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Bill Reichert's New Zealand innovation report, part 2: The top ten (and a bit) New Zealand businesses

Garage Technology Ventures' managing director Bill Reichert recently spent four weeks in New Zealand as entrepreneur in residence at AUT University and travelled the country meeting some of our most promising and passionate startups, innovators, educators and regulators. In the second and final part of a feature, he tells us about the New Zealand companies that impressed him most. 

Finally, I’d like to share some of my excitement around many companies I have met that are shining examples of world-class talent and innovation. My personal Top Ten List of New Zealand startups includes: 

• Soul Machines: Emotionally intelligent avatars for personalised online service and support. I had a chance to visit the new office in the Ferry Building and see behind the scenes what Mark Sagar and Greg Cross are doing. Mind boggling.

• RocketLab: Low cost launch vehicles for payloads in low Earth orbit. I got to meet Peter Beck at an event at Level Two in Parnell.  And then two weeks later, Rocket Lab had a successful test launch from its launch pad on the Mahia Peninsula.  

• Xero: Cloud-based accounting system for small and medium businesses. Of course, Rod Drury is the hero of the New Zealand startup community, and now that Xero has reached critical mass globally, the company is reaching out to the New Zealand startup community to build an ecosystem around their platform.

• Ubitquitome: Low cost, cloud-connected genetic analysis device for fast and precise diagnosis. I met the team at AstroLab, and my jaw dropped when I heard the story. They have developed what may be the platform that enables genetic analysis to become a ubiquitous standard diagnostic device.  

• Kode Biotech: Platform technology for changing the surface structure of live cells to enable precise targeting for attacking or defending the cells. World-class biotech spun out of Auckland University of Technology that could dramatically improve the treatment of cancers, wounds, and other biological problems.    

• 8i: 3D full motion human holograms for AR, VR and MR. I met Toni Moyes, the COO, during TechWeek. The startup has attracted global attention from major media companies. 


• Wherescape: Data vault solution for faster, easier big data analytics. I met founder Michael Whitehead at a great TechWeek event on Going Global. He has a deep appreciation of what it takes to scale a business, having bootstrapped Wherescape to global success without much support from the investment community. 

• Fuel50: Changing the employee performance review process from looking back to looking forward. I had met Jo Mills, one of the founders, before, and caught her again at a TechWeek event and was impressed by the incredible progress they have made, having landed several Global 500 companies as clients.  

• NZeno: Eliminating organ transplant rejection through genetic modification. I met the founder and chief science officer, Olga Garkavenko, at Level Two. A brilliant scientist attracted to New Zealand by the opportunity to do her science in a supportive environment.  

• CyberToa: Providing cyber security services to corporations that need to protect their data and their networks. I met Mandy Simpson, the CEO, in Auckland and again in Wellington. She and CyberToa are rising stars in the New Zealand and global innovation ecosystems.  

These companies and these entrepreneurs are the crown jewels of New Zealand’s future. And they are only the tip of the iceberg. I met several other impressive entrepreneurs, but I couldn’t fit them all into the Top Ten. Still, I want to mention some of the other extremely energizing entrepreneurs I met:

• AquaFortus: Developing technology to remediate industrial wastewater at less than half the cost of current solutions. Really smart, focused team. I met them at AstroLab.

• Team Wa: Creating a marketplace for trading volunteer time. This is one of my favourite entrepreneurial teams in all of New Zealand.  I met them at the Dig My Idea event.

• Teddy: Helping small businesses get better commercial insurance for less using their online service. One of the FinTech companies at CreativeHQ in Wellington. 

• Sharesies: Creating an online investment platform for millennials. Another FinTech company in the CreativeHQ program in Wellington. One of the most energetic, enthusiastic, charismatic founding teams I met in New Zealand.

• Conical: AR/VR production studio based at Auckland University of Technology. Another smart entrepreneur immigrant attracted to New Zealand. Conical produced New Zealand’s first VR movie, The Green Fairy.

• Populate: HRtech company that simplifies the management and planning of headcount growth. I met Kirsti Grant at the Grid, and then at another TechWeek event, and then at the Hi-Tech Awards. Another rising star in the New Zealand ecosystem.   

• Centre for Social Data Analytics: Professor Rhema Vaithianathan of AUT is using big data analytics to help social workers make better, evidence-based decisions regarding child protective services. 

• Weirdly: Recruiting tool that helps companies recruit for values and style, not just skills. I met Dale Clareburt on the walk on Tiri Tiri Matangi. Smart, driven, confident. 

• DebtorDaddy: Automating the receivables collection process. I met this company in Christchurch. The team is solving a problem that almost every small company has. 

• Zeropoint Ventures: Giving more entrepreneurs the opportunity to prove themselves. I met Dan Khan Auckland, and then again in Wellington. He is creating a venture fund that is driven by proof, not just hope. 

• Stroke Riskometer: Providing those who are at risk of stroke with behaviour modification therapy. Another spinout from AUT; working to give people the information they need to live a healthier life. 

• McCarthy Finch: Teaching computers to be lawyers. A spinout from Rush Digital, this team is hoping to use machine learning to create the world’s smartest lawyer. Imagine a world without lawyers! 

And this is just a small percentage of the companies I met. I’m sure there are many other brilliant entrepreneurs I didn’t meet, or met all too briefly  (So many entrepreneurs, so little time!) But my main point is that New Zealand has a very healthy number of world class entrepreneurs and startups. All of these companies could be competitive even in Silicon Valley. Some of them already are. The big question is, will they be able to reach “escape velocity”? Will they be able to get the momentum and the market reach to continue accelerating customer acquisition and sales?

I believe that progress along the lines of the seven recommendations above will help these companies succeed, and help build a stronger pool of talent and capital going forward.

It has been my great honor and privilege to work with AUT, with the support of Callaghan Innovation and NZTE, to share my own insights and experiences with the many people I met in New Zealand, and to learn at least as much from them as I was able to give. I would be happy to continue the discussion, and help with any initiatives where my background might be useful. 

Check out Reichert's first story here.