Lightning Lab startups ask – ‘where’s the money’?

By Peter Kerr 21/05/2013

Lightning Lab 2013 saw nine startups pitch their digital products to would-be investors last week, seeking expansion capital for ideas that 12 weeks before mostly existed on paper.

The Wellington Demo Day saw highly polished presentations, with clear development plans and just as clear ‘here’s how we and our investors are going to make money’ to about 300 people at Te Papa’s Soundings Theatre. About half the audience were financiers.

Any investment secured goes to the next stage of development and expansion into global markets.

My initial underlying thought was jealousy.

Why? Because the participants have obviously learned so much.

Tui Te Hau, CEO of Wellington startup incubator Creative HQ up summed this rationale better than I can.

“Lightning Lab is turning out 30 entrepreneurs with a harder edge and keener and smarter drive to succeed than many. How far they go is up to them, but these companies are 12 weeks old and they already have more scars than most get in several years.”

These nine companies were whittled from 87 applications to LL late last year, and each received $6000 per head from a set of founding investors. By being part of a three month intensive acceleration programme, their digital concepts have been validated, built and established with early customers.

The startups have been mentored by local and international advisers, faced hard deadlines in growth targets and a structured model for accelerating early stage business growth based on international best practice.

When Te Hau talks about scars, she’s not exaggerating – but obtaining them so quickly and with the ability to ask advice such as “what should we do now” in such a concentrated manner – is something so valuable it really can’t be priced.

What is patently clear is that the 30 participants, and their wider networks, have had such an injection of entrepreneurial spirit and possibilities that multiplier spinoffs and benefits can only result for Wellington and New Zealand.

Put another way; this programme, with its hand-holding, arse-kicking and question-asking intensiveness will create a virtuous circle of increasing wealth.

And sure, like all of us, these startups have, and will make mistakes.

But, they know what needs to be done to get back on track, or alternatively how to fail-fast (and then get on with another project).

Because the Demo Day was asking for money, what can be reported publicly is limited.

Suffice to say that (and you’d have to imagine that the mentoring has been also strong in this area) the investment dollars being asked for by the startups seemed reasonable and appropriate.

Many of the companies had potential exponential growth rates, but realism ruled.

It is now up to the individual companies themselves to reveal if or what investment(s) have been made in them – and as this becomes known Lightning Lab will have its own raison d’etre validated.

For the record, those presenting were:

LearnKo – delivers online learning programs to English language organisations in Asia, harnessing Australasian tutors, training them and providing them with content to deliver through an online classroom

Publons – platform for crowd-sourced peer-review of academic articles, where academics build a reputation for their contributions. An alternative to the extremely slow, expensive and closed status quo of the past 300 years of academic publishing

Adeez – specialist mobile marketing platform, enabling brands and their agencies to increase their ROI on mobile marketing

Expander – tracking and analytics platform that protects brands by providing them with powerful tools to combat counterfeit, while connecting manufacturers and consumers

teamisto – turn a typical business sponsorship donation to an amateur sports club or team into an effective advertising channel with measurable results

Questo – works with organisations by providing a platform to create activities with incentives and rewards to engage their visitors. A mobile app and analytics engine provides the ability to track, measure and evaluate their visitors’ behaviour

promoki – social media platform that gamifies photo and video contests. Help brands co-create advertising campaigns with their audience and distribute crowd-filled media across multiple social networks

Kidsgomobile – software device to help parents teach their children to become responsible users of their first smartphone. Tool that notifies parents if their child engages in potentially risky phone behaviour and helps them resolve these issues

WIP – platform that enables professional video makers to share their work-in-progress videos with their team and clients to gather precise and meaningful feedback

Without doubt, some of these startups will go on to become much larger businesses. Without doubt too, most of them would not have got to this ‘go’ position without Lightning Lab.

The learning has been immense, and a thumbs up to those investors and sponsors who put their hands in their pockets from the get-go to kick the whole thing off.

Applications for the next Lightning Lab 2014 will open in September this year.