To share or not to share: is knowing your co-workers’ salary the key to closing the gender pay gap?

Mish.Guru, a social media content and analytics start-up, has become one of the latest companies in New Zealand to endorse transparent pay systems as a way to tackle gender pay disparity. But are these shared models really as effective as they seem, or are they just another trendy, token gesture?

Founded in 2014, Mish.Guru is a content marketing software that helps business create and manage campaigns on Snapchat and Instagram. After scoring investments from AngelHQ, Sparkbox, ICE Angels and various others the company started to transition their main revenue stream from service to product, as well as expanding to offices in Berlin, Sydney and New York.

Despite solid success with clients like Paramount Pictures, Visa and McDonalds, Mish.Guru’s team knew that succeeding in the tech industry wasn’t easy, especially for the women in their team.

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Snapchat gurus get big bucks for US mission

The power of the eco-system, including accelerators and angel investors is powerfully illustrated in Mish Guru’s story.

After one accelerator programme, a spell in a start-up incubator and a tonne of two minute noodles, digital venture Mish Guru has a springboard of nearly half a million dollars to break into the US market.

It’s the place to be for founder Tom Harding and his team, because their software is designed to help businesses get bang for their marketing buck on Snapchat. And a big chunk of Snapchat’s hip, young user base is in the US—by late last year, 14 percent of mobile internet users were active Snapchat users, matched only the UK.

With work for music festivals like Rhythm and Vines, sports teams like the Breakers, Bigpipe Broadband and the band Jupiter Project on the company’s CV, Harding’s moved to the Big Apple to seize the growth opportunity.

Read more on www.idealog.co.nz

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Kiwi start-up Notable gains angel investment

Kiwi start-up Notable has attracted funding from US investors YCombinator, a start-up accelerator, and Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund in its latest round of capital raising.

The Auckland-based company has just closed its third fundraising round for an undisclosed amount with a range of angel investors including the two US investors, Flying Kiwi Angels, the NZ Venture Investment Fund, Sparkbox Ventures Group and EFU, the NZ investment company of Japanese billionaire Soichiro Fukutake.

Notable has built a cloud-based PDF viewer with tools that help users annotate and collaborate on files. The company says the SaaS (software as a service) platform works on all browsers and integrates with Google Drive.

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• Student life made easier with note-sharing app
A new testimonial on Notable’s website from Founders Fund partner Scott Nolan said Notable PDF had “solved one of the cloud’s most stubborn pain points: collaboration through PDFs”, while Altman said “we are still in the early days of online collaboration and Notable PDF is one of the most exciting leaps forward I have seen.”

Notable was founded by three 20-something Auckland University students, Hengji Wang, Alliv Samson and Jordan Thoms, who remain the major shareholders.

They were finalists in the university’s annual Spark Challenge in 2012 and set up the company the following year.

Growth has accelerated in the past year since the company pivoted the app from just being aimed at students taking notes to all users.

It has had over 500,000 users and 1 million downloads since March 2014 and is now the leading PDF viewer app on the Google web store.

The start-up is chasing both the education and professional sectors and will use the additional funds to build more business partnerships, particularly in North America, and on product development and hiring more staff.

Some 80 per cent of users are US-based and chairman Bob Drummond said that follows a decision last year in the US for K12 schools to use Google Chromebooks, for which there are a limited range of apps, as the standard technology.

“There’s enormous potential for growth in the US with a lot of schools and enterprises that have not been involved yet.

Both market segments are growing at a parallel quantum rate,” he said.

The start-up’s focus is on growth rather than profitability at this stage, Drummond said.

Users can download the app for free or pay for premium versions that add on more tools, and there is special pricing for school users.

Drummond said no sales have been made to schools in New Zealand yet.

The founders have been attending a number of education conferences in the US including one in Orlando, Florida, in January where Notable’s freebie handouts included Whittaker’s chocolate.

First published on nzherald.co.nz 10 March 2015

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Kiwi start-up Notable attracts angel investment from the US for the first time

In securing funding from US investors, Notable is setting a terrific example of what is not only possible but to be enthusiastically welcomed.  Congratulations to AANZ members NZVIF, Sparkbox and Flying Kiwis who have been part of this deal.

Kiwi start-up Notable has attracted funding from US investors YCombinator, a start-up accelerator, and Peter Thiel’s Founders Fund in its latest round of capital raising.

The Auckland-based company has just closed its third fundraising round for an undisclosed amount with a range of angel investors including the two US investors, Flying Kiwi Angels, the NZ Venture Investment Fund, Sparkbox Ventures Group and EFU, the NZ investment company of Japanese billionaire Soichiro Fukutake.

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Angel investee has sound impact on literacy

Launched by New Zealand company Booktrack, the education tool Booktrack Classroom sychronises audio with text, and gives students and teachers free access to hundreds of soundtracked e-books, from famous classics to contemporary titles. Students can also create Booktracks for their own writing, and create a soundtrack from over 20 000 professional-quality audio files, and share it with their classmates.

Booktrack Classroom has multiple uses across Years 1-13 in the reading and writing curriculum, and can be used for creative writing, essay writing, literature study and reading aloud.

As Booktrack expands into the education sector, it builds on a recent successful fundraising round where it secured US$3 million in local and offshore investors, led by Sparkbox Ventures. The funding enables Booktrack to build on its recent growth with Booktrack Studio, where self-published writers are able to add soundtracks to their own ebooks. Launched in September 2013, Booktrack Studio has attracted 300 000 users, who have created more than 3600 Booktracks in 30 different languages.

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Bread man uses his loaf to beat crate conundrum

Steve Haythorne says his Mobot can save firms thousands.

In his past life as a supply chain manager, entrepreneur Steve Haythorne would send 30,000 loaves of bread from Auckland to Whangarei each night. But he noticed a problem – each of the three trucks it took to do the job was only 60 per cent full.

Haythorne’s conundrum stemmed from a baking industry convention: standard loaf crates were stacked in piles of 12 or 13, which was as high as they could be stacked to allow the delivery guys to heft them around on a handbarrow and reach the top to unload.

The stacks were too low to fill up the trucks, but still heavy and dangerous, Haythorne said.

“It’s a very labour-intensive job that involves a lot of man-handling as well as creating a dangerous environment … I thought there has to be a better way.”

After searching for some handling machinery that could do the job better drew a blank, Haythorne set about creating his own.

The result is Mobot – an all-electric, stand-on, zero-turn device designed to move items that are too small for forklifts but too heavy to be safely moved by the ubiquitous handbarrow.

A Mobot is manoeuvrable enough to work within the confines of a delivery truck.

It is capable of lifting a stack of 10 crates and then putting another 10 on top, so it can fill a delivery truck to its full height, Haythorne said.

“That results in a massive financial payback. A Mobot could save that Whangarei bread run $700,000 annually, because it can now be made by two trucks instead of three.”

The machines will also vastly improve health and safety conditions, increasing workplace productivity and reducing ACC costs, he said.

After receiving some early expressions of interest in a concept vehicle he built more than 18 months ago from his then-employer, Goodman Fielder, as well as Fonterra and bread maker Tip Top, Haythorne quit his job to work full-time on his new company, Mobotech.

“I sold my house, all my shares and went into hock on everything and just poured it all into getting a prototype vehicle together.”

A year ago Haythorne showed that prototype to the guys at angel investment firm Sparkbox Ventures. They liked what they saw and invested seed capital of $200,000 from the Global from Day One fund – a joint venture between Sparkbox and Auckland business incubator The Icehouse, with half the funding matched from the Government’s New Zealand Venture Investment Fund.

A further boost was given to the fledgling company with a $112,000 grant from Callaghan Innovation.

Sparkbox venture principal Mark Robotham said Mobots had great market potential.

“The niche market in the bread and milk sectors is enough to make the business very successful, but there are other opportunities to extend it to wider markets,” he said.

“What we’re trying to do with companies like this is get engaged very early on to ensure they reach global markets as quick as they possibly can … it’s all based on the rationale of grow fast [or] fail fast.”

Haythorne has used his seed funding to create a final prototype, which he plans to show at a world baking expo in Las Vegas this month.

He’s also about to embark on a second investment round to help fund Mobot’s manufacture and initiate sales in the US. Already having a track record with funders will make that process a lot easier, he said.

“I’m just very appreciative that the angels elected to get in behind the idea because it never would have gone anywhere without them.”

Produced in association with the Angel Association of New Zealand.

First published in the Herald on Thursday October 10 2013

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Smart-fabric sews up Angel Investment

Christchurch-based Footfalls & Heartbeats has developed a manufacturing process that uses nanotechnology within the textile structure that acts as a sensor.

The company says there’s potential for the fabric to be used in a wide range of applications, including the monitoring of patients’ vital signs in hospitals.

In its latest funding round Footfalls & Heartbeats has secured investment from the Global From Day One programme, Wellington’s Sparkbox Ventures, the Government-backed New Zealand Venture Investment Fund and a group of private investors.

The firm has also become the first Kiwi start-up to secure funding from the China Angels, an angel investment group linked to local business incubator The Icehouse made up of Chinese investors who reside in this country.

Auckland investment firm Pacific Channel already held a cornerstone shareholding in Footfalls & Heartbeats and its head, Brent Ogilvie, has become the smart fabric company’s managing director.

Ogilvie said the company’s first commercial application was a smart compression bandage, which would be used for wound care.

“We’ve signed an agreement to advance that [bandage] with a company in the US and we’re about three months from having a prototype.”

Footfalls & Heartbeats said other areas its product could be used in included monitoring of infants, stroke patients, athletes and workers in high-risk environments. There was even potential for it to be used to measure mechanical stress in satellites, aircraft wings, wind turbine blades, yacht hulls and high-performance cars.

Ogilvie said the firm planned to license its technology to other companies. The compression bandage was not expected to face any regulatory hurdles and it shouldn’t be “many more months” after the prototype is released before the product enters the market, he said.

Footfalls & Heartbeats was founded by Kiwi chemistry researcher Simon McMaster, who is now based in Britain.

AUT University and AgResearch have also been involved in the development of the fabric.

First published in the New Zealand Herald on Thursday June 6 2013

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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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