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More than a moonshot: ZeroPoint Ventures co-founder Dan Khan shares lessons and learnings from the new 0.Sprint accelerator

Kiwi accelerator company ZeroPoint Ventures – described by Silicon Valley heavyweight Bill Reichert as "a venture fund that is driven by proof, not just hope" – has completed its first 0.Sprint crash course. The course was week-long programme which incubated a cohort of ten ventures from around New Zealand, aiming to grow the varying start-up businesses and help them through some of the larger obstacles holding them back. We talk to co-founder Dan Khan about the change in ZeroPoint Venture's model to an in-person, week-long incubator, as well as how this shortened structure worked out for the companies. 

Co-founded by Dan Khan (who previously had his hands in fellow start-ups Lightning Lab and Startup Weekend) ZeroPoint Ventures launched in July last year and was supported by Callaghan to help companies grow their revenues from day one, rather than focusing on maximising shareholder profit. While it was originally modelled based on its digital programmes, it has since moved into a physical setting with the launch of O.Sprint.

The event saw ten ventures across the country, who are at differing stages, take part in the one-week accelerator programme aimed to surround venture teams with the right startup environment, people, and networks. According to Khan, unlike the more traditional venture accelerators that focus on investment-readiness, the 0.Sprint format is adaptable to any company's goal. He says for some that might be a growth or product goal, but for many, it's figuring out the fastest way to start.

Asked why the move from virtual programmes into face to face events like O.Sprint, Khan says, “The virtual models were okay but we needed to get face-to-face, as that's where a lot of the magic happens, and in reflection, they were too long. I thought having a shorter burst of activity would have a lot more impact, when giving ventures a long period of time, they tend to take up the whole time”.

The face-to-face results and snappier application process generally generated strong progress for the businesses involved, and according to Khan, eight of the ten ventures significantly accelerated their business progress over the week-long programme.

Of the ten teams, Khan says: “We saw some really interesting businesses, both startups, and traditional organisations in our first 0.Sprint. The challenges they were looking to solve were really diverse from offsetting carbon and building corporate environmental sustainability using new technologies like Blockchain; another looking to demystify the investment raising process; and one looking to figure out how to build solar networks on the moon."

While building solar networks on the moon sounds far fetched, Khan says it was pleasing to see that kind of ambition on display. The company behind it is ExtraTerrestrial Power, which plans to build solar cells and a distributed power network on the moon.

“Toth’s team had already plugged into the right contacts and through the 0.Sprint programme found a great mentor in the aerospace industry who has helped them develop a business plan towards real commercialisation and production on the moon by 2028," Khan says.

However, while every company shot for the stars, not everyone landed on the moon. Two of the ten teams fell short with one ‘self-imploding’ due to a new team struggling under the pressure, and another pivoting during the week after recognising it needed to change its business model.

“When you are a new team and you put people under that kind of pressure, the pros and cons of each member comes out, and it’s better to test them at the start, than find out two years down the track when everyone is holding equity in the company," Khan says.

Despite the general sprint format and concepts being relatively well known, they have traditionally been the realm of fast-moving startups. The 0.Sprint programme has allowed more established businesses looking to reinvent themselves, and creates a great competitive advantage, too.

“Starship Foundation was one such team who joined our inaugural 0.Sprint, and for an organisation who are looking at new models of digital transformation and reinvention, it has really allowed them to get a huge dose of startup DNA in a short time to accelerate their mindset, experience, and entrepreneurial networks which are often missing from a purely in-house approach," Khan says. 

Although, the first 0.Sprint was based in Auckland to ensure a successful pilot, ZeroPoint’s ultimate model is to provide access to these central tools, resources, and networks, to companies outside of the main centres.

Khan explains: “Our first 0.Sprint attracted teams as far as Christchurch and Palmerston North, who spent a week in Auckland with us working on their businesses. Lea-Ann de Maxton whose venture, 5 Million Flying Kiwis, which aims to create ‘impact hubs’ across the country was the recipient of a 1-week scholarship from Tower Insurance.”

While the 0.Sprint programme wasn’t about winning and losing, it did culminate in a judging panel where start-up veterans Rudi Bublitz, Glen Harris, and Misti Landtroop crowned carbon-offsetting platform, Blocktree Solutions, with a first prize of over $10,000 of support in education, mentoring, and office space provided by Debra Chantry at The Common and Massey University. Additionally, Starship Foundation placed second, which was a great result given their non-start-up roots, and Night District, a new live music venture founded by Tia Aoake from event partner PixelFusion’s own team, came in third.

In regards to future programmes, Khan says the team has been amazed at the variety of ventures coming out of the first 0.Sprint programme and will definitely run it again.  

"With so much demand for venture support that doesn’t require a huge commitment or cost, we want to get as many more moonshot ventures through a 0.Sprint as possible!” he says. 

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