2015: The year in review

2015 has been a watershed year for the startup scene in New Zealand.  When I started this Startup of the Week blog in September, a number of people asked me, “are there really enough great startups in New Zealand to feature one every week?”  The answer is a resounding yes!

Had you asked me about New Zealand startups in 2010, I would have told you that there were patches of awesome, and things looked like they were just starting to come together. Five years on, things are really pumping, as evidenced by:

  • Thriving startup hubs in the main centres: Visit GridAKL, BizDojo, CreativeHQ, or The Greenhouse and you’ll be under no illusion that healthy and diverse startup activity abounds.
  • Entrepreneurial buzz in the regions: The BCC (Palmerston North), and Bridge Street Collective (Nelson) have been going from strength to strength for several years, and we’re seeing new players emerge in Whangarei, Tauranga, Taranaki, Hawkes Bay, and Dunedin.
  • Finally, the rise of Ag Tech startups: In prior years, there was a paucity of agricultural startups coming out of New Zealand. Now, with companies like Engender, CropX, BioLumic, eBee, and others, this sector which builds on NZ’s natural strengths looks like it’s getting to critical mass.
  • Meetups are mushrooming: I seem to be getting a couple of announcements for new startup-related meetups every month in Wellington. Startup Garage and Lean Startup Wellington how have over 1,000 members each. People are getting together, which is great.
  • Startup Weekends continue to thrive: There’s no shortage of newbie entrepreneurs starting their entrepreneurial journey through Startup Weekends. We ran 11 events up and down the country this year, with 736 participants – both records. Many of these participants are now fully plugged into the scene, some running their own startups, some working for others, and some busily hatching plans. And some qualifying themselves out, having decided they’re happier in their day jobs. Win.
  • Accelerator ramp-up: Lightning Lab ran three programmes this year – Auckland, Christchurch, and Manufacturing (Wellington). The dust hasn’t settled yet, but this is likely to have resulted in 10+ new startups achieving funding, networks, and a path to global success.  Oh, and another 10+ startups being qualified out after a short sharp experiment – to me that’s also an important success statistic. The Government R9 Accelerator broke new ground, and will be doing round two this year. Vodafone’s Xone will be opening in 2016. And there are others.
  • An explosion in angel investment activity: AngelHQ‘s Dave Allison told me that as at the beginning of December, not including any of the Lightning Lab companies, the club had 12 open investment deals. I can’t remember a time where there were more than 3 or 4 deals open at any given point in time. Given that nearly all angel club deals in NZ are now syndicated between clubs, I’m sure that the menu at ICE Angels, Enterprise Angels, Manawatu Investment Group, Venture Accelerator Nelson, and Otago Angels are growing in a similar fashion. Post-earthquakes, Canterbury Angels is also off to a great start. And there are a host of unofficial syndicates forming around the country too. There’s never been a better time to be an angel investor.

ICE Angels summarised the year’s angel activity with this nice Prezi – thanks guys!

Finally, I’d like to leave you with a quote from Victor W Hwang, author of “The Rainforest“, and cofounder of Global Innovation Week (HT: Andreas Stefanidis)

“Despite outward appearances, the Startup Movement is not just about startups. It is actually a deeper cultural shift that cuts to the heart of the human condition. It reflects a dissatisfaction with the way much of the world has gone for the last several decades. It marks a transformation in how we view our societies, how we convene our communities, how we create value together as human beings. It’s a counterpoint to the governing economic paradigm – what economists call neoliberalism – which has prized efficiency and productivity above everything else, even when it has corroded relationships that bond us together in our communities and social networks…

“Innovation is not a solo sport. It thrives in supportive, diverse, connected, pay­it­forward ecosystems. It dies in selfish ones. Building a startup – indeed, bringing any innovation to life – is hard enough already. The last thing you need is distrust, high social barriers, and cynicism from those around you. You need people who are willing to believe in you. Because human beings innovate together in teams.”

Thanks for your support this year, reading and spreading the stories of NZ startups going global.

If you’re involved in the startup scene, good on you for taking risks, sharing your energy, and pursuing your passion – you’re making the world, and New Zealand, a better place for everyone.

If you’re a bystander, a dreamer, or an armchair startup enthusiast, there are plenty of ways for you to get involved in 2016. Just contact any of the organisations mentioned above, and start forming the connections that will enable you to become part of the success story we’re all creating together of New Zealand as a global entrepreneurial powerhouse.

That’s it from me for 2015. Have a great break, and we’ll see you in February.

Ebee

Clean, green beehive hardware. 

ebeeThere’s a dirty secret in the beekeeping industry. Standard wood-and-wax hive frames don’t work for mānuka honey because they aren’t strong enough to handle the honey’s thixotropic nature, so commercial apiarists use plastic frames instead. Plastic frames come in one piece, whereas wooden hardware requires assembly, which is time consuming, especially for large operations. One small problem though – if your hives are affected by American Foulbrood (AFB) – that’s about 1,800 hives every year in New Zealand – you have no choice but to dig a hole and burn your hives along with all the infected bees. Oh dear, burning plastic is not only dirty, noxious, and carbon-rich, it’s carcinogenic – that’s not very consistent with NZ’s clean, green brand.

Ebee makes frames out of ecologically sustainable compressed plant fibre using a trade secret material mix. It’s food grade, toxin free, moulded in a single piece, biodegrades just like wood, and burns cleanly. And it’s available for about the same price as its evil plastic counterpart. Ebee frames also have the advantage over plastic of better thermal stability – they don’t get as hot in the summer or cold in the winter, and retain their shape better.

Ebee’s market isn’t limited to mānuka though, as other honeys display similar thixotropic properties, such as other members of the Leptospermum family and heather. Worldwide, there is a significant requirement for these strong frames, and at the right price point, general apiarists would prefer these frames over wood or plastic for general use.

roboollyjessThis company began life at Massey University Wellington’s Spring programme, which supports entrepreneurial design students to commercialise their ideas. Founder and designer Jess Rolinson-Purchase, a passionate beekeeper, was concerned about the inherent contradiction of producing a green product using dirty means. She was joined by business development specialist Rob Smith and Spring Programme Manager Olly Townend as cofounders.

The trio were selected for entry into the Lightning Lab Manufacturing accelerator, currently running in Lower Hutt, and have been using the time in the lab to perfect their prototype and start to close commercial deals with customers. They have significant interest from some of NZ’s largest commercial beekeepers, and are raising money on Demo Day close their first deals domestically and begin international market exploration.

Lightning Lab Manufacturing Demo Day is on 19 November. If you don’t have a ticket, it’s easy to register, and you can come and see Ebee and six other nascent startups who make actual things for the real economy strut their stuff.