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Done Deal: Recent fundings secured, contracts inked and deals done, all for the tl;dr crowd

A roundup of some of the recent deals done and/or did.

Choice, a new blockchain-based payments system, has announced it has successfully raised $1 million through the NEM blockchain community fund.

Founded in late 2017, Choice is the first blockchain project out of New Zealand to secure non-equity funding from the NEM.io Foundation.

Choice is a payments gateway platform that aims to greatly reduce the 2-6 percent transaction fees that electronic card transaction companies such as Visa and Mastercard pass on to merchants. Providing a direct transfer infrastructure between customers and merchants, it takes half of those merchant savings and donate them to registered charities of the consumers’ choice.

Ossie Amir, co-founder and blockchain lead at Choice, says the project is the first in the world to integrate fiat payment transactions with blockchain infrastructure in order to make a social difference.

“Nowhere in the world is there an agreed standard for the measurement of social impact. Choice has set out to empower the growing number of consumers wanting to make a positive change in the world and create a new measurable way to track the impact of charitable donations.

“Simultaneously, we’re addressing the transaction fees crippling New Zealand’s merchants, of which majority are small to medium enterprises, and ensuring that we keep those billions of dollars in transaction fees from going offshore.

“By using blockchain technology, we’re creating a payments solution that consumers and merchants can trust, with a transparent means of exchanging value, and a choice to pay with impact.

“We’re thrilled to be working with the NEM.io Foundation to help position New Zealand as a global incubator for NEM blockchain based projects in the fintech space and beyond.”

Jason Lee, director of the NEM.io Foundation for Australia and New Zealand – a global not-for-profit organisation helping startups grow using the NEM blockchain technology platform – says Choice is an example how blockchain technology can deliver a wider societal difference.  

“As the first NEM community proposal project in New Zealand, we see Choice as a leading contender to showcase the practical use of the NEM blockchain to the entire world. What makes this an even more attractive project is clear purpose to have a real impact in society.”

The Choice team is currently refining its beta product, with a roll-out expected to take place in the next two months across a number of hospitality businesses across New Zealand. The startup has been working in Wellington at Creative HQ in the last six weeks as part of the Kiwibank Fintech Accelerator program and is working closely with New Zealand regulators.

Choice is quickly building public and merchant support for its platform. The team aims to change the way everyone in New Zealand thinks about payments and encourage responsible adoption of blockchain from the top down.

The NEM blockchain community fund is decided through community voting, with companies posting the concept for their startup or business on NEM community forums, which are then voted on by users. Successful companies are then presented to the NEM.io Foundation, which carries out due diligence before issuing the funding.

From L-R: Ossie Amir, Alex McCall and Fraser McConnell of Choice. 

Robotics Plus Ltd (RPL), a New Zealand agricultural robotics company, has secured investment from Yamaha.

Tauranga-based RPL was created in 2013, and is an early stage R&D company that develops robotics and automation solutions for highly variable agricultural environments. RPLs technologies include post-harvest robotics for fruit packing, orchard robotics for harvesting and pollination, and autonomous agricultural vehicles.

RPL co-founder and CEO Steve Saunders says the new partnership brings together Yamaha’s deep knowledge of agricultural vehicles and their world leading manufacturing robotics technologies with RPL’s expertise in agricultural technology, machine vision and artificial intelligence.

“Robotics Plus has deep roots in horticulture and has built up a strong team of talented robotics and automation engineers. By joining forces with Yamaha, we are in a position to provide truly disruptive robotic solutions that many in the industry are looking for,” he says.

“Our goal is to develop affordable robotic technologies that take advantage of cutting-edge new technologies in machine vision and artificial intelligence. Our partnership with Yamaha provides us with a valuable opportunity to invest in the improvement of our existing agricultural robotic solutions, while supporting future growth by investing in new technologies.”

RPL co-founder and CTO Dr Alistair Scarfe says that while manufacturing has seen significant benefits thanks to automation systems, agriculture still involves many of the same heavily manual tasks that have been around for decades.

“The paradox is that while global demand for fresh produce continues to grow, labour shortages make it increasingly difficult to manage crops. The available labour for orchard and packhouse work is steadily reducing while new plantings will require significant increases in available labour.

“We are developing autonomous solutions for the most menial, repetitive tasks, while creating higher skilled jobs for industry staff. Yamaha shares our vision for a future where robotics will enable farmers to meet growing consumer demand for fresh produce,” he says. 

Hiro Saijo, CEO of Yamaha’s Silicon Valley venture investment arm, says: “Our goal is to make agriculture more sustainable, healthy, and secure, and the current agricultural labour shortage has become critical in many parts of the world. We look forward to working with Robotics Plus to develop next-generation automation solutions by leveraging our experience, knowledge and technologies in outdoor vehicles, factory automation and robotics.”

Saunders’ Māori heritage plays a big part in how RPL was developed.

“Māori values of connectivity to their whenua (land) and being good kaitiaki (custodians) who care about the land, people and environment underpin who we are and what we do,” he says.

“Success in agricultural technology is not just about solving challenges today but is about imagining how automation will transform the agriculture of tomorrow and creating the technologies that will enable that vision. That’s what RPL and Yamaha are aiming to achieve.”

FileInvite, a cloud-based platform for securely transferring and storing personal information used in consumer applications for loans and insurance, has raised more than $1 million in equity funding from New Zealand and Australian investors. The start-up offers businesses a more efficient and safer alternative to email to manage their customer’s personal information, and expects to benefit from a tightening of international data privacy regulations.

Originally developed for managing creative and media files among advertising agencies, Auckland-based FileInvite streamlines the process of requesting, receiving and storing personal information without the need to use email.

The three-year-old company already counts the majority of its customers in the US, Canada and Australia, predominantly in the mortgage broking market, and expects to grow as businesses respond to new regulations designed to protect consumer data.  These include the update to Australia’s Privacy Act in February requiring mandatory disclosure of a breach of personal data, the introduction of the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in May and in New Zealand, the Privacy Bill.

For brokers and advisers, collecting multiple electronic files containing the personal information necessary to satisfy the application criteria for a loan or policy is time-consuming and adds cost and delay to the approval process. A typical mortgage application involves 10-15 requests and anywhere up to 25 separate documents. Consumers have little control over the ongoing security of their information once the application process has been completed.

New investors include Flying Kiwis and NZVIF, as well as IceAngels, Enterprise Angels and private individuals from Australia. Garth Hinton, a member of lead investor Flying Kiwi Angels, will join FileInvite’s board as director and chair. “FileInvite is addressing a real pain point among advisor-based businesses and over time will reduce costs throughout the whole value chain for a process like a loan. Our investment and board level support will enable James’ team to replicate their early lead in mortgage broking into new industries and international markets.”

The new funding will enable product development and marketing to extend the AWS-hosted platform to other industries in which advisers hold sensitive personal information, such as immigration, tax accounting and education.

“We offer a safe and easy way to transfer the documents holding the personal information needed for so many every day processes, like applying for a loan or an immigration visa. Our customers don’t want to be in the business of collecting documentation but must do so to meet application criteria and comply with Anti-Money Laundering and other rules,” says James Sampson, founder and CEO of FileInvite. “As public awareness of data privacy grows we expect consumers and governments will increasingly demand businesses raise the bar in safeguarding the personal data in their care.” 

James Sampson, founder and CEO of FileInvite.

Commercial law firm Simpson Grierson has appointed Anne Callinan as its new chair. Her appointment takes effect immediately.

In a statement, the firm said Callinan’s appointment “caps off a long career at Simpson Grierson including six years on the board.”

The statement also said: “We’re delighted to have someone of Anne’s calibre lead our business. A widely respected senior litigator, she is known for her strategic thinking and down to earth approach.”

The appointment also comes as sexual assault and harassment cases have been rocking the law profession, involving numerous people at numerous firms.

Anne Callinan.

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