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Agritech For The Environment

Thursday, March 3rd, 2022

For food exporting nations, such as New Zealand, where large scale agriculture remains a huge part of the economy, the environmental cost of greenhouse gas emissions and nutrient runoff pollution has become a focus for action. In the meantime global populations continue to grow as does the demand for food. Agritech innovation is increasingly becoming an important part of the solution.

Now with our government having set an ambitious emissions reduction target of net-zero by 2050 and with local authorities quite rightly under increasing public and legislative pressure to protect waterways, every avenue must be explored to manage agricultural emissions and waste. Funding initiatives such as the New Zealand Green Investment Fund (NZGIF) and He Waka Eke Noa will play a part in achieving this goal. He Waka Eke Noa is a government, primary sector and iwi partnership working to reduce on-farm agricultural greenhouse gas emissions and support adaptation to climate change. The goal is to enable sustainable food and fibre production for future generations. NZGIF is a government backed green investment bank providing loans and equity funding for decarbonisation projects.

So technologies that can help measure, manage and reduce agricultural emissions and waste increasingly need to become part of the farm toolkit. Plant based food and fibre products and green technologies that mitigate climate impact are also receiving huge amounts of venture investment right now. That is where our agritech innovators come in! Here in Canterbury we are blessed with numerous agricultural research institutes and a couple of universities brimming over with projects addressing food, climate and sustainability. But researchers need support with commercialisation pathways if we are to make progress.

That is why ThincLab Canterbury advisors are once again pleased to be part of the team facilitating the 2022 Food, Fibre and Agritech Supernode Challenge alongside B.linc Innovation and University of Canterbury Centre for Entrepreneurship. The programme offers a curated acceleration programme and over $70,000 in prizes and mentoring support for innovators, researchers and entrepreneurs working on startup ventures in food, fibre or agritech.

Sign up for FFA ’22 today and become part of the solution.

ESG Adds Flavour To Venture Investments

Thursday, March 3rd, 2022

The global economy is transforming in the face of both a lingering pandemic as well as the many challenges of the climate crisis. Existing business models are being disrupted and completely new fields of endeavour are opening to entrepreneurs. For example, we already know that climate tech may be the single biggest economic opportunity of our lifetimes, with over US $500 Billion invested in 2020 alone. Building environmental, social and governance (ESG) values into our startup DNA is part of seizing these new opportunities.

Now the UN has developed a guide incorporating ESG into investment policies. The Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI) framework was drawn up with the support of major institutional investors and has at its heart the undertaking that investors weave ESG considerations into all their decision-making, disclosure and reporting processes. Signatories include some of the largest and most influential investors such as Sequoia and Goldman Sachs.

The social and governance part includes growing diversity among startup founders and the boards and advisors that guide them. There’s still much work to be done of course, but PRI is a good start. Over the previous two years, women founders have made up the majority of participants in business startup programmes run through UCE and ThincLab Canterbury. According to Forbes, a number of studies point to female led startups exceeding investment returns compared to those with men in charge. Yet female founders receive less interest from venture funds globally. Could we see this turn around in future?

Creating opportunities for women founders is important, but perhaps the most significant diversity consideration involves cultivating diversity of thinking in venture founders. Skilled migrants from diverse ethnic backgrounds bring strong work ethics and different perspectives to business problems that can accelerate progress within early stage companies. Four out of the five most valuable technology companies in the world were founded by first or second generation immigrants. But it’s a diversity discussion that we rarely hear mentioned in New Zealand.

Mizuki Azai and Olexiy Meshechko (pictured above) brought their startup Caterway along to the ThincLab Canterbury Sprint programme in 2020. The couple met in Christchurch after arriving from Japan and Ukraine respectively. 18 months downstream, the online business continues to make ordering corporate catering easy and has now secured a service contract with a large multinational organisation. The company is also exploring value added services to assist their clients to manage and minimise non-recyclable waste.

Companies like Caterway that align with ESG values are the future. If you are Canterbury based, building a scalable, future focused business and would like support with strategy, capital-raising or business development – please reach out to the ThincLab Canterbury team.

 

Summer In The City

Thursday, March 3rd, 2022

In a world where creativity, community and collaboration are increasingly the basis for new innovation, it has been a joy to witness the next generation of entrepreneurs emerging through the University of Canterbury Centre for Entrepreneurship (UCE) Summer Startup Programme. ThincLab Canterbury advisors have got to know many of the teams, in our capacity as mentors, speakers and pitch coaches over the last few months. Last week’s showcase event put the top twelve ventures up on stage with an opportunity to tell their story in front of an enthusiastic live (and virtual) audience.

From “immersive space tourism” to compostable bioplastics to a relationship advice app for teens, the fertile young minds of the 21/22 cohort expanded to fill the void across wide intersections of technology, environmental and social good initiatives. A special nod went to Holly Millar’s Dam Good Idea, collecting the “Presentation Award” on the night from UC Business School head Paul Ballantine and Showcase organiser Lisa Martin (pictured above). Particularly appropriate and well earned, not only because of the important health issue being addressed, but also after her graceful recovery from an inadvertent technical glitch due to a flat microphone battery.

Keynote speaker, Summer Programme grad and ThincLab alumnus Luke Campbell reminded us that, “it takes a village to raise a startup”. Nowhere has this been more true with so many supporters from across the Canterbury innovation ecosystem freely contributing their time in some way towards the Summer Startup Programme. The brainchild of UCE founder Dr Rachel Wright, next year will be the 10th anniversary of the programme. Let’s hope conditions will allow us to make the Showcase one of the most glittering and inspiring live startup community events on next year’s calendar.

Building Back Better

Tuesday, December 14th, 2021

A serious injury on a job site almost ended single parent Joseph Chapman’s career as a tradesman. But the Start Me Up accelerator programme got him off a benefit and on track to build something new.

Jointly facilitated by Ministry of Awesome and ThincLab Canterbury, the Start Me Up programme aims to support beneficiaries into running their own small businesses. The course starts with an open online classroom format that takes participants through business fundamentals. This is followed by a live accelerator component offering a tailored in-person approach to those selected. In 2022 there will be two accelerator cohorts, allowing wider participation. The course is open to residents of Christchurch, Selwyn and Ashburton.

Joseph, a self-confessed handyman who loves helping people, said that Start Me Up had provided the additional business skills he needed to get his property maintenance business up and running. With the retired, elderly population increasing and most local trades people tied up constructing hundreds of new homes across Canterbury at present, it was a market with unlimited potential. Most of his work came via word-of-mouth referrals or through his Facebook page. But he says Start Me Up got him thinking about the ways he could scale up to employing a small team in future.

Paul Spence and Geoff Brash, advisors from ThincLab Canterbury were involved in facilitation of the programme in 2021 and will be rejoining the presenter lineup once again in 2022. Topics covered will include entrepreneur well-being, validation of problem / customer / solution, revenue streams and market channels, interwoven with personal anecdotes and learnings sourced from the actual prior business experience of the tutors. Local guest entrepreneurs also drop by to share their experiences and enrich the learning.

Start Me Up is supported by Ministry of Social Development and ChristchurchNZ with the assistance of CECC and local Councils.

A Taste For Science

Tuesday, December 7th, 2021

Belonging to a military family in the United States meant growing up in dozens of different locations for Maggie-Lee Huckabee. But arriving in New Zealand at the turn of the millennium to take up an academic post at the University of Canterbury must have seemed like an entirely new beginning altogether. Two decades down the track, canine pets and an aquarium full of fish are testament that Professor Huckabee has finally settled. That’s fortunate for us. Huckabee has become one of the world’s leading authorities on post-stroke recovery and wants to share that knowledge with clinicians globally.

Maggie-Lee started her career by training as a teacher in Texas, but her burning curiosity about everything soon got the better of her. So she signed up for a course on speech language pathology. Then a life-changing event led her down an even more intriguing path. Suffering a head injury during a summer stint as a white-water rafting instructor, opened the door to learning about and ultimately practicing in the area of recovery from brain trauma. This in turn led to her eventually completing a PhD in speech language pathology at the University of Memphis.

Now as the director of the University of Canterbury Rose Centre for Stroke Recovery, Professor Huckabee has a busy teaching schedule, a bunch of post-grads to supervise and a steady stream of clinical work with stroke patients to oversee. Brain damage manifests itself in many ways. One of the biggest success stories at the clinic has involved practical applications of her research into assisting stroke patients in re-learning how to swallow. So Maggie-Lee founded Swallowing Technologies as a University of Canterbury spin-off company, with the aim of commercialising her technology and making it available to clinicians working in the field of stroke recovery.

The ability to swallow seems like such a fundamental reflexive action, that we generally take it for granted. But imagine the horror of losing that ability as a result of a stroke or brain injury. Professor Huckabee developed a world class methodology for treating such cases and is now turning it into a software tool that assists clinicians in the analysis and treatment of dysphagia, or swallowing impairment. Apart from restoring the sublime ability to receive food and drink orally, the therapy also reduces public health costs due to the worryingly high number of patient readmissions that occur as a result of choking or lung infection.

It’s no surprise that Maggie-Lee has received numerous accolades for her work, including a nomination for New Zealander of the Year in the field of innovation and a recently awarded MacDiarmid Medal from the Royal Society of New Zealand. Consequently the growing list of supporters for Swallowing Technologies’ seed round already looks impressive. Prof. Huckabee admits she has been on a steep learning curve on the business side of healthtech. But she attributes her progress to having good advisors and patient investors around her. She is also a huge believer in pursuing translational research that can ultimately help people, as well as generate a commercial return.

Swallowing Technologies is part of the ThincLab Canterbury Growth Programme. ThincLab supports researchers and private companies with advisory on business strategies and capital raising through the support of Callaghan Innovation and ChristchurchNZ. Find out more on the ThincLab Canterbury website.

November 2021 Newsletter

Friday, November 26th, 2021

Nau Mai, Haere Mai.

Welcome to the ThincLab Canterbury monthly update.

Image credit: University of Canterbury

Congratulations Maggie-Lee

Professor Maggie-Lee Huckabee became interested in speech pathology and the processes of healing from brain trauma whilst recovering from a head injury herself many years ago. Now as director of the University of Canterbury Rose Centre for Stroke Recovery, her amazing research is bringing new hope for many patients. This work has been recognised for translating academic research into problem-solving applications with commercial potential. Prof. Huckabee’s latest accolade is the highly prestigious MacDiarmid Medal given by the Royal Society of New Zealand – Te Apārangi. Maggie-Lee’s startup company Swallowing Technologies is part of the ThincLab Growth Programme and is currently raising a seed round in an effort to take this technology to clinicians globally.

Berkano Foods Makes Innovation Nation Top 10

ThincLab currently provides an advisory programme to businesses in conjunction with FoodSouth, the food and beverage innovation hub based in Lincoln. So it was great to see FoodSouth company Berkano Foods making headlines during Global Entrepreneurship Week, featuring amongst the Innovation Nation Top 10 as selected by NZ Entrepreneur Magazine. Berkano Foods is rapidly building a reputation as a premium provider of ready-made vegan meals.

Why Meta Matters

ThincLab advisors keep a pretty close eye on the world of business and tech. But our recent “Thinc-piece” discussing the opportunities for New Zealand creative tech in light of the Metaverse announcement, turned out to be quite prophetic. Less than a week later filmmaker Peter Jackson’s Weta Digital was acquired by games company Unity in a multi billion dollar transaction. Catch up with other thought-provoking articles in the news section on the ThincLab Canterbury website.

Callaghan Launches Global Signals

Callaghan Innovation has launched Global Signals reporting on events, products, practice, business models and technologies that have the potential to grow in the field of food and agritech. Curated by serial entrepreneur (and apiarist) Melissa Clark-Reynolds, there is also a related series of workshops on the topic planned for the near future. The workshops are subsidised and super affordable, so be sure to grab a spot.

AmeriKiwi Reimagining Business

After interviewing almost 300 people in business, Steven Moe of Seeds Podcast fame and local legal beagle has published a thoughtful series of essays on Reimagining Business. Available as a free download or audio podcast the essays precede the 2022 launch of his book on this topic.

Events

Aerospace Christchurch Meetup – 30 Nov

Agritech Tour Online – 30 Nov

Canterbury Tech Summit – 26 Jan

Smart Christchurch Innovation Expo [Feb 2022]

Electrify Aotearoa [Feb 2022]

NZ Aerospace Summit [Feb 2022]

2035 Oceania Summit [April 2022]

 

 

Respecting The Continuum Of Science

Thursday, November 11th, 2021

Anti-viral drugs incorporating protease inhibitors were always likely to be a key piece of weaponry in the arsenal against Covid-19. The medication has its origins in research performed almost 150 years ago, sharply illustrating why we should respect the continuum of science.

Trypsin enzyme molecule

Enzymes are proteins that act as biological catalysts. Enzymology is a branch of biochemistry involving the study of the properties, activity and significance of enzymes and has a long and interesting history dating back to 1833 and the discovery of diastase, a digestive enzyme. But the term “enzyme” was actually not coined until 1877, by eminent researcher in the subject Wilhelm Kühne. It was around this time that the field really began to expand with a series of important discoveries.

For example, the process of fermentation had been observed for centuries. It was commonly understood by ancient drinkers that sugars in solution would convert into ethanol and carbon-dioxide over a period of time. But the actual chemistry involved was not well understood until the identification of the role of enzymes. The science was advanced further by the invention of x-ray crystallography, unveiling the structures of chemical compounds. These revelations opened the door to numerous advances in industrial chemistry and pharmacology including the synthesis of artificial enzymes in the 1970s, incidentally by which time related understandings of the encoding of DNA had also become highly advanced.

Not the least of these discoveries however involved the race to find a cure for HIV-AIDS and the development of a class of drugs called protease inhibitors. Dr Kühne’s early work had identified enzymes called proteases that were able to break down proteins and that were essential to the growth and regulation of cells. Anti-retroviral medications emerged through targeting specific proteases within virus cells which in turn disrupted replication of the deadly virus. Fast forward to 2021 and Pfizer cleverly applies the same technology to produce a highly effective anti-viral that suppresses the Sars-Cov2 virus within already infected patients. Vaccination remains the strongest defence against Covid of course. But for those unfortunate enough to become infected, there is now greater hope.

The history of science is illuminated by many such stories where each researcher methodically built upon the work of those who went before. Wilhelm Kühne probably had no idea that his discoveries would one day play such an important role in saving lives and (twice) addressing a devastating global health problem. At a time when disinformation and lack of basic knowledge is eroding faith in science, it’s important that we reflect on how science and technology assists humanity.

ThincLab Canterbury provides business advisory services to scientists and researchers seeking commercialisation pathways for new discoveries and applied science. Contact the ThincLab team to find out how we can help.

Meta Matters

Monday, November 1st, 2021

Whatever your opinion of the world’s most popular social media platform and its founder Mark Zuckerberg, one thing is for certain. Facebook is throwing the kitchen sink at reinventing itself. But is this a truly paradigmatic shift and what does it mean for startup tech companies on our side of the planet?

Facebook has recently become Meta. All divisions of the company including Facebook and Instagram will operate as separate but related entities under the Meta brand. This mirrors a similar move by Google in 2015. However the reasons for Facebook’s move are different. Six years ago Google came under investor pressure to increase transparency about how it was creating value from various “blue skies” projects within the brand. But in 2021, Facebook has quite different challenges on its hands.

With U.S. regulators taken increasing interest in the adverse effects of online social media monopolies and a marked demographic shift already taking place across its primary platform, Facebook is getting ahead of some serious existential threats, before its shareholders become agitated. Legislator and public discomfort over the enormous power and potential harm of social media has been on the rise for years, but growing levels of pandemic disinformation and frightening revelations about the role of social media in U.S. politics finally prompted a refocus.

The reshuffle is also driven by the fact that Facebook’s user base is growing older and engagement with lucrative younger audiences is rapidly decreasing. It’s no surprise, given that young people are becoming increasingly wary of manipulative algorithm driven content that paints a sometimes brutal and confronting picture of the world they will inherit. Enter the Metaverse. In the face of highly sticky and fun competitors such as Tik Tok and Snap Chat, Zuckerberg is betting on developing a virtual reality world to put a new gloss over the Meta stable.

Of course there is nothing new at all about virtual worlds. But timing is everything in tech and as lockdowns and working from home became normalised, this has renewed interest in virtual environments for business, education and play. There are also new and interesting ways to monetise such platforms now. SmallWorlds was a browser based virtual environment founded by two Aucklanders, that previously had integrations with Facebook, Youtube and Hi5. But sadly the company shut down in 2018, despite a cornerstone investment from Disney. Now with almost universal broadband and high speed mobile and a plethora of fantasy worlds on offer, online gaming has the young adult market covered. Facebook’s Metaverse is clearly seeking a piece of this action.

Interest in online communities will continue in one form or another and virtual reality is the next logical phase of evolution, despite having a chequered history. If nothing else, SmallWorlds proved that New Zealand based developers can deliver extraordinary products and partner globally. Facebook may eventually dominate the mindscape, but perhaps not the entire market. Other operators will be looking to acquire creative talent in this space soon enough. That’s an opportunity for agile, local teams with big ideas.

ThincLab Canterbury advises scalable businesses that have global aspirations and offers the best connections into the research, innovation and investment ecosystem. If you are working on AR/VR, gaming, blockchain, fintech or other digital products and services please contact ThincLab Canterbury for advisory support. Thanks to funding from Callaghan Innovation and ChristchurchNZ, we do not charge fees or take equity.

Pitch Perfect

Thursday, October 21st, 2021

October is Innovation Month at University of Canterbury Centre for Entrepreneurship. As part of the fun, we are holding an informal Pitch Tank session on Thursday 28th October inviting staff and student entrepreneurs to step up and practice pitching their big idea to a panel of our ThincLab Canterbury advisors. So now is the perfect time to delve into what investors look for and what comprises the art of the perfect pitch.

Aswathi Soni FFA Accelerator Pitch

There are certainly some fundamentals that every founder needs to get right when developing a pitch. However each situation has to be assessed on its merits. Is it a fun educational event pitch such as at a Startup Weekend or is your pitch tailored to a major investor responsible for millions of dollars of other people’s money? The tone and content may differ depending on the situation and who’s in the room. Most importantly be sure to thoroughly research your audience and their professional interests beforehand.

Without becoming too prescriptive, there are however a few simple guidelines that inform an impactful investment presentation. ThincLab Canterbury advisor and angel investor Geoff Brash recommends keeping pitches to five minutes or less because the intention is more to garner interest for a meeting, rather than explaining your business proposition in great detail. He suggests using the following core topic headings to build a storyboard.

  • Intro
  • Customer
  • Problem
  • Product Demo
  • Business Model
  • Market Size
  • Traction
  • Path To Market
  • Team
  • The Ask – What level of investment.
  • How Will The Funds Be Spent?
  • Summary & How to Contact

Nick Crocker from Blackbird Ventures spoke to the Territory 3 community recently and shared a few tips for making a pithy pitch. Be good at story-telling and take listeners on a journey, says Crocker. Don’t be a bore. Investors have to sit through a lot of pitches. Twelve slides is usually more than enough. If you do have more, figure out what is superfluous. Also, ensure that you showcase the unique talents of your team early in the pitch. This is part of your advantage over other similar companies. Most importantly, clearly articulate the problem you are solving and why customers will pay you for this.

Explain what stage the company has attained. Idea stage? MVP with early customers? Growth? Real traction maps to actual paying customers, not numbers of social media followers or how much capital was raised previously. If you are intending to mention revenue forecasts, limit it to 24 months. Beyond that is fanciful and your audience knows it! A better approach is to outline how you plan to use any fresh capital to get your company to the next revenue milestone. It’s not essential to outline your future acquisition predictions at the first outing explains Nick Crocker. Smart investors will quickly see where these opportunities lie. In any event, the playing field is likely to evolve considerably before you get to that point.

Creating and delivering the perfect pitch is partly science and partly art. Your pitch content will almost certainly evolve over time. Thoughtful audiences will offer feedback that you can incorporate to improve your pitch, even if it’s not the right investment for them. Pitch Tank is the perfect opportunity to practice your pitch in a low stress setting and get feedback to help you improve.

If you are a staff or student entrepreneur and would like expert feedback on your business idea, reach out to join this event through our ThincLab Canterbury contact page.

Climate Tech A Hot Topic

Thursday, October 14th, 2021

A recent report commissioned by Callaghan Innovation sheds light on the opportunities to lead in the commercialisation of technologies that mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and it delves deeply into how New Zealand “climate tech” businesses can succeed on the global stage. New Zealand Climate Tech For The World articulates the global context and invites the local innovation ecosystem to rise to the challenge. At 209 pages, it is quite a big read. ThincLab Canterbury research commercialisation advisor Paul Spence summarises some of the key points here.

There a numerous ways of measuring the “innovativeness” of an economy, but levels of venture investment tend to receive an overwhelming level of reportage compared to other indicators. Climate tech sectorial innovation is no exception. The numbers are certainly staggering. The Economist recently reported that $500 Billion in capital was invested into the “transition economy” in 2020 alone. That comes as no surprise because whilst climate tech is a huge economic opportunity driven by a critical set of environmental problems, the capital requirements of the sector are substantial. So indications in the Callaghan report that climate tech innovators in New Zealand have raised only a tiny fraction of the investment funding compared to other comparable “small, advanced economies” must be concerning.

Furthermore, historically most funding has been raised by later stage businesses, with Lanzatech essentially being the only substantive project during the last few years. That company has raised over $400 million in capital to date, in its bid to capture industrial waste gases and reconvert into fuel stock. But Lanzatech has been domiciled in the United States since 2014 because the local investment landscape at the time was not ready. A lot has changed since then. How can New Zealand leverage the vast amounts of global capital currently pouring into this space, retain intellectual property and create value for the local economy?

For starters, the report cites the lack of multi-national companies residing in New Zealand as a brake on raising investment and developing partnerships. So this requires a sustained and intentional global engagement by the innovation community and a strong focus on solving key problems for offshore partners. The report goes on to illuminate the three stages of the entrepreneurial journey – R&D/commercialisation, financing and connection to demand. An assessment is provided on how the New Zealand innovation system is delivering in comparison to other small advanced economies such as Israel, Sweden and Finland. The report illustrates that New Zealand consistently lags behind the others in the commercialisaion of climate tech. Predictably however, we do a lot better when a similar analysis is done on agriculture and food sector innovation, illustrating that there is certainly ability to improve.

The report is at pains to point out that other small advanced nations that have successfully launched innovative climate tech industries have done so through a wider process of investing in ecosystems of innovation, rather than backing companies one-by-one. In New Zealand we have a legacy of “picking winners” rather than building capacity across industries. This is slowly beginning to change however. A good example is our government’s recent laudable enthusiasm for promoting an aerospace industry. In fact “sustainable aerospace propulsion” gets a mention as a promising new vertical.

So what other responses are needed to take advantage of the global opportunities in the transition economy? The report suggests a greater emphasis on cross-sector collaboration. A return to nationwide clustering efforts is recommended in order to better utilise knowledge spillover effects. A much stronger focus on researching and growing global demand-side through strategic relationships is also flagged. “New Zealand, as a small, innovative economy that is geographically isolated from much of the world, must use innovation resources efficiently”, say the report authors. Increasing the visibility and attractiveness of the local ecosystem to global players seems instrumental. As a starting point, the report suggests low emissions agriculture (including agritech digitalisation) and geothermal energy as initial focus areas where there is already considerable local expertise. Although these are certainly not the only growth areas.

The report suggests that some technologies are remaining undeveloped in the lab because researchers are being discouraged by too many barriers to success. Obstacles include lack of business knowledge, scarcity of follow-on research funding and time constraints on busy academics. Tailored business advisory support from ThincLab Canterbury can help researchers and entrepreneurs overcome these hurdles and unlock real value. Funded by Callaghan Innovation and ChristchurchNZ, ThincLab does not charge fees or take equity. There’s never been a better time to become an environmental entrepreneur.

Contact ThincLab Canterbury today for support with your Climate Tech venture.