Lightning Lab's Demo Day a sign that NZ's startup scene is growing up

With the first intake of Lightning Lab’s accelerator programme now successfully behind us, the next phase is going to be vital for the ongoing evolution of New Zealand's startup ecosystem from wobbly toddler to confident teenager. Luckily, the future’s looking bright if the feedback from last week’s Demo Day is anything to go by.

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The calibre and polished deliveries of the nine startup's pitches was top-notch and to be frank they were some of the best I’ve seen in New Zealand to date. All of the companies had, at a minimum, comprehensive prototypes or betas and most have smashed their early milestones out of the park - doubly impressive to see.

Read more:Nine startups on the hunt for $3 million in funding following Demo Day

As a high profile event within the NZ startup space, there was intense curiosity and interest from all sides; and there’s no question - the nine businesses pitched were certainly credible, scalable and unique. Standouts for me were LearnKo (an online tutorial service), Publons (crowdsourced peer review), and WIP (video editing workflow management) - all great examples of startups with real global potential.

And the great thing is, almost everyone else attending was as enthusiastic about Demo Day as I was. While what can be reported publicly is limited, some of the businesses have already achieved paying customers in their 12 weeks within the programme, no mean feat for anyone just starting out.
It’s fair to say, I think we all breathed a collective sigh of relief that the day proved to be a hit. Lightning Lab is our first national digital startup accelerator, and it was important for all of us in the ecosystem, independent of the participants on the day, that this programme deliver on its promise.

General consensus was the fog in Wellington last week – preventing flights home for out-of-towners until the next day – was a blessing in disguise by Mother Nature. It allowed the participants, angel investors, incubators, government stakeholders and all of us from the start-up community to bond over a few beverages, and as most people know, the pub is generally where the truth comes out.

SmallWorlds co-founder Mitch Olson, said in his keynote that there was a palpable sense that the Demo Day was actually more than just a launching point for the nine start-ups – that it felt like a turning point for the New Zealand ecosystem, finally maturing and coming together to realise its potential. Maybe it will be the day we all look back on and say that it really was the first image of seeing it growing up.

So what's next? I think it's clear that Demo Day is not where the hard work finishes for the teams, but where the real grind now begins. We're keeping our fingers crossed that the results from the day continue to be positive ones. The presentations were good, the participants are optimistic about the Lightning Lab programme, but now it comes down to funding rounds being closed with angel investors as the next tick of success.

Outside of the investment question, there's also action required of us all in the Kiwi start up community, who prior to Demo Day, had still been existing a little bit disparately around the country. Instead of regional agendas, we all need to take it further and deliver on the goodwill and promise we experienced at Demo Day. The ecosystem and community need to keep focused on proactively working together, collaborating on ideas and projects, so that we take this great base that Lightning Lab has established and use it as a platform to grow and activate acceleration opportunities across the board. Bring it on I say!

Nick Shewring is the co-founder of business co-working space BizDojo, which operates in Auckland and Wellington and has aspirations of world domination.