Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Rodin Rides The F1 Wave

Monday, September 18th, 2023

Liam Lawson’s creditable placing within the top ten at the 2023 Singapore Grand Prix was a triumph for a first drive on the tricky street circuit. Interestingly, Lawson’s development pathway was underwritten by a Canterbury connection.

Lawson is a Red Bull Junior driver and is currently the Formula One reserve driver for both Oracle Red Bull Racing and Scuderia AlphaTauri. He was catapulted into a driving spot with AlphaTauri after veteran Daniel Ricciardo injured his hand in a crash prior to the Dutch Grand Prix.

The meteoric rise of the 21 year old New Zealand driver is partly due to support from high tech engineering firm Rodin Cars, based at Wandle Downs, near Mt. Lyford in North Canterbury. The firm continues to sponsor Lawson in 2023, having been his lead sponsor since 2021, when he was competing in Formula 2. Lawson’s relationship with Rodin first began back in 2018, when he tested the Formula 3 car of company founder and serial technology entrepreneur David Dicker.

Rodin Cars also has a partnership with the University of Canterbury Motorsport (UCM) team. The arrangement allows UCM students to gain valuable experience working on Rodin Cars projects, whilst providing Rodin Cars with a pipeline of willing and talented young engineers. The firm offers educational workshops for UC students covering a range of topics related to motorsport engineering. The students also receive opportunities to work on real-world motorsport projects.

With the recent acquisition of a stake in highly respected U.K. based Carlin racing team, the prospect of direct involvement by Rodin in Formula One comes a step closer.  With a high performance street car already in production and clear aspirations of one day building and racing their own F1 car, Rodin Cars taps into some cutting edge technology to get the job done. 3D printing of components, active aerodynamics and super-lightweight materials are all wrapped around a high performance V10 engine that has been turning the heads of some well-heeled clients.

Thanks to Lawson’s success, the global profile of the company is sure to rise, along with future sales of the Rodin supercar. A perfect example of high end manufacturing and a smart global engagement strategy growing economic opportunities across our region.

Paul Spence is an advisor, strategist and content author with ThincLab Canterbury. Supported by ChristchurchNZ, ThincLab provides business growth support and advice to University of Canterbury ventures and high value emerging companies from around the Canterbury region.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Pivoting In Zinc

Monday, December 5th, 2022

A little over two years ago when University of Canterbury cleantech spinoff company Zincovery won the prestigious C-Prize competition, nobody would have fully anticipated the journey that was about to unfold. Now with several million dollars in venture funding in hand and a solid commercialisation pathway planned out, the future looks bright.

Zincovery, founded by Associate Professor Aaron Marshall and chemical engineer Jonathan Ring, began life as a research project looking at how to extract zinc from toxic industrial waste. Encouraging early laboratory results led the pair to initially focus on galvanised steel manufacturing as a target customer. But it was soon found that the cost of recovery would exceed any economic benefits. This led to some further customer discovery work revealing that remediation of scrap metal furnace dust was a major environmental problem needing solving and that the Zincovery process could be the solution.

This opened the door to a potentially much larger global market, with Zincovery technology offering a lower energy and lower CO2 output means to recovering valuable zinc from industrial smelters all over the world. Unsurprisingly, at a time when the spotlight is very much upon solving environmental problems, the company’s recent capital raise was oversubscribed at $3 million and included participation from investor luminaries such as Icehouse Ventures and Climate VC Fund. Zincovery has now grown to a team of seven (see photo), and is hunting for a business development guru and an additional research scientist as it works on delivering the solution on an industrial scale.

Jonathan Ring says having a supportive board helped during their pivot. Developing a new strategy and communicating to your stakeholders is critical, he says. “There is always a possibility of failure, but it is also important to explain why you are optimistic of success.  Then go ahead and execute on your strategy whilst keeping a level head.”  He adds that, “ThincLab was our first sounding board for business strategy and ideas before we had our formal board of directors in place. It is critically important for founders to get external advice, to help grasp the bigger picture.”

ThincLab delivers business advisory to growth stage companies and research based ventures with the support of regional economic development agency ChristchurchNZ. Apparently backing the local innovation ecosystem has begun paying off. Startup Blink recently announced that Christchurch has risen into the top 250 startup cities globally. On the current trajectory, the city could eventually be New Zealand’s top destination for high tech startups. That would be a significant milestone in a world where competing for talent and capital is incredibly challenging.

Image credit: Jonathan Ring


The Good And The Grate

Friday, October 7th, 2022

It has been almost a decade since soulful musician and devout vegan foodie Flip Grater returned to New Zealand after a whirlwind global career in the entertainment industry. Now she’s on a mission to impact the world in a different way.

Grater Goods was established to fill a void in the market for high quality vegan charcuterie and snacks. From humble beginnings cooking up vegan sausages and selling to friends on social media, the company has expanded to provide a range of offerings from its own website, cafe/store and through catered functions. Globally, consumer demand for tasty plant-based protein is growing steadily. So with export opportunities beckoning on the horizon, thanks to support from New Zealand Trade & Enterprise and with a major investment funding round well underway, the future looks bright.

Companies like Grater Goods have begun ushering in a new era as consumer concern for the environment grows and people seek to make a tangible difference by reducing or completely eliminating animal products from their diets. The days of bland and tasteless are long gone. In fact, having tasty vegan meats, cheeses and pates on hand to share over a glass of wine was always one of the big drivers for Grater. The amazing GG cafe in Orbell Street, Sydenham reflects this philosophy entirely with its steampunk chic, warm welcomes and delightfully eclectic food and wine offering.

Like almost all food and hospitality businesses, Grater Goods has faced more than its fair share of challenges during the pandemic years. But diversifying into online sales and opening up channels into supermarket retail helped keep the dream alive. Flip Grater says that building an excellent team with shared values is critical for early stage companies in overcoming adversity. She also recommends being open to external advice and closely examining blind spots in the strategy. Balancing instincts with collective wisdom plays nicely alongside Grater Goods’ company values. That’s advice most startup founders can sink their teeth into.

Grater Goods is part of the FoodSouth – ThincLab mentoring programme supported by ChristchurchNZ.

Building Berkano

Friday, September 2nd, 2022

Imagine leaping from student life directly into your own food manufacturing startup serving a high growth consumer market. Britteny Bryan and Nick Harlow, who met at the University of Canterbury, did exactly that. Having converted to veganism, the young couple spotted a gap in the market for tasty, pre-cooked vegan meals. A few years on, they are now busy juggling the many demands of their exciting and rapidly developing business Berkano Foods.

Pre-seed funding from a distribution partner plus a chunk of cash in hand from a crowd funding campaign facilitated initial scaling of the Berkano operation, allowing the company to move into a MPI certified food production facility in the suburb of Belfast, Christchurch. With retail distribution plus direct sales of vegan meals through the Berkano website, the company now enjoys multi-million dollar revenues with six full time employees on board. But like many entrepreneurs, the couple went through some tough times at the beginning of the venture.

The original setup in another part of the city featured an attached vegan cafe. The cafe helped to grow their fan base, but the emergence of pandemic lockdowns in 2020 soon put a stop to the flow of coffee and vegan snacks. The upside was that demand for pre-cooked vegan meals went through the roof. Berkano also caught the attention of FoodStuffs who agreed that tasty, microwaveable vegan food was a fast growing category worthy of shelf space. The product can now be found in New World supermarket food chillers all over the South Island. Progressive Enterprises quickly followed suit by adding distribution across Countdown and Fresh Choice stores.

Dedicated to sustainability and with a slew of awards under their belts, including a notable mention in the Forbes 30 Under 30 list, the founders have taken responsibility for embedding positive environmental, social and governance (ESG) principles into the business. Product packaging is completely recyclable and the Berkano team are fully transparent about their manufacturing and quality control processes. You can actually take a peek inside their meat free production line through the Berkano Tik Tok video series.

Markets for plant-based food products are expected to enjoy double-digit growth over the next 5 years, as consumer dietary preferences continue to migrate away from traditional sources of protein. This should support a planned future investment round. From meat free mango chicken to humble mac ‘n cheese, Berkano looks well positioned to become a leading light in Canterbury’s food manufacturing sector.

ThincLab Canterbury provides business advisory to emerging food companies as part of the ThincLab-FoodSouth pilot programme with the support of ChristchurchNZ.

FFA Spotlights Migrant Entrepreneurs

Sunday, June 26th, 2022

Over a decade ago MacDiarmid Institute founder, renown physicist and technology entrepreneur the late Professor Sir Paul Callaghan proclaimed that we needed to make New Zealand “the place where talent wants to live”. Results of the 2022 Food, Fibre & Agritech (FFA) Supernode Challenge suggest we have reasons to be optimistic about attracting top talent to our shores.

During the last few weeks ThincLab advisors have been mentoring teams involved in the 2022 Food, Fibre and Agritech Supernode Challenge accelerator programme. The Challenge, supported by ChristchurchNZ, KiwiNet and the Canterbury Mayoral Forum sought to uncover innovative ideas with commercalisation potential from across research and business. Notably, environmental sustainability has been a key theme addressed by entrants within this year’s programme. Applicants really stepped up, with an initial 36 respondents whittled down to 24 participants, of these 12 outstanding finalists were selected.

Canterbury has a long and rich association with agricultural and is home to two universities and numerous land based research institutions. So there is no shortage of smart ideas on offer. But it has been a special thrill to see our skilled migrant researchers and entrepreneurs strongly represented among the participants in this programme. For many of them it has been a steep learning curve stepping out of the research lab and grappling with the fundamentals of business for the first time. But in every case they have grasped the opportunity and run with it.

Challenge overall winners Mahnaz Shaverdi and Associate Professor Ken Morison are food process engineering researchers from the University of Canterbury with big plans for turning plain old pea protein into a more desirable food source. Shaverdi migrated from Iran with the aim of pursuing further study and raising her young family in New Zealand. Morison is a respected engineer who originally returned home to work in the dairy industry after completing his doctorate at Imperial College in London. Commercialisation of their research is timely. Plant-based ingredients are one of the fastest growing food categories globally, as witnessed through the recent investment by Khosla Ventures in Canterbury plant protein processor Leaft Foods.

At a time when the world needs many bright minds to be working collectively on solving the myriad of social, economic and environmental problems that confront us, it is exciting to know that our skilled migrants are making an increasingly significant contribution. This is a success story that we rarely hear about and that needs to be told more often. Sir Paul Callaghan would have been encouraged by this progress.


All Aboard For Seaweed Science

Wednesday, June 8th, 2022

As a child, Andy Park says he was always interested in drawing, building and breaking things apart. It is hardly surprising then that he eventually discovered the answers to many of his questions through the world of science. Lately he’s been applying his ever-curious mind to decarbonisation of the construction industry.

SeaBoard is a fire-resistant plasterboard lining material made from processed seaweed. The product solves several “burning” problems right now with builders desperate to find additional sources of safe, clean and fireproof construction materials. SeaBoard not only has a much lower carbon footprint during production than traditional board, but actually sequesters carbon in the form of compressed seaweed.

Development of the product evolved out of Park’s University of Canterbury studies. Now as part of the Food, Fibre and Agritech Supernode Accelerator, Andy has received valuable advice on how to take the venture forward, including support from ThincLab Canterbury advisor Sean Whitaker. The programme has lifted his confidence and improved his overall knowledge on the business side, says Andy. Although it seems like the young University of Canterbury (UC) grad was on the right track from an early age.

Park emigrated from Korea with his family when he was a teenager. He cites his businessman father as a key influence leading him along the path of technology entrepreneurship. But he also credits Jony Ive, Apple’s lead consumer products designer as an inspiration. “Apple demonstrated that good product design can fundamentally improve our lives”, enthuses Andy. With the right partnerships in place, Seaboard could become a revolutionary and much sought after building product.

Things really took off with his 2021 success at the UC Innovation Jumpstart competition, just as he was completing his Industrial Product Design Bachelor degree. The School of Product Design sits within the highly regarded College of Engineering at the University of Canterbury. Andy was able to further his project over summer through a research assistant position with Dr. Dennis Pau looking into the thermal properties of different seaweed species.

The project is one of several submitted to the Challenge by UC researchers looking into sustainability and the transition to a greener, lower carbon economy. Now plans are underway to develop a final prototype and explore licensing options. Things are just warming up for Andy Park and his seaweed centred product design.

The Food, Fibre & Agritech Supernode Challenge is made possible with the support of ChristchurchNZ, KiwiNet and the Canterbury Mayoral Forum.


Curating Community Key To Success

Thursday, June 2nd, 2022

Blackbird Ventures’ recent visit to ThincLab was all about the well known venture capital firm getting to know our founders. But it was also about community building, collegiality and learning.

After numerous false starts thanks to lockdowns and alert level changes, we finally managed to pull off our long awaited event hosting the New Zealand Blackbird and Startmate crews at the University of Canterbury Centre for Entrepreneurship. Having created $10 billion in equity across some of Australia’s earliest unicorns, not to mention a generous sprinkling of other high growth companies, Blackbird Ventures has emerged over the last decade as Australasia’s largest and most active venture capital firm.

Whilst venture investment may not be for everyone, for those companies embarking on the journey, preparation is key. So we had Blackbird principal Phoebe Harrop lead a pitch workshop with founders from across the Christchurch ecosystem invited. Kathleen Yee from Plant My Carbon stepped up to give her Food, Fibre & Agritech Supernode Challenge pitch for the first time. “It was a wonderful opportunity to get feedback from a leading investor with the support of a room full of friendly founders” she said. Liam Beale CEO of Zealandia Systems, a ThincLab Growth programme company, also pitched. He explained that the session gave him some fresh ideas about refining his material ahead of some big sales events and conferences.

Harrop, who now runs the New Zealand wing of Blackbird, expressed that she is a big fan of building community. Blackbird is all about “finding the wild hearts” she says and investors ultimately rely on a pipeline of opportunities created by a vibrant and connected community. This has led to a promise of renewed engagement across the wider startup ecosystem including the announcement of a new Sunrise event planned for later this year. Now with the news of NZ Growth Capital Partners committing $30 million to Blackbird’s second $100M Kiwi fund and the relationship with Blackbird on a firm footing, it’s a fair bet there’s going to be a lot more pitch practice happening around the office.

Blackbird Singing

Thursday, May 19th, 2022

Currently holding around $10 billion in equity across companies, including some of Australia’s early unicorns, plucky Blackbird Ventures is arguably now Australasia’s largest and most active venture capital firm. We are thrilled to be hosting the Blackbird team at UCE/ThincLab on Wed 25th May.

The company has taken a founder-centric approach to every investment deal since launching in 2012. Building an engaged community of innovators, entrepreneurs and investors has been at the heart of the enterprise. This has been a point of difference for the “startup VC” since day one. Until the pandemic, Blackbird regularly hosted the Sunrise event for Aussie startups and has been a frequent supporter of events, online talks and roadshow gigs across the ditch in New Zealand. Blackbird also runs the StartMate accelerator programme. The team are on a New Zealand-wide roadshow tour and are visiting Christchurch as key sponsors of Electrify Aotearoa.

It’s surprisingly difficult to summarise the company’s investment thesis considering their highly diverse portfolio ranges from alternatives foods to software-as-a-service to precious metals recycling. What all of these investments generally have in common however are gnarly enterprise, cultural or environmental problems that call for solutions from committed and talented teams. Blackbird already has a Canterbury connection, having invested in Christchurch based auto parts marketplace Partly during 2021, alongside other luminaries such as Rocket Lab co-founder Peter Beck.

Could your startup be the next big thing? Join us and the Blackbird team next week for a presentation and networking session.


COllaborating On Carbon

Sunday, May 15th, 2022

Carbon credit trading has sometimes been criticised as counterproductive to the goal of reducing carbon dioxide emissions on the basis that markets enable large emitters to avoid any meaningful change of behaviour. However trading markets, technologies and legislative frameworks are evolving steadily to answer such questions. Carbon trading and offsetting remain an important part of the mix. This year three of our Food, Fibre & Agritech accelerator teams are working hard on projects to increase transparency and impact around carbon sequestration within indigenous forest.

Current evidence suggests that more than two thirds of New Zealand’s native forest has been lost since human settlement began. This pattern is certainly not unique to our remote islands. Tropical and temperate rain forest ecosystems continue to remain under threat around the world. But now loopholes in local legislation are disturbingly allowing further environmental degradation through extensive plantings of low value pine tree monocultures. So at a time when we need to be remediating our environment and permanently removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere to limit increases in temperature, many people feel frustrated at a lack of appropriate solutions.

Switching to renewable energy sources, making fewer car journeys and consuming less imported goods for example are practical steps that everyone can take right now. But the wider global economy is undergoing a significant transition away from carbon intensive activity as green investment grows and polluting industries fall out of favour with investors. Carbon sequestration in the form of native tree reforestation is an exciting approach that could not only help us meet emission targets, but also regenerate long lost natural ecosystems alongside benefiting fresh water through reduced sediment loss.

Fittingly, the support of economic development agency ChristchurchNZ is allowing us to take an ecosystem building approach to our startup innovation community too! So as part of the Food, Fibre & Agritech Supernode Challenge we curated a collaborative discussion session (pictured) with participant teams working on carbon transition problems. Primary Insight co-founder and environmental consultant Andrew Curtis is a man who prefers to describe big problems as opportunities. As a precursor to carbon trading, the company wants to extract and process remote sensing data that validates land afforestation and creates value for rural landowners, he explained.

CarbonZ is building a New Zealand flavoured carbon credit trading platform that will immediately create liquidity for native forest owners within the local framework. Company co-founder and University of Canterbury Honours graduate Finn Ross secured pre-seed funding for the venture from some well known local investors and has an eye on future growth into global markets. The Plant My Carbon crew are looking into electronic tagging of native tree plantations to allow users to visualise exactly where their investments and carbon offsets reside. The team formed through working on MBA projects within the University of Canterbury Business School. Taking an ecosystem approach to growing our startups is all about  bringing together capital, talent and good ideas for a greener future.

#FFA2022 is supported by ChristchurchNZ, KiwiNet and the Canterbury Mayoral Forum alongside ThincLab Canterbury, University of Canterbury Centre for Entrepreneurship and B.linc as delivery partners.


Sustainability Focus For Researchers

Monday, May 9th, 2022

Climate change and environmental concerns are never far from our minds these days and especially so for science researchers within our universities and Crown Research Institutes. So this year’s Food, Fibre and Agritech Supernode Challenge has a special focus on primary sector sustainability. As global interest in waste mitigation and production of alternative foods with lower carbon profiles surges, University of Canterbury researchers are rising to the challenge.

Reducing emissions through application of greentech is not only good for the planet, but also represents a substantial economic opportunity. Something the global investment community is rapidly getting on board with. It is estimated that over $100 billion was invested in cleantech or decarbonisation technologies by private equity or venture capital investors in 2021 globally and more than half of that was for early stage companies. Those figures do not include hundreds of millions that have poured into plant-based food companies as consumer demand explodes.

The recent news of a US$15M series A investment into Leaft Foods, from highly respected deep tech investor Khosla Ventures, illustrates that research based Canterbury companies can foot it on the global stage. Founded by agri-food pioneers Maury and John Penno, the company aims to produce high value Rubisco protein directly from leafy crops with a 10x lower carbon footprint per hectare than conventional dairy protein. Food process engineer and Leaft CEO Ross Milne learned his trade under the tutelage of Associate Professor Ken Morison at the University of Canterbury.

In fact Morison and PhD candidate Mahnaz Shaverdi form one of the researcher teams involved in this year’s Food, Fibre & Agritech Supernode Accelerator programme (FFA). They are looking into how production technologies from the dairy industry can be applied to processing of plant protein. University of Canterbury biotechnologist Associate Professor David Leung is excited about the application of specialised plant varieties in solving environmental problems. With post-doctoral research associate Dr Gowtham Janardhanan, the team are focused on the vexatious issue of extracting nitrates from waterways with plant biomass that can be recycled as an energy feedstock.

Finalists in the programme will present at E Tipu – BOMA Agri Summit in Christchurch 21-22 June.

Food, fibre and agritech contributes a huge share of Canterbury’s regional economic activity. Connecting researcher talent to local industry as well as identifying sources of capital for good ideas are all part of the grand plan to build capability. #FFA2022 is supported by ChristchurchNZ, KiwiNet and the Canterbury Mayoral Forum alongside ThincLab Canterbury, University of Canterbury Centre for Entrepreneurship and B.linc as delivery partners.

Image credit: Paul Spence