Kiwi business leaders to support next generation of start-ups

Young Kiwi business leaders such as Veronica Stephenson of Humble Bee and Spindle Fibre Films,  Ben Dunn of Swibo and Andrew Mayfield of Optimal Workshop have volunteered their expertise to support the next generation of sci-tech start-ups.

The entrepreneurs are joining a second Momentum Investment Committee to be hosted by Viclink in Wellington under the UniServices Return On Science’s Momentum programme. The expansion was announced at the KiwiNet awards 2018.

Momentum, a student-led investment committee, was the first of its kind in New Zealand when it was conceived and launched by UniServices through its Return On Science programme in Auckland in June 2017. Over the next 12 months, the new committee, which is a partnership between Return On Science, KiwiNet and Viclink, will recommend promising university student projects from the lower North Island for funding from a $100,000 funding pool (provided by KiwiNet).

The committee will also provide the students with expert advice and direction to help commercialise their innovations.

Momentum in Auckland is chaired by Daniel Xu PhD, chair and CEO of Spark 64 and a graduate of the Stanford Ignite entrepreneurship programme.

"There has been a significant increase in projects with a strong social cause. That is somet​hing we're seeing a lot more with young, student-led projects, is that they care a lot about the impact of their businesses and their ventures, and not necessarily just the commercial side. We've brought in an expert to help us give some workshops with the committee, to give us some ideas of how to help these students. We've seen a wide range of projects from AAV's to energy drinks, a fitness programme and GMO crops," comments Daniel Xu.

Momentum’s success in Auckland has led to the programme being rolled out to the rest of the country, starting with the Wellington committee which will be hosted by Viclink, the commercialisation arm of Victoria University.

The committee provides expert advice and guidance from a team of talented students and experienced business advisors to research and technology project teams who want to commercialise opportunities from fast-moving student ventures.  

As a result, business and investment sectors can expect to see these ‘pre-seed’ intellectual property (IP) and technology projects coming to market faster and with greater chance of success.  

“Momentum is about the future of NZ making investment decisions for the future of NZ. Today’s students have the passion and urgency to innovate in ways that will positively impact on their own and future generations—how can we not support them?” asks Return On Science Programme and Commercialisation Director, Graham Scown.

Mr Scown says Momentum provides constructive, strategic advice to project teams in an environment that is less intimidating and more in line with students’ cultural expectations. 

Emily Sullivan, Viclink’s Entrepreneurship Manager says the new committee will draw upon a pool of talented students who are well networked and close to the latest technologies, ways of working and doing business.

“This move enables us to provide more support, to more young entrepreneurs, and connect them more with the entrepreneurial ecosystem,” she explains.

 “Early-stage funding is very hard to get, especially for students who may not have friends and family to call upon for finance.  So, this is a huge opportunity to help these students develop their projects to the next stage where they can attract further funding from investors,” adds Mrs Sullivan.

Dr James Hutchinson, CEO of KiwiNet says providing funding support now will pay dividends in the long term.

“It is fundamental to New Zealand’s future that we identify and support the next generation of entrepreneurs now,” he says. “If we are going to diversify our economy and drive the prosperity of our country, these are the people who are going to do it.”

“These talented young people need the support of the wider business community to help them create solutions for the big challenges the country faces. Harnessing cutting-edge science is where the answers lie.”

Dr Hutchinson says NZ has a real opportunity to drive forward an entrepreneurial revolution.

“Helping our young people to overcome a fear of failure and supporting them as entrepreneurs is key. We see this initiative as transformative.  It will enable our young people and scientists to make a difference and provide loads of opportunities for the next generation.”