Lightning jolt on offer to startups

Ten New Zealand startup companies could be getting fast tracked into the business world, with the launch next year of Auckland accelerator programme Lightning Lab.

The programme was founded by Wellington-based Creative HQ, which has since run two rounds of the Lightning Lab programme.

The success of the three-month mentoring programmes has led to expansion into Auckland and Christchurch.

Lightning Lab Auckland director Mark MacLeod-Smith said the programme was a great opportunity for start ups to accelerate their growth with seed funding from the programme as well as mentors and support.

“There’s a lot of companies up here that are looking for funding and looking for expertise and networks, and so that’s what we’re trying to provide,” MacLeod-Smith said.
“Giving access to these amazing mentors that possess experiences and have run tech companies and have networks they can open up, can really help grow these businesses throughout the programme.”

Ian Bishop, chief executive of coaching administration business CoachSeek which went through the Wellington programme last year, said the experience and guidance it had provided had significantly accelerated company growth. CoachSeek now has more than 400 customers in 40 countries, with Bishop saying that the company “simply would not be where [it is] today without having gone through the Lightning Lab programme”.

“I think the main thing for me is especially the early days of any startup, are absolutely crazy, and so Lightning Lab provided a proven structure to the early stage chaos,” Bishop said.

“To my mind it’s the single best opportunity here in New Zealand to fully focus on making an idea work, and like I said, it’s not just the money it’s the expertise and the networks it provides.”

The 10 companies will be selected early next year, with applications for the programme closing on December 17. Each of the companies receives seed funding of $18,000 as well as mentoring and programme support from a group of tech and business mentors, with the Lightning Lab programme taking an equity stake in each of the companies in return.

This year’s mentors include Greg Cross from PowerbyProxy, Vaughan Rowsell from Vend, Ben Young from digital agency Young & Shand, Claudia Batten entrepreneur and a number of others. MacLeod-Smith said the Lightning Lab team would be looking for digital and technology companies of a range of sizes and backgrounds.

“We’re looking for companies with anything from an idea with initial work, through to paying customers with revenue,” MacLeod-Smith said.

“It’s been fantastic what Wellington’s been able to achieve so obviously we’re looking to grow on that and make sure it’s a success nationally”

Applications for the programme close on December 17, with accepted companies chosen next year. The programme runs from March through to May.

Intensive mentoring

What is the Lightning Lab programme?
Lightning Lab is a 12-week intensive mentoring programme for startup companies providing mentors, networking and seed funding.

Who can apply?
Any small to medium company with an idea and a team through to a formed company with customers and revenue.

When do companies need to apply by?
Applications for the programme close on December 17.

First published on nzherald.co.nz 20 November 2014

System gives coaches a business edge

Ian Bishop was buried in paperwork. He was spending almost as much time in front of his computer as with clients on the tennis court.

“Here I was with a growing coaching business and a team of dedicated coaches and it’s embarrassing to admit, but I was running off 150 separate spreadsheets just to keep it all going.”

Bishop went shopping, and was surprised to find nothing like a Vend (software solutions for retailers) or Xero (accountancy software for small businesses) occupying the sports management niche. So together with his business partners, IT sales and marketing manager Shaun Fitzmaurice and web developer Matthew Skilton, decided to invent something. They called it Coachseek.

After putting the business concept through its paces in Wellington’s business accelerator Lightning Lab, they realised they had stumbled on to a much more common problem than anticipated, says Bishop, chief executive of Coachseek.
“We surveyed hundreds of coaches around the world, across many disciplines, and found that 80 per cent were using some form of spreadsheet or paper-based system to run their business, all to varying degrees of accuracy and reliability.

“So there’s an interesting paradox in the sports coaching industry where coaches are using cutting edge technology in their coaching, but are stuck with out-of-date systems for how they run their businesses.”

Bishop says he’s seen how technology has filtered into the everyday life of a sports coach, from heart-rate monitors to video analysis apps, but it hasn’t really reached the back office.

“Through the pain I was experiencing in my own business, I had a natural interest in understanding how technology could benefit the way a coach operates their business.”

Coachseek pitched for funds at Lightning Lab’s May demonstration day. By September, the company had secured more than $450,000 through Auckland’s angel (early-stage) investment group Ice Angels and Wellington’s AngelHQ.

First published on nzherald.co.nz 20 November 2014

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