Ten startups selected for Vodafone Xone accelerator programme

Vodafone’s new global accelerator programme, Vodafone xone, is set to give ten Kiwi startups the backing they need to reach their markets.

After an intensive pitch process, the startups and SMEs were chosen out of 170 applicants to be the first cohort at the new business accelerator, which has been designed to nurture the best ideas and Kiwi talent in the research and commercialisation of technology.

A panel of expert judges handpicked the companies for Vodafone xone. Each team will receive a total package worth more than $150,000, including $25,000 in seed funding and mentoring as part of the six-month programme.

The winning finalists are innovators from a diverse range of sectors, such as smart home, sports broadcasting, agriculture, education, health, big data and drones.

Vodafone consumer director Matt Williams says for Vodafone, it’s all about nurturing new technology and innovation.

“This is about getting involved with young, new companies, and we’ve been passionate about it for some time,” he says.

“We’re also hoping there will be a huge range of new products that will come out of this that we can also provide to our customers in partnership with those companies.”

Vodafone is not taking equity stakes, and has no plans to in the future. Williams says this latest venture is not about making an investment, but rather to help stimulate technology entrepreneurship and play a role generating new products.

Matt Williams, Vodafone’s consumer director, and the chairman of the Vodafone xone advisory board

New Zealand’s Vodafone xone is the seventh to be set up globally and has an aim of helping New Zealand companies globalise through its extensive network.

“One of the most powerful things about this is that it’s part of a global network. Vodafone serves about 500 million customers.

“The really unique thing is that we can help companies globalise because of that scale.” 

Building a new $50 million purpose built HQ in Christchurch was a deliberate move by Vodafone, which has been involved in helping Christchurch’s regeneration since the earthquakes.

Christchurch has traditionally been a technology hub in New Zealand, and Williams says tapping into local talent is important.

Government agency Callaghan Innovation is backing Vodafone xone and has come on board as a partner, committing $900,000 over the next three years to help fund Vodafone xone’s Innovation Lab.

The facility, containing specialised technology worth $19 million, will be open to the xone companies, and will also be available to businesses outside of the programme.

Callaghan Innovation digital technology sector manager Jonathan Miller says the Innovation Lab will encourage a global outlook for New Zealand businesses.

“As well as being an international launch pad for Kiwi startups, New Zealand companies of all sizes can access the world-class tech facilities on offer at the Innovation Lab – to test and develop their internet-of-things, smart network and mobile ideas.”

Christchurch-based innovator in LED-lighting SolarBright is one of the companies selected for the programme. The company is the developer of a solar-powered road cat’s eye, contributing to road safety and capable of communicating big data.

Managing director and co-founder Nicola Martin says having the backing of the Vodafone xone is a major boost for the ‘kitchen table company’.

“It will change a lot for us in a short space of time. It can be difficult to try and get momentum but when you’ve got someone with the might of Vodafone backing you, the doors open a lot easier.

“This gives us credibility, expertise and mentors we can tap into.”

Nicola’s husband Pat is the brains behind their product. Nine years ago he had the idea to use solar-energy to power street lights while driving a country road in the dark.

The husband and wife team have since grown the business from the ground up, and their biggest focus in recent years has been their cat’s eye product, known as PATeye.

The road stud offers real-time ice detection, to keep drivers safe during colder months. The stud flashes when ice is on the roads. It also has the potential to store important road data, such as traffic numbers and conditions, giving the transport sector real-time updates.

“It’s a new innovation, the ice detection is great for a visual warning, but we’re finding it could be more than just that.”

The technology is currently in its infancy, but Martin says they’re about 80 percent there.

With the support of Vodafone, SolarBright will be able to push the product through testing stage and are looking at having the first working prototype made within 4 months.

“It’s a lot quicker than we previously anticipated so it’s such an amazing opportunity for us.

“It’s really cool that a big corporate can see the little people and embrace them. We’re looking forward to the next stage.”

The other companies selected for Vodafone xone are Wireless Guard, Haptly, Blerter, Spalk, IoTStream, Parking Sense, Linewize, Catch.It and LINC-ED.