Vodafone launches global start-up accelerator in Christchurch

Vodafone has announced the creation of a start-up accelerator inside its $50 million HQ in the Christchurch innovation precinct.

The accelerator, known as ‘Vodafone xone’, will open in May 2016 and offer Kiwi entrepreneurs premises, support and access to Vodafone’s networks.

“Today we’re sending out the call to entrepreneurs”, says Matt Williams, Vodafone’s consumer director, and the chairman of the Vodafone xone advisory board.

“We are assembling an advisory board of business leaders – some from Vodafone, some from entrepreneurial backgrounds, some from universities – who will select the ten most promising start-ups to be part of a new accelerator programme.”

Williams says that the company will offer those selected $25,000 in cash funding, provide office space and access to Vodafone’s testing lab, as well as access to a range of experts to help the entrepreneurs nurture their business ideas, a package valued at around $150,000. 

“We’ve developed a whole programme where those entrepreneurs will be working with different mentors, experienced entrepreneurs and others with start-up experience, plus we’ll connect them to a broader set of mentors to help them in the actual building of their businesses: patent attorneys, distribution experts and marketing assistance.”

“We’ve got this incredible set of capabilities and we’ll be inviting them in.”

Today is the formal kick-off of the project with a second round to begin in 2017.

“The [Vodafone] xone that we’re launching now is actually the seventh in the world, so we’re linking into that global network,” says Williams.

“It’s something we said we’d do a couple of years ago following the earthquakes,” he says. “It's going to offer a lot to a wide range of Kiwi start-ups.”


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

Following today’s announcement, the telco will be launching a campaign this week with the tagline ‘Get in the xone’.

“We’ll primarily be using targeted digital for the campaign. We’ll be using social media and we’ve spent a lot of time talking with Kiwi entrepreneurs and tapping into that – the Ministry of Awesome in Christchurch for example – so were looking to communicate directly to entrepreneurs through those sorts of channels.”

Those promotions will likely involve following progress of the participants in the media, though what format that will take is yet to be decided.

“We are thinking about that,” says Williams, “but we need to do it in a way that’s respectful to them. We need to respect their work and the businesses they are building.”

“We’re also reaching out to our business customers saying ‘we’ve started this and we want to make it inclusive and we want you to get involved’. We want to find all the partners we can to help drive it.”

Smudge is one such partner, as is Callaghan Innovation, which has committed $900,000 over the next three years to the project.

Applications are open to a broad range of ideas in technology innovation including, but not limited to, the-internet-of-things, mobile health, education and commerce, big data, and smart homes and cities. Agriculture will also be a focus, with Vodafone already a partner of the Innovation Centre at Fieldays.

“The reason why we’re doing this is this: Everybody has to be connected,” says Williams. “There is a huge explosion of connectivity happening right now, but  that explosion is using a huge variety of different solutions – big data, the internet-of-things, connected homes, M-agriculture. We’re hoping to nurture some of the solutions that are coming out of that.”

Interested tech start-ups can apply here