Did the wings work?

This update provides an unvarnished look at where the 2013 cohort of showcase companies are a year later. It illustrates the ups and the downs, the challengers and the cheer leaders. All part of being a start up venture and of course the journey that angel investors are part of too. It’s not for the faint hearted. We need to unrelentingly celebrate, support and applaud the founders and investors who are willing to get involved.


Anthony Dixon is happy to be back. The chief executive of electronics technology company Times-7 was in front of New Zealand’s angel community again at the annual showcase investment event, but this time he had a lot more to smile about.

Accompanied by a new lead investor from Silicon Valley, Jo Major, Dixon appeared at the 2014 showcase as part of a joint US-New Zealand capital raising which aims to bring in $1.5 million. The goal is to fast-track sales of the company’s slimline antennas for the radio-frequency identification (RFID) or smart-tag market.

“Revenues have been growing but not as fast as we want,” says Dixon. “We met all our initial targets from [our last $600,000 investment round] … and now that we have an established brand and reputation, it’s time to more effectively leverage those credentials, which can only be done with dedicated resources in our most important market.”
Dixon had a hard time nailing the first $600,000, but the past year has been much, much better, he says, with the RFID market really taking off.

“We’re looking to transition our high volume [products] to a contract manufacturer by the end of this year … and we have a US-based senior sales executive already lined up. It’s a great journey to be on.”

Syl Semantics

Less enthused was former showcase golden guy Sean Wilson from Syl Semantics.

With an impressive early client list, including the NZ Police, Syl Semantics’ clever search and big data management technology closed its first investment round oversubscribed at $1.5 million. However conflicting advice and market signals shelved initial plans for a big US push after the company didn’t secure the capital its directors thought it needed to make the jump.

Wilson and his team have since returned their focus to New Zealand and (with partner Datacom) Australia.

“It’s been a bit of a tough time, but isn’t that what most early stage tech companies experience from time to time?” says Wilson.

“We’re adapting to the environment, re-scoping our plan and are still confident of meeting our revenue plan this year.”

Star86 (BigLittleBang)

Another feeling the heat of international expansion is Star86, which pocketed $1.2 million, $200,000 more than targeted, after the first showcase round. At the time, founder Chris White was upbeat after hiring a new chief technical officer and a new US-based chief marketing officer to help promote the company’s flagship product, a kids’ virtual music-making world (renamed Star86 from BigLittleBang after competitor issues). But in July the company pulled the plug on the product.

White is now based overseas and could not be reached for comment, but after repeated requests a statement attributed to Claudia Batten, Star86 chairman and well known Kiwi IT entrepreneur, was supplied, stating: “Star86 is in the process of moving to the US.” Other sources say the company isn’t dead, but is soon expected to “pivot” (change focus or target market).


Biotech company Polybatics has also pivoted, after raising less than half of its $1.5 million target at the last showcase. Chief executive and seasoned capital raiser Tracy Thompson says the company is now focused on developing a tuberculosis diagnostic test for the dairy and deer industries, using its patented technology, which allows it to grow protein-covered, biodegradable, bionanoparticles, or “bio-beads”. Beads are used to produce a host of industrial and medical products.

To reach this point Polybatics had to raise another $2 million this year, to add to the $4.5 million raised previously. Thompson expects the new diagnostic to be on the market next year.


Fellow life sciences company IM-Able finally achieved its capital raising target of $1.5 million ($250,000 more than first sought) in September, more than two years after climbing on to the capital raising treadmill.

Chief executive Elliott Kernohan says now the company has achieved its target, it can move its “ableX” rehabilitation technology – designed to help people with neurological disabilities regain their abilities – to the cloud, to ease sales, distribution and use. The technology has also been deployed in a major clinical trial at Royal Melbourne Hospital and discussions and pilot projects are under way in other overseas markets, he says.

IndieReign and Shift72

Online film distribution company IndieReign is still going great guns, says founder David White from Los Angeles. “We are signing up customers faster than we can deploy them.” But the biggest growth has come from IndieReign’s business-to-business sister company, Shift72, set up to capitalise on unexpected demand for IndieReign’s secure video on demand technology from US distributors and producers.

The companies now employ 10 staff in Hamilton, two in Australia and three in India, though 80 per cent of business is in the US.

White is now kicking off a new capital raising round to accelerate US sales, set up a sales and marketing team in LA and hire more software engineers to keep up with demand for Shift72.

First published on nzherald.co.nz on 21 November 2014

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