Wellington-based Lightning Lab, which bills itself as “the southern-most digital accelerator program on the globe,” just announced its first intake of nine startups from across New Zealand and Australia, who will work with over 100 mentors.
Aside from being New Zealand’s capital city, Wellington is the center of the country’s tech industry. It was one of the main spots for the “Lord of the Rings” film trilogy’s on-location shots (Peter Jackson’s Weta Digital was established there in 1993) and the movie industry serves as a spring-board for much of New Zealand’s entrepreneurial talent. Indeed, one of companies in Lightning Lab’s current intake, WIP, is a platform that seeks to “bridge the feedback gap” between filmmakers and clients.
The other startups are: Questo! (tools to assist teachers, motivate students and bring parents into the educational loop); Teamisto (metrics-based skill training for sports teams); KidGoMobile (facilitating independence, and staged digital device interactivity for children of all ages); Expander (digital mass encryption packaging solutions for global products); Promoki (collaborative media through crowdsourcing); My Buy (combining location sensitive devices, individual choice and relevant time dependent products, and promotion); LearnCOACH (enabling deep, one-on-one educational engagement for homes, study groups, and homework sessions); and Publons (building profile and peer-recognition for academic contributions and publications).
The nine teams will receive $18,000 NZD in startup capital from New Zealand angel investors and funds to fuel their three months in Lightning Lab as they gear up for the Lab’s Demo Day on May 15, which program director Dan Khan says will be the largest ever assembly of New Zealand and Australian angel investors and venture capitalists. These companies hope to join the ranks of TradeMe, Hyperfactory and M-Com (the latter two had U.S.-based exits) as New Zealand startup success stories.
The accelerator looks for “founding teams with working history and domain experience in the field they are targeting. We want to see vision and inspiration coupled with scalable growth markets,” says Nick Churchouse of Creative HQ, Lightning Lab’s founder.
Churchouse tells me that most Kiwi startups look to the U.S. as their target market. “Domestic markets are only ever going to be a beta puddle for New Zealand startups, and Australia holds more promise but still a limited market with significant challenges despite its proximity,” he says. “Primarily New Zealand startups have looked to the U.S. and that’s where we see a lot of the trade sales happening. But other western markets are just as viable and popping up more and more, such as the U.K. and Europe. Landing pads and market centers in Asia are becoming more and more established, with anecdotal evidence of more startups getting traction in China and Southeast Asia.”
Though Wellington (and indeed, New Zealand’s population) is tiny, Lightning Lab views the country’s small size as an asset that will allow its emerging startup ecosystem to have a “collaborative culture” that will help outweigh challenges.
“There’s no denying the available capital for startups here is less than in the States and most larger markets,” says Churchouse. “The ecosystem here is emerging and we have a great number of motivated investors, the founding investors behind the Lab being a great example. Part of the goals of the Lab are to drive more success stories in the tech startup space to build more energy and momentum in this space, which will bring more investors into the fold.”
One of Lightning Lab’s mentors is Phil McCaw from venture capital fund Movac, who was an early investor at TradeMe, which sold to Fairfax for $700 million in 2006. A full list of mentors can be found here.