Lightning Lab XX: The “Rosie the Riveter” of NZ business acceleration

Lightning Lab XX: The “Rosie the Riveter” of NZ business acceleration
Ali Mowers, Communications YoPro from Pennsylvania, shares her perspective on the significance of New Zealand’s first acceleration programme designed for female entrepreneurs.

Here’s a shameless U.S. history lesson from a Pennsylvania native; She’s fierce, resilient, and a symbol of women’s economic power - she is “Rosie the Riveter.” World War II spawned a surge of wartime propaganda that urged the participation of women in a once male-dominated workforce.  As men marched to war, women strutted to the shipyard. Thus, millions of “Rosies” were born; inspiring a social movement that increased the number of U.S. working women by 57% from 1940 to 1944.

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And here’s me. Just three weeks into my New Zealand trip, only a smidgen of business knowledge and here I am attending Lightning Lab XX’s Demo Day on a Community ticket. I consider myself lucky, as it’s first time they’ve opened this event to the general public.

It seems Lightning Lab XX really believes in the power of the “Rosie”. Two thirds of the founders across the nine teams were women. Creative HQ (the company behind the programme) says ‘Lightning Lab XX’ was a first step towards creating a more diverse ecosystem for New Zealand business. The aim was to encourage more creative thinking, richer discussions and ultimately, a more productive entrepreneurial environment.

So why is ‘diversity’ important for the NZ startup ecosystem? It’s not just a buzzword or soft metric.  According to several studies, diversity is driving better business results in the U.S. In 2015, First Round Capital, a distinguished venture capital firm from Silicon Valley analysed its portfolio companies’ demographics and found that businesses with at least one female leader did 63% better than its all-male counterparts.

Likewise, a study published by the Kauffman Foundation out of Kansas City, Missouri suggests “accelerating female entrepreneurship could have the same positive effect on the economy that the large-scale entry of women into the workforce had during the 20th century.”

Since arriving in New Zealand, I’ve learnt that ‘XX’ was the seventh 3-month accelerator programme since Techstars-modeled Lightning Lab launched in 2013. I’ve also learnt that compared to previous programmes, Lightning Lab XX’s first ever fleet had a higher number of companies, such as Sipreme, Patternsnap, NoticeMatch and Little Yellow Bird, who were already earning revenue before entering the programme. ‘XX’ even attracted a Chinese startup to fly over to participate, something that no previous programme had achieved.

Riveting! Pun intended.

Co-founder of that visiting startup, Denny Zou, started a fresh chicken delivery business because of the “Rosie” in her life. Growing up in Chinese poverty, Zou’s mother launched and grew their family’s chicken farm into a large-scale company, that 15 years of perseverance later made her a millionaire.

“Women are the cornerstones of family… One woman can make it possible,” Zou says. Hence, her company was named ‘Liangma’ or ‘pretty mom’. 

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Annette Presley, co-founder of Slingshot, tells Demo Day attendees her secrets to entrepreneurial success

Lightning Lab XX’s poster “Rosie” and Demo Day keynote speaker, Annette Presley, told the 700-strong audience about her journey as a female entrepreneur launching New Zealand’s third largest ISP company, Slingshot. “The key to being successful is finding your passion. You have to uncover and find your passion. If you find your passion and you follow your passion - people, success, fun - will follow you also.”

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Founder, Dinay Steyn, pitches her meal in a glass ‘Sipreme’

The Lightning Lab XX teams certainly had all the right ingredients for success according to Presley. Passion is what drives Sipreme, who’ve created a nutritionally complete, powdered ‘future food’ so that they can spend more time doing what they love. And with a long-time passion and working knowledge of interior design, Virginia Fay, founded Patternsnap, which is on track to become the leading global, digital sample database for the interior design industry. It’s even been labeled the “Shazam of the Interior’s World” by Harper’s Bazaar.

Virginia Fay shares ‘Patternsnap’ and the necessity for easy sample shopping in the interior design industry

During her pitch, Fay shared a projected combined revenue of $1.6M by the end of 2017, while Little Yellow Bird’s founder Samantha Jones told the audience they’d entered the programme with a revenue (to date) of $10,000 and after only three months have now earned $130,000. From those numbers alone, it seems companies within Lightning Lab XX were gaining value out of their three months inside the programme.

As I sat back in my theatre seat, inspired by the creativity and passion that drove these entrepreneurs to the front lines of Demo Day, I couldn’t help but notice my own woman war worker in action. Lightning Lab XX’s incredible female-led teams were clear examples that an idea can manifest with enthusiasm, hard work and passion. An example as clear as the Rosie the Riveter image from wartime U.S.

As a female, I believe we need more environments like Lightning Lab XX to show current and future female founders the “Rosies” of New Zealand. We need to encourage them to believe in themselves a little more, aim their sights higher and most of all, remind all ladies that “We Can Do It!”