The national startup and investment ecosystem got together in Ōtautahi, Christchurch for Electrify Aotearoa. Why a female founder conference? As Marian Johnson (Ministry of Awesome) explained, “4 out of 5 startups are all male, with no women in the co-founding group at all. 83% of our startups are male. Our future world is being designed with little or no women in the room.” Well, there were plenty of women in this room.
The range of inspiring founders included UC’s Ngarie Scartozzi (eCleanNZ), Sonya Williams (Sharesies), Kaye Maree Dunn (Āhau), Alliv Samson (Kami), Amber Marie Naveira (The Granary), Lauren Peate (Multitudes) and Kathryn Topp (Yabble). Each shared something of their personal story and their entrepreneurial journey, championed by MC Michele A’Court.
Minister Megan Woods had a few announcements including the new Startup Advisors Council, $90m of deep tech R&D funding and tax credits, and NZTE’s new Women in Export programme. Mayor Lianne Dalziel discussed how the integrated industry, startup, academic and research ecosystem is why Ōtautahi is increasingly seen as the innovation capital of Aotearoa. “We are the first region to develop an aerospace sector plan – the future is coming, ready or not.“
Deep Tech panel
Deep tech is generally associated with breakthrough scientific solutions within our Universities and CRI’s, involving a very long term capital strategy. The panel of Emily Blythe (Pyper Vision), Georgia Lee (Viewpoint Medical), Imche Fourie (Outset Ventures) and MJ Alvarez (WNT Ventures) shared some of the challenges of working with aerospace and medtech solutions. Aotearoa’s advantage is our world class research, and our challenge is to get that research out of the lab and into the world. “We are building the future of NZ and the world – Deep Tech is a way to have a seat at that table,” stated Alvarez.
Diversity and inclusion
I first met Kaye-Maree Dunn in Wellington in 2019 through her work on digital identity, addressing Māori digital inclusion and the protection of identity. Dunn is a social impact and tech entrepreneur from Te Rarawa, Ngā Puhi, Ngāi Te Rangikoianaake, Ngāti Mahanga me Ngāi Tāmanuhiri and resides in Wainuiomata, Wellington. Co-founder of blockchain application Āhau which manages personal data, Dunn’s mission is to lift the transformative capability of Whanau, hapu and iwi to actively contribute to the growth of our economic potential. “Ko te Kai ā te Rangatira – he kōrero. Discussion is the food of chiefs.“
An excellent example of this collaboration is with startup Bayuble, co-founded by UC students Zoe Rookes and Maggie Peacock. Bayuble is solving the problem of waste from small plastic fruit labels by producing an environmentally friendly alternative from fruit waste. The co-founders met at school and took their original idea through the Young Enterprise Scheme. They have subsequently been through UCE’s Summer Startup Programme, Te Ōhaka incubation and the Sprout Accelerator.
I was also delighted to reconnect with Kinda startup co-founders Jenni Matheson and Mrenali Kumar who met at Startup Weekend Taranaki in 2020. As a facilitator alongside Pascale Hyboud-Peron and Emelie Verseput it is fantastic to see that they have taken their innovative icecream venture forward with local support.
Blackbird Ventures is extending its investment portfolio in Aotearoa and now have $2B under management. As partner Samantha Wong put it, “big things can come from creatively pursuing your passions.” There were plenty of investors and fund managers at the event with investment themed Master classes from NZGCP, ArchAngels and Icehouse Ventures, and Hillfarrance. While global VC funding is slowing down, there is still an appetite for investment in early-stage NZ companies with a compelling value proposition and a strong team to execute.
Power of agency
The indomitable Kaila Colbin brought Electrify Aoteaaroa to a close. “We need to understand how power works; the ability to have others do what you would have them do, and the ‘power of agency’ over our own lives. Leadership comes from within – entrepreneurship is choosing to be a leader.”