It’s Thursday night and Idealog is late for the 5th Annual New Zealand Angel Investment Showcase. I had to stop and buy a new shirt for appearance’s sake, and now I’m late. It’s well past six and I’m still trying to find a park. Great.
When I finally do find a park (way to make it easy, Auckland CBD) I hot foot it to Spark City on Victoria Street West. It’s half past now, and everyone already seems to be inside.
The New Zealand Angel Investment Showcase is a who’s who of investing and a pretty good grab-bag of plucky start-ups with something to prove. This event gets real results, too. The 55 wannabes that have presented since its launch in 2011 have raised over $16.7 million, and in 2014 alone, nine of those companies raised a total of $5.2 million, which are decent figures by New Zealand standards.
Tonight we’ve got 12 innovative Kiwi start-ups pitching, and the largest gathering of investors in Australasia.
I walk in, grab my name tag, and make my way through to the main room, which is throbbing. Seriously, it is positively packed, standing room only, a drink in every hand.
So, correction: Idealog is fashionably late for the 5th Annual New Zealand Angel Investment Showcase. It really is crammed. Shoulder to shoulder schmoozing in every direction.
I look around the main floor, searching for the bar. It’s too full to be sure, but I take a guess that it’s to the left and start “excuse me-ing” my way in that general direction.
The main floor is made up of a bunch of kiosks manned and ladied by those who will be making their pitches tonight. Fear in the eyes of every one of them.
Two minutes later, I’m still making my way to the bar, and a glass hits the floor to my right. Now it’s a party. I grab an hors-d'oeuvre which is rapidly described to me as parmesan, mushroom and something. It tastes like the best pizza I’ve ever had and I want another one. I want a whole bunch inside me, now. Is this stress eating bought on by the crowded room? It really is a squash.
I grab a drink and scan the room. Man, there’s some excellent men’s hair in this place. Seriously, top shelf stuff.
Glass number two hits the floor about five feet away, to what sounds like the beginnings of drunken roar of laughter. Someone calls out “taxi!”.
Some eerie music starts and three well-muscled traditionally-dressed Maori guys appear at the top of the stairs, doing menacing moves and whirling taihas around.
Everyone loves a cultural display, so folks politely stop chatting and watch the show. Suddenly the music morphs into David Bowie’s Let’s Dance, and the oiled-up young chaps drop their taihas and start breakdancing. Let’s Dance morphs into Twist and Shout, then Pharrell’s Happy, and the crowd realises it’s caught in a medley with no hope of escape. Now the taiha-brandishers are twerking. Things have turned deeply strange.
The crowd looks suitably perplexed, except for two older gentlemen who appear to be hearing music for the first time, tapping their feet, bobbing their heads as if this is the best thing ever, which it isn’t.
After what seems like an eternity, the dance number ends and the gates to the conference room open, so I make haste in that direction. I get a good seat and we’re given a glossy promo booklet and due diligence summary.
The lights dim and Ice Angel’s CEO, Robbie Paul takes the stage. He thanks some people, but keeps it brief. He also lets everyone know that the swag bags will only be available to those who fill out the feedback forms that register investor interest. That gets a laugh from the crowd, but it’s apparent he’s not kidding. I’m not sure how much I personally intend to invest in the companies here tonight, but I’m certainly invested in getting that swag bag. They look good.
After Robbie’s opening statements we get a keynote from Ray Thomson. Dr Thomson is a really interesting speaker, and gives his advice for selecting investments: “Passion, integrity, timing and disruption” is what you’ve got to look for, he says.
His speech is interrupted on two separate occasions by jerks who haven’t turned off their cellphones. Turn off your cellphones, jerks.
He continues, unfazed, and then wraps up with the story of a company he’s been working with, which he sold three weeks ago for lots of millions of dollars, a fourteen-fold return for the original investors. This is a good note to end on, a great note in fact, and you can see the audiences’ eyes twinkling in the darkness. These people are ready to spend.
Robbie returns to the stage to introduce Simon Moutter, CEO and MD of Spark.
He says “there’s something in the water at the Spark building,” talking mainly about Spark’s commitment to innovation, but he’s also invoking a kind of voodoo too: This is where great investments get made, he’s implying, and he’s talking to a very receptive audience. They believe it.
Moutter takes the stage, a very energetic and likable speaker, singing the praises of the Ice Angel showcase. “This is a successful formula,” he says, and there’s enthusiastic nodding from the audience.
Next minute the pitches are underway, starting with Bex, from Hail. Hail is a clever SaaS content creation, management, collaboration and publishing system. Bex gives a shout out to Idealog, and someone, who isn’t me, shouts back.
Next up, Warren from BioLumic takes the stage. BioLumic is a UV-light treatment for crop seedlings that increases hardiness and size of full grown crops. Warren is quietly spoken, but utterly convincing. I should have bought my cheque book.
Next is Tony from Virsae, a communications network management system that helps businesses and their network resellers manage all of their comms assets in a network. “The proliferation of comms devices in the workplace,” he says, “is this company’s opportunity,” he says, which seems about right.
Mark Thomas from Taimana hits the stage next. Taimana has developed the technology to manufacture synthetic diamonds. It’s nice how Thomas addresses the human rights issues, as well as the profit potential, but I can’t help thinking: would people buy ethical diamonds if it means they come from a machine (and from East Tamaki?). I also make a mental note to look up ‘capex’ and ‘opex’ when I get home.
The hugely entertaining Miles Valentine from Qotient is next. Qotient is an application to capture important sales data in the field and deliver it back to a CRM. “The CRM space is worth $22 billion,” says Valentine. “Where do these analysists get these numbers? I don’t know. It’s a pretty big number though. Too big to care.”
John from PicsOS is last before the break, with a photography platform that takes individual pictures and stitches them together to make a better version of the traditional sports team photo. It turns out that photos of children’s sports teams are inherently funny. After a big build up the video fails to play, then comes on, then goes off, then comes back on. No-one makes a joke about disruptive tech, which is disappointing.
We break for dinner, and during that break, two more glasses hit the floor. This is my kind of party. Dinner’s good too, a pretty perfect coq au vin. I finish quickly and snatch a look at the swag bags. They’re amazing. I’m getting one, no matter what I have to invest in.
Dinner’s over and the crowd shuffles back in for round two, and as we do, another glass hits the floor. Things are getting out of hand. But that’s investor-types for you.
First up, Mike O’Sullivan takes the stage. Environmetals is a company that removes silica from geothermal fluid. It’s more complicated than that, but it sounds like a good idea and, apparently, a potential $900,000,000 New Zealand industry.
Mark Loveys from Datagate is next. Datagate is a cloud billing platform and customer portal for resellers of telecoms and utilities to manage their data and price customer packages. It’s all a bit too complicated to follow, but Mark stepped down as CEO of Emprise three weeks ago to become fulltime CEO of Datagate, so that’s a pretty good indication of his commitment.
Next up is Sam Viskovich from Spalk. Spalk is a pretty awesome idea: a platform that enables alternative sports commentary over the web, increasing the value proposition for rights holders and enabling better audience engagement. It’s a simple, good idea, and I’m convinced.
Brent from Engender is next. If there was an award for saying ‘semen’ the most during a pitch, that award would go to Engender. Also, they can push it around with a laser, or as they put it, “sort semen by gender for use in the agricultural sector allowing dairy and beef farmers to maximise herd yield”.
Last up is Johnny Hendriksen of Shuttlerock. Hendriksen admits, straight off the bat that he was an early pioneer in the field of banner advertising. I wait for someone to punch him in the face but no-one does, which is strange. Shuttlerock is pretty clever stuff though, helping brands to aggregate user generated content from the web. The big deal about it is that Lady Gaga uses it, so you know it’s good.
And that’s it. I feel like I’ve seen over a thousand graphs in the last two hours, all of them rocketing skyward.
Robbie from Ice Angels wraps it all up, thanks all the right people, then says “And one more thing…”
The stage goes black, eerie music starts and…
…those dancing guys are back, this time breakdancing to ‘I’m Too Sexy’, proving that not every idea that graced the Ice Angels stage that night has been a good one.
The show may not quite be over, but it certainly is for me, so I grab my completed feedback form and make for the swag bags. I drop my feedback form into the bucket, assuming the most sincere expression I can, grab a bag – which has got to weigh at least ten kilos – and make for the door.
Seriously, the swag bags are so big, I hurt my back carrying mine to the car.
Worth it though.
The investment results from the 5th New Zealand Angel Investment Showcase will be released early next year.