photo / Tania Webb

Greg Mirams’ initial foray into the investment world didn’t go so well. The founder of animal parasite diagnostics company Techion Group was no stranger to capital raising, having set up, sold and bought back Techion. But when he tried to get investment for a new technology that could transform his business he was left out in the cold despite an intensive six-month courtship.

“It was crushing,” he says.

Mirams was seeking $300,000 for Menixis, a start-up company he co-founded with nano-scientist and director of Otago University’s applied science programme Stephen Sowerby.

Menixis holds the intellectual property to a new particle analysis technology developed over more than two years by Sowerby and Mirams. It could transform particle analysis in the field, replacing the need for microscopes or the skills to use microscopes to accurately identify and count particles, such as the number and type of parasitic eggs in a sample of animal faecal matter.

Mirams developed the technology to update Techion’s internationally popular parasitic diagnostic tool Fecpak to make it easier and quicker for farmers to test and treat their animals in the field.

It will also bolster Techion’s revenue by increasing its own monitoring and advisory capacities.

To Mirams the whole deal was a no-brainer. Why wouldn’t you invest in a new technology that already had a customer not only willing but keen to sell it to its significant local and international customer base, built up over more than 20 years?

Fortunately Mirams had been introduced to angel investor Bill Murphy, who decided to champion Mirams’ cause in his Bay of Plenty Enterprise Angel group.

“I just passionately believed we shouldn’t let this opportunity to invest in some significant new primary industry technology pass us by,” says Murphy.

Mirams pitched again, but was thrown when told the Angels liked the product, but wanted to roll Menixis’ technology into Techion and then invest in Techion. “We wanted to secure the connect between the IP and the market,” explains Murphy.

But that didn’t work for Mirams.

He argued that first, Techion had multiple business activities, complex operations and an established shareholder structure; second, Menixis co-founders Sowerby and Otago Innovation would end up with a relatively small shareholding in Techion, which wouldn’t give them as much incentive to continue to develop the technology; and third, the technology itself had far more potential than just animal parasitology (Techion’s focus).

“There are potential applications for this technology in the area of microscopic analysis of any small particle including algal blooms, pollen analysis and in the petrochemical and forensic evidence industries, none of which I know anything about, so Techion just isn’t the right vehicle for that. There’s also this massive opportunity for improving the speed of human parasite diagnostics.”

Murphy and his 13 co-investors at Enterprise Angels agreed and a novel deal was struck to invest in both Menixis and Techion to give Mirams the capital he needed to turn the technology into a commercially saleable product.

Mirams and Murphy say this deal could have implications for investors and companies. Both get the security of investing in growing existing revenue streams, plus the upside of investing in new and potentially even bigger revenue streams.

“My hope is this deal becomes a kind of blueprint for a new New Zealand growth model,” says Mirams.

Produced in conjunction with Angel Association of New Zealand

First published in the New Zealand Thursday November 21 2013

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BioLumic raises GD1 funding for offshore growth

Plant science company BioLumic has successfully completed a new investment round with backing from the Global from Day One programme (GD1). The investment will finance customer trials and a foray into international markets.

BioLumic is a Palmerston North company which is commercialising ultra violet light technology developed to improve crop growth within large scale horticultural systems. Its proprietary UV and ‘Smart Array’technology is able to control plant size, growth, stress tolerance and a range of consumer quality attributes in a way that has never beforebeen commercially achievable. “BioLumic is a very attractive investment proposition due to the significant potential of its technology to increase returns for high volume vegetable and algae growers internationally,” says GD1 chief executive Greg Sitters.

“The company is still at an early stage of developing technology that has massive worldwide applicability. The technology will revolutionise the way plants are grown. This kind of early stage investment in companies with immediate global potential is precisely the sort of opportunity which GD1 is very interested in backing.”

“BioLumic is fortunate to have the backing of a GD1 investment to follow our initial fundraising through the MIG Angels’ Fund 1 and the New Zealand Venture Investment Fund’s SCIF fund,” says Warren Bebb, BioLumic general manager.

“This latest investment enables us to conduct extra customer trials and engage more with potential international partners and markets. As a result of this funding, we will be in a strong position to have our first product in market by the end of 2014.”

The science behind BioLumic was developed by Dr Jason Wargent, an applied plant physiologist at Massey University. The company was founded in November 2012. Palmerston North-based BCC has to date managed the commercialisation process, and the company has also received a Callaghan Innovation Project Grant and a loan from the Central Energy Trust.

“The MIG Angels identified BioLumic as a company with high potential and invested in it through MIG Fund 1,” says Mike Creed, who represents MIG Fund 1 on the BioLumic board. “We are happy with the progress the company has made so far and absolutely welcome the investment by GD1. Increasing the cash on hand will give the company a bit more breathing space as it works towards its milestones.”

Bebb says BioLumic will soon begin customer trials at two sites in the North Island; the company will start small-scale customer trials later this month, and larger scale customer trials are scheduled to begin in November.

BioLumic has recently completed filing its PCT patent in New Zealand and, over the next year, says Bebb, the company will determine in which other countries to file. He expects the first commercial prototype to be available for testing by the end of 2013 and the second prototype, incorporating modifications of the first, is planned for trials in mid-2014. The company expects to be in production towards the end of 2014.

BioLumic (www.BioLumic.com)

BioLumic is a plant science company based on science developed at Massey University. Through manipulating exposure to doses of UV light, BioLumic’s IP has been shown to optimise plant growth for desired effects including yield, disease control, colour and flavour. Current applications of the technology are being developed that include treatments for transplant crop seedling quality; growth and quality regulation of fully indoor produced leafy vegetables and high-value salad herbs; and pathogenic disease treatments for a range of horticultural crops. The company is also investigating other applications of the technology such as manipulation of desired characteristics in the biological material for nutraceuticals, pharmaceuticals and algae.

Global from Day One (www.globaldayone.com)

GD1 is a seed investment fund which has up to $4.6 million available for investment – having raised $2.3 million from private investors and with access to matching co-investment from the New Zealand Venture Investment Fund. It aims to invest into around 25 start-up companies with international ambitions over the next four years. Nationally-focused early stage investor Sparkbox Ventures is managing the fund.

MIG Fund 1 (www.thebcc.co.nz/cms/page.php?view=mig)

Established in 2007, MIG Fund 1 targets potential investments at the seed and start-up phase of emerging businesses. Potential investments can be in any sector and come from across New Zealand, although MIG Angels are particularly interested in potential investments from the wider Manawatu region. With the fund nearly fully-subscribed, the MIG Angels are planning to launch MIG Fund 2 in 2014.

BCC (www.thebcc.co.nz)

Based in Palmerston North, BCC turns innovative ideas into thriving new businesses. It secures investment funding to grow technology businesses, offers management support and mentoring for start-ups, and facilitates the journey from concept to commercialization.

Media contact
Warren Bebb
General Manager
BioLumic Ltd.
DDI +64 6 352 0102 M +64 21 799 257
[email protected]

For GD1, contact David Lewis 021-976 119

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Avocado processor eyes bright future

Avocado-processing company, Vocado, with it’s innovative product has been drawn to Tauranga to be closer to investors and business advisers.

Vocado uses an innovative processing and packaging technique to produce easy-to-use and long-living avocado pulp products.

The company this year received a significant investment from Bay of Plenty angel investment group Enterprise Angels to help it relocate its manufacturing facility from Taneatua in the eastern Bay of Plenty to a new factory in Judea.

Twelve Enterprise Angels investors put $335,000 in Vocado, while a matching investment of $250,000 by the Government’s Seed Co-Investment Fund brought the total investment to $585,000.

In addition to the new money, the Enterprise Angels deal has connected Vocado with key players in the avocado industry who will help the company with supply and export challenges.

Vocado managing director Colin Elder said the move gave the company the capacity to expand, and allowed easy access to new investors and advisers.

“We needed some depth of experience and we’ve got that now so I’m absolutely delighted with the people we’ve picked up and who have supported us in this investment.”

Vocado uses a production process which aims to get the avocado pulp into an oxygen-free environment as soon as possible so that the fruit doesn’t brown. The pulp is then packaged in resealable, plastic pouches to keep it fresh and sold to commercial users such as Hell Pizza and Pita Pit.

“We purposely targeted franchises that were already using avocado and we’re taking over from imported products, we’re not competing directly with any New Zealand supplied products and that’s intentional on our part because it’s a small market and we want to be export driven.”

Vocado is working on setting up a second production line in its Koromiko St factory. There was room in the factory for a third production line if needed, Mr Elder said.

The company’s production manager will be moving to Tauranga in January and local people will be employed in the future. “We see about five people employed, with another couple of people per production line that we manage to put in.”

Enterprise Angels chief executive Bill Murphy said the large investment and quality of the investors/advisers had drawn the company to Tauranga.

“It was important to us to have Colin close by the expertise we have here, it makes it easier for us to really engage and help the company.”

The Vocado deal represented a positive trend towards local investing, Mr Murphy said.

“Including the Vocado deal, we’ve invested in eight companies this year and, of those eight companies, three are Bay of Plenty companies.”

First published in the New Zealand Herald on Wednesday September 11 2013

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Biofuel venture an ‘act of faith’

The investment appeal of biofuels seems clear – growing populations urgently need alternatives to scarce and expensive fossil fuels.

So when a company finds a way to remove naturally occurring algae from water and other waste streams (such as forestry waste) and convert them into biofuel, the commercial potential is immense – even more so when a byproduct of the process is clean, fresh drinking water.

NXT Fuels, formerly Aquaflow, was formed in 2005. Within a year it had produced a bio-diesel derived from wild micro-algae. Its patented process treats wastewater and creates “green crude oil” without genetic modification of the algae.

A renewable hydrocarbon fuel that’s virtually greenhouse gas-neutral and compatible with existing infrastructure sounds like an investor’s dream.

But NXT founding director and angel investor Nick Gerritsen said convincing those who’ve grown rich from one technology to migrate to another was always a challenge, so turning a clean technology business into one that’s sustainably profitable requires resilient, patient investors.

Gerritsen’s investment firm, Crispstart, specialises in renewable energy start-ups and what he calls “clean tech”. He recognised the potential of NXT’s business model from the outset but was savvy enough to know there were many hurdles between start-up and payback.

“It’s in a zone that’s extremely hard to crack from a new-tech perspective. In this sector, people always want as much volume as possible for as few dollars as possible,” Gerritsen said.

NXT Fuels director Anake Goodall joined the company only recently. He describes himself as a “professional director and social entrepreneur”.

Goodall met Gerritsen in 2008 in Singapore at an event focused on the sustainability of global freshwater supplies. “We struck up a conversation and stayed in touch through a series of serendipitous encounters in true ‘Kiwi village’ style”, said Goodall, who looks more like a rock band manager than someone you’d expect to see in a corporate boardroom.

For Goodall, it was a compelling prospect to be involved in a company that could potentially remedy rising carbon dioxide levels and find a greener way to replace the world’s diminishing fossil fuel reserves.

“NXT’s technology makes possible an important part of the sustainable future the planet so clearly needs and provides the lowest cost transition bridge possible. And it’s available today and is being led from humble Aotearoa New Zealand,” Goodall said.

He is equally enthusiastic about his new business partner.

“Nick is extraordinarily visionary, passionate and focused. These are all prerequisites for this transformative space, which is almost by definition unwelcoming, dismissive and lonely. This isn’t a role for the faint-hearted investor or entrepreneur.”

Angel investment was indispensable to ventures such as NXT, Goodall said. “Start-ups, especially those in uncharted waters like NXT Fuels, are at one level acts of faith. Established industry money is usually trapped in its own business-as-usual understanding of the world and knows all the reasons why this won’t work.”

But NXT is already harvesting revenue as well as algae – $122,669 after expenses in 2011 for its United States and New Zealand-based projects. As it makes the transition from technology researcher to implementer, the company is by requirement shifting its sights from angel investors to industrial-scale project design and delivery capital.

But Goodall said the small, immature and relatively conservative New Zealand capital market remained an obstacle.

“We struggle to establish a national vision that’s solidly supported by central Government. In this context a sum of, say, $200 million for a commercial-scale refinery is a significant barrier to overcome.”

Every proposition in Gerritsen’s portfolio to date has been angel-backed and while raising capital this way continues to be fundamental to his approach, clean-tech projects require more capital for deployment than traditional businesses.

“Obviously we make it clear from the outset that these are early-stage companies and there’s a real risk we could all lose our capital,” he said.

Gerritsen is a lawyer and former intellectual property consultant.

It might seem relatively unusual for a lawyer to move into the rollercoaster world of angel investment, but he says the move came naturally to him. He sees his role ebbing and flowing over a business’ lifecycle.

“I invest in the companies every day with my time – and often cash too. So I’m a blend of both angel investor and entrepreneur, probably more entrepreneur.”

As a result, his portfolio includes everything from renewable fuels to carbon refining and digital manufacturing. “I just engage with stuff that resonates with me.”

Produced in association with the Angel Association New Zealand.

First published in the New Zealand Herald on Thursday August 15 2013

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Aduro Biopolymers secures investment from Wallace Corporation

Hamilton-based Aduro Biopolymers, a natural resource materials and biopolymer company, today announced it has secured investment from Wallace Corporation, by volume New Zealand’s largest service rendering business, processing a variety of co-products from the meat processing industry. Aduro Biopolymers is a spin-out company formed by WaikatoLink Limited, the technology transfer office of the University of Waikato. The company was formed to develop and market materials and biopolymers for use in the manufacturing sector. The company is currently developing a novel material based on an unconventional idea; turning bloodmeal into bioplastic.

“Aduro Biopolymers has developed an innovative method for the production of bioplastics made from by-products of the red meat and poultry industries,” says Graham Shortland, CEO of Wallace Corporation. “We’re always looking for innovative ways to turn new and existing raw materials into higher value products in order to sustainably deliver superior returns to our meat processing partners.”

“We’ve been very impressed by the team at WaikatoLink and their track record in commercialisation as well as the quality of research from the University of Waikato. This investment is part of a broader strategy and the start of a partnership that will allow us to bring new research from the University into our business.”

Duncan Mackintosh, the Chief Executive of WaikatoLink says, “It’s fantastic to secure investment at such a key point in the company’s development. We’re also delighted to have Sir James Wallace join the Aduro board. Aduro Biopolymers is a great example of an early stage innovative company based on publically funded research. It’s encouraging to see a successful established company like Wallace Corporation value this innovation and its commercial promise as part of its strategy. This partnership will help the success of Aduro and open up new opportunities too.”

Aduro Polymers aim is to develop environmentally conscious materials for the manufacturing and construction sectors. The company’s first product is Novatein, a bioplastic that will be price competitive with petrochemical plastics. The global plastics market is worth over a trillion dollars and currently bioplastics represent 5-10% of that market, with a compounded annual growth rate of almost 20%.

Darren Harpur, Acting CEO of Aduro Biopolymers says, “The manufacturing process for Novatein is quite simple. This means the capital costs required to commence manufacture will be relatively low and should enable the cost effective production of Novatein. There is a growing demand for environmentally friendly plastics but they need to be at the right price point for consumers. We are confident we can achieve this price point with Novatein.”

The science behind Novatein originated and continues to be developed by the University of Waikato’s Dr Johan Verbeek and his team, where bloodmeal produced by the red meat industry is processed into granules which have been modified and optimised to suit a chosen product’s attributes. The granules can then be manufactured into injection moulded or extruded products using industry standard equipment. Novatein has been in development since 2007 and has received investment support from KiwiNet’s PreSeed Accelerator Fund from the Ministry of Science and Innovation.

Harpur says, “As consumers, we’re all aware of the effects of plastics on the environment. Novatein will help solve some of those problems by introducing a bioplastic made from naturally occurring materials that on their own quickly degrade in the environment. We think that this aspect combined with a simple manufacturing process will enable our technology to be adopted quite rapidly.”

University of Waikato Vice-Chancellor Professor Roy Crawford says the work done by Dr Verbeek and his team has garnered much interest as it has developed and it is pleasing to see the investment by Wallace Corporation. “At the University of Waikato we promote the delivery of world-changing and relevant research. In this case we have research that takes low value co-product of the red meat industry and creates a biodegradable plastic. I consider that highly relevant to our world and is an excellent example of research that is making a difference.”

Aduro Biopolymers is working with commercial partners in New Zealand and Australia to develop Novatein for a range of product lines. The company is also looking to work with New Zealand research organisations to develop new and novel materials from other natural resource polymers.

Further information:

Sandra Lukey
Shine Group (PR for WaikatoLink)
Mobile: +64 21 2262 858
Email: [email protected]

About Aduro Biopolymers

Aduro Biopolymers is a natural resource biopolymer company. Their lead product is Novatein, a biopolymer formulation using bloodmeal which is a co-product of the red meat industry. Aduro Biopolymers is a spin-out company formed by WaikatoLink Limited, the technology transfer office of the University of Waikato. For more on Novatein see www.novatein.co.nz

About Wallace Corporation

Wallace Corporation Limited was formed in 1994 to consolidate several unique businesses. One of those businesses had been operating a rendering plant, principally for dead cows, at Waitoa since the early 1930’s, and was purchased by Mr JD Wallace in 1939. The other businesses, established by James H Wallace, were Wallford Meats (NZ) Ltd, Eureka Hides & Skins Ltd and Wallace Industries Ltd. Recently Wallace Meats was acquired by Silver Fern farms. Today Wallace Corporation employs up to 150 staff. The Company is a significant exporter with over 80 percent of sales being to the Europe, Australia, China and Southern Asia. Wallace Corporation has a commitment to building an industry based on the future rather than on the past. www.wallace.co.nz

About WaikatoLink

WaikatoLink Limited is a world class technology development and investment company, with a strong track record in translating research outcomes into commercial applications and technologies. As a wholly-owned subsidiary of the University of Waikato, it achieves this by identifying, managing and commercialising the University’s intellectual property. WaikatoLink works closely with industry, investors and researchers to identify and develop market opportunities for new technologies, and plays a key role in University knowledge transfer for economic transformation. Since its establishment in 2002, WaikatoLink has completed numerous licensing deals and established more than 12 start-up companies and joint ventures, which have collectively created more than 138 full-time equivalent jobs and achieved market capitalisation nearing NZ$200 million. Three of its start-ups have already been successfully exited. www.waikatolink.co.nz

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Heilala Vanilla secures investment

Tauranga-based Heilala Vanilla has signed an investment deal which will see the New Zealand Venture Investment Fund and Tauranga-based consortium Enterprise Angels BOP take a 45 per cent stake for an undisclosed sum.

Enterprise Angels involves 12 individual investors, including Kapiti Cheeses founder Ross McCallum and vodka brand 42 Below founder Geoff Ross.

Heilala sales and marketing manager Jennifer Boggiss said a huge capital investment and outlay went into developing export markets.

“We’ve started but there’s a long way to go and so not only are they bringing capital but they’re also bringing contacts and expertise, which is invaluable,” she said.

“We could have continued doing it ourselves and got there eventually but this is basically to fast-track it.”

The business was profitable but that was not a deal breaker for the new investors.

“They’ve got a long-term view and it’s all about building a brand.”

The investment deal would provide a capital injection to expand the business and ramp up exports to Australia, US and southeast Asia, while new opportunities in the US, UK and Japan would be explored this year.

Consumers were more aware of where their food came from and wanted to use quality ingredients, Boggiss said.

The company was focused on high-end food markets, including products for retail, food service and manufacturers, such as a packet of three vanilla pods and a jar of paste which sell for about $15 and $23 respectively.

Boggiss was an accountant and her husband worked in information technology, when in 2005 her father brought back the first vanilla pods from the Tongan plantation.

“Then, we wouldn’t have envisaged what we’re doing now so it’s definitely been bigger than what we expected and more exciting.”

First appeared in the New Zealand Herald on Tuesday Feb 7 2012

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Tauranga entrepreneurs ‘silent’

First published in the New Zealand Herald on Wednesday May 2, 2012

Tauranga-based Enterprise Angels has made its third investment in a Wellington IT company and is looking at other start-up businesses outside the region.

With more than $4 million to invest, Enterprise Angels is wondering what all the Western Bay entrepreneurs are doing.

“First and foremost we’d like to invest in Bay companies, but we don’t have opportunities – there’s still a deafening silence from local entrepreneurs,” said Bill Murphy, executive director of Enterprise Angels.

Since November, Enterprise Angels has grown its membership to 55, making it the second largest angel investor group in New Zealand behind ICE Angels in Auckland.

Nearly every month, Enterprise Angels receives presentations from young and ambitious companies in a Dragons’ Den atmosphere.

Frances Manwaring and Marie-Claire Andrews, of SmartShow, presented in February and eight of the Enterprise Angels investors decided to pledge $90,000 to be used for product development and marketing overseas.

SmartShow was looking to raise a total of $350,000 and, after an earlier raising of $275,000, the Wellington-based IT company was suddenly oversubscribed with the Enterprise Angels investment.

“The people are important when it comes to investing in companies and the two ladies were high energy, talented and very focused,” said Mr Murphy.

SmartShow has produced a smartphone application for events, exhibitions and conferences. ShowGizmo automatically generates QR codes that are scanned by iPhones (and numeric codes tapped into BlackBerry phones) as people walk into the exhibition.

The phone then collects and stores event information, including exhibitor profiles, contact details, brochures and prizes that can be downloaded later. It saves taking away a bagful of paper.

SmartShow’s customers are the event organisers who pay a fee to use the ShowGizmo.

On the same day as SmartShow, Caldera Health from Auckland and Super Recovery from Nelson presented. Caldera has developed a new diagnostic programme for detecting prostate cancer and Super Recovery has made a natural product from a blackcurrant derivative that is fed to horses to aid their recovery after racing.

A month later, BioBrew from Rotorua, Kahne from Auckland and Dunedin’s Lifetime Health Diary presented, and some Enterprise Angels investors will be in discussions with these companies – particularly since two of them are in their areas of strength; agritech.

BioBrew, which has been operating for three years, makes fresh, living microbial brews that are fed to cows to help their digestion.

Kahne has radio frequency instruments that are inserted into the stomach and rear of the cows to measure their fertility. The instruments send information to the farmers to modify the cows’ feed and choose the best time to get them pregnant.

Lifetime Health Diary has developed an online diary, used by doctors and patients, to track people’s health over 10 years. Trials are being conducted by Southland District Health Board and companies in the United States.

Earlier, Enterprise Angels made large investments in Te Puna-based Reunion Food Co, which produces the natural Heilala Vanilla products, and the Havelock North Fruit Co, which has exclusive marketing rights for a small, sweet-flavoured apple called Rockit and is packaged in tennis ball-type tubes.

After sending through its latest financial results, Mr Murphy said Heilala Vanilla had exceeded its sales and profit targets for the past year and was making a strong sales push into Australia.

Last November, Enterprise Angels signed a partnership agreement with the New Zealand Venture Investment Fund which will match private or angel investment up to $500,000 per company through its seed co-investment fund (Scif), which has $40 million available.

Enterprise Angels is also looking to launch a Sidecar Fund of about $1 million so investors can make more small investments and build up a portfolio of companies.

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