Posts Tagged ‘innovation’

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.

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.

ThincLab: A University Based Incubator Creating Unique Value

Monday, September 13th, 2021

ThincLab is Canterbury’s dedicated Founder Incubator supporting growth stage businesses with global ambitions. ThincLab sits alongside the University of Canterbury Centre for Entrepreneurship (UCE) within the UC Business School. Located on Level 6 of the wonderful Rehua Building on the UC campus, ThincLab is the only Founder Incubator located within a New Zealand university setting. ThincLab is uniquely positioned to provide capability building for founders and their teams, connection to industry experts and agencies and international pathways to growth and investment.

New firms face many challenges due to a lack of networks, resources, knowledge and experience. Consequently these companies face a higher risk of failure than more established firms. Business incubators are designed to help young companies to improve survival rates, maximise growth potential and gain new knowledge. In the case of university based incubators, companies in the programme receive the additional benefits of knowledge spillovers from intellectual property derived from academic research plus ready access to a stream of graduate talent.

Founder Incubators are specially selected business support providers co-funded by Callaghan Innovation, a publicly funded agency that provides research and development services and is involved in cultivating New Zealand’s innovation ecosystem. Founder Incubators welcome applications from any growth stage business within their region. Because of the support from economic development agency ChristchurchNZ, there is a particular focus on assisting high potential companies from within Christchurch. ThincLab also works with ventures emerging out of the University of Canterbury or from the Crown Research Institutes near the city that align with the regional Supernodes Strategy.

Kea Aerospace is a fine example of a company that has leveraged access to capital and talent through its involvement with ThincLab. Company co-founder Mark Rocket was one of the original founders of Rocket Lab, but started his own aerospace venture in 2020 with the help of Dr Philipp Sueltrop who had recently completed his PhD in Electrical & Electronic Engineering through the University of Canterbury School of Engineering. The company is developing a very high altitude unmanned vehicle for acquiring high resolution photographic images. Known as the Kea Atmos, the aircraft can fly for months at a time powered by solar energy.

Luke Campbell and Lucy Turner were still studying at the University of Canterbury when they entered the UCE Summer Startup Programme with their telecommunications startup VXT. Coaching support from ThincLab Growth Programme advisors assisted the company to raise a $600,000 seed funding round. Then the company began acquiring enterprise customers and building a young team of recent UC graduates to assist with developing the business further. VXT was subsequently accepted into Startmate, the pipeline accelerator for Australasian venture capital firm Blackbird Ventures.

Case studies such as these illustrate how a university based incubator such as ThincLab is strongly positioned to bring a unique and powerful range of resources and knowledge to bear for participant companies.

You can find out all about our people, our mission and the programmes we offer on the new ThincLab Canterbury website.