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Lightning Lab Electric: New Zealand’s first-ever energy sector accelerator programme launches

Lightning Lab Electric certainly has some big sponsors, what with Westpac, Genesis Energy, General Electric, Unison Group, Z Energy, New Zealand Trade & Enterprise, Callaghan innovation and Creative HQ all involved. And it can also rely on the legacy of the Lightning Lab name, which has run seven successful programmes across Aotearoa, helping 63 companies get more than $12 million in seed financing. And the fact that investments, IPOs and acquisitions are on the rise (as the latest Investor’s Guide to the Technology Sector report explains), and it would seem like now is an ideal time to get into the sector.

At the launch event for the Lightning Lab Accelerator at Genesis Energy’s HQ in Auckland on January 31.

That’s what Creative HQ chief executive Stefan Korn believes, anyway. “With massive challenges facing the world in how we use and manage energy, we know New Zealand’s engineers, scientists and entrepreneurs are already working on solutions from their workshops, their universities, their co-working spaces, and wherever else they may be,” he says. “This is an opportunity to put up their solutions as part of a new generation in how we use and manage energy.”

Callaghan Innovation interim chief executive Hemi Rolleston says something similar. “The global electricity sector is ripe for disruption, and New Zealand tech companies have the potential to lead the world with innovative ‘smart grid’ solutions.”

Then there’s Genesis Energy chief executive Marc England. “We need to get the cool kids into our industry,” he says. “If we don’t innovate, others are going to come in and eat our lunch. “

And that’s not all he says. “Getting behind Lightning Lab is a natural fit for us. The rapidly evolving energy ecosystem requires a different approach to what’s been taken so far.”

Genesis is also involved with an initiative called The Local Energy Project. England says he can’t reveal much, however, saying that Genesis will “work with a community to build a truly engaging energy experience based on new technologies and digital capabilities. Customers will trial newly created digital tools to better monitor and manage their energy use from new energy technologies such as solar, local battery storage and electric vehicles, enhanced with digital innovations.”

Karen Silk, Westpac general manager of commercial, corporate and institutional banking, says her organisation is thrilled to be involved. “The challenge is an ideal way to identify more opportunities around renewable energy and extending our support to start-ups.”

Photo: Michael Bradley.

Unison Group chief executive Ken Sutherland is hoping companies and entrepreneurs will be able to come up with innovations that can be applied beyond the Land of the Long White Cloud. “The challenges and change now facing much of the world’s electricity infrastructure – also known as the grid – is substantial,” he says. “Customers require electricity reliability like never before and they want more control over how they use it. They’re concerned about sustainability, but they still need their electricity to be affordable and available at the flick of a switch. The traditional way of delivering electricity is no longer enough. To meet the demands of the future, innovative people and approaches are essential.”

The Lightning Lab Electric Innovation Challenge is open for entries until March 27, with a finalist pitch panel on April 5. Winners will be announced April 7. There’s prizes worth $40,000 to be had with a top prize of $20,000.

There will also be a roadshow promoting the Innovation Challenge, with events taking place in Auckland (at Auckland University) on February 21, Christchurch (at ilex Café and Events) on February 22, and Wellington (at Te Papa) on February 23.

Applications are open for the Lightning Lab Electric Accelerator from February 13 to March 27. The programme will begin in Wellington on May 15, with a demo day scheduled for August 10.

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