Jonathan has been a writer longer than he cares to remember. Specialising in technology, the arts, and the grand meaning of it all, in his spare time he enjoys reading, playing guitars, and adding to an already wildly overstocked t-shirt collection.
With a background spanning investment banking, HR, retail finance, IP and aviation, and with high-achieving hobbies such as TaeKwonDo (black belt, of course) and competitive Bollywood dancing - not to mention being a mother to two girls - Shareena Sandbrook would make an ideal Idealog interview, any day of the week.
When the subject of Soul Machines comes up, most of us think immediately of the company’s startlingly realistic AI-powered digital humans. But you could argue that the company’s rapid international expansion is almost as striking. The numbers certainly ready well: To date, the company has raised NZ$25 million from investors such as Horizons Ventures, Iconiq and Mercedes Benz. Created as a result of the spin out from the University of Auckland, the company was co-founded and serial entrepreneur Greg Cross, whose last company, PowerbyProxi, was sold in 2017, and by Dr. Mark Sagar, who had led the scientific research since 2012. With R&D headquartered in Auckland and executives located in LA, San Francisco, and New York City, the company combines neuroscience, cognitive science and developmental psychology to create new ways for humans to interact with AI. Current customers include Autodesk, P&G, Royal Bank of Scotland and ANZ Bank. Not a bad resume for a local company, we reckon, so we asked Greg Cross, Soul Machines co-founder and chief business officer, just what it takes to grow something so big starting somewhere so small.
What a difference a year can make. Just ask SwipedOn founder and CEO Hadleigh Ford. Founded in 2013, the Tauranga-based SwipedOn produces a slick, iPad-powered visitor sign-in platform for business reception areas, a well-overdue replacement to archaic paper-based systems. On the strength of that product, the company raised $1 million in 2017 from such investors as Enterprise Angels, Quayside Holdings, the NZVIFund and Stephen Tindall. So far, so good. Then, just a year later the company dramatically sold to UK investor SmartSpace for a cool $11 million – quite the return on its earlier six-figure raise. That’s good enough for us, so we spoke to Ford, a former harbour pilot, about growing companies, burning the midnight oil and the similarities between working at sea and working in the C-suite.
Narrative co-founder James Broadbent says he's always had the business bug. Now, he can consider himself good at raising money too: The photography workflow software company he founded with Steffan Levet in 2017 recently announced that it has secured a not-insubstantial NZ$700,000 in seed funding from the San Francisco-based Founders Fund Pathfinder – itself co-founded by American venture capitalist Peter Thiel. This is just the third New Zealand start-up Thiel has invested in, alongside 8i and Halter. That’s a pretty impressive investment from an equally impressive source, so we talked to Broadbent about what it takes to get an audience with the Silicon Valley Kings.
From raising capital from international investors, to expanding into new markets, to selling to an overseas buyer – the challenges of taking a New Zealand company to international prominence are many, and to surmount them, we’ll likely need more than just number eight wire. So how do New Zealand businesses become more internationally minded? Jonathan Cotton talks with NZTE general manager David Downs about how to navigate the tricky waters beyond New Zealand’s shores.
The winner of Idealog's Most Innovative Companies in Finance/Money is Sharesies. Bringing investment to the masses, Sharesies thinks different, acts different and looks different from your typical investment company. “At Sharesies, we don’t see a future where banks, ETFs or managed funds remain the primary wealth holding,” says Brooke Roberts, Sharesies CEO. “We see personalised, values-based portfolios created by people, community and algorithm. In New Zealand alone there is an opportunity worth over $1 billion for Sharesies.”
The winner of Idealog's Most Innovative Companies in Social Enterprise/Charity is Squawk Squad. New Zealand's native birds are in a crisis. 80 percent of the country’s remaining endemic birds are threatened with extinction, with an estimated 25 million birds killed each year by introduced predators. Squawk Squad’s goal is to connect and engage Kiwis with the protection and growth of these native birds and to that, they’re applying start-up thinking to the conservation conversation.
The winner of Idealog's Most Innovative Companies in Media/Marketing is Special Group. By anyone’s standards, the last year has been a good one for the creative agency Special Group. Named New Zealand Agency of the Year by Campaign Brief, AUS/NZ Mobile Agency of the Year by Campaign Asia and Asia Pacific’s Most Effective Independent Agency by the global Effies index – all in the last 12 months alone – it’s a great tenth year, whichever way you look at it.
The winner of Idealog's Most Innovative Companies in Food and Beverage is Pūhā & Pākehā. For a country so proud of its cultural heritage, there’s a bit of an irony at the heart of New Zealand cuisine: we haven’t capitalised on our roots when it comes to Kiwi fare. “In the New Zealand food business, you have to do something different,” says Jarrad McKay, one half of the team behind Pūhā & Pākehā, the Kiwi fusion eatery currently changing the way New Zealanders think about traditional Kiwi kai. “To really do something different in New Zealand, you have to do New Zealand food!”
The winner of Idealog's Most Innovative Companies in Design/Engineering is design company David Trubridge. This is because to describe David Trubridge as an environmentally conscious outfit might be to understating things, ever so slightly. In fact, you’d likely be hard pressed to find a company that strives to be as sustainable as the internationally successful Hastings-based design company.