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Posted: 06 September 2017
News, events and announcements from New Zealand's startup sector

Welcome to the next instalment of the Startup Team's newsletter. As usual, it’s been non-stop activity, launches, and energy – including for us a whole host of ‘new’ and ‘firsts’, not least of which was our marketing campaign (more below) following the announcement of our new partners.

We are extremely proud to be working with our partners for incubator and accelerator services to July 2019. In case you missed it, the press release is here and you can find out more about our partners here.

The procurement process brought out the best in everyone, with creative new approaches seen across the board. We are excited to be working with partners old and new, and looking forward to collaborating with others in the ecosystem.

There has been plenty going on out there, so...

Here is the Startup Team’s newsletter of updates, recent events and upcoming activities to keep you sprightly!

Take a moment, grab a cuppa and enjoy :)

-The Callaghan Innovation Startup Team

Startup Marketing Campaign

Alongside the procurement, we recently launched a digital marketing campaign promoted across Facebook, LinkedIn, Google and other programmatic channels. We also have a print ad in the latest Idealog!

With a goal of generating awareness of Callaghan Innovation’s startup services, we generated over 3 million impressions, and received 31 new leads that have been directly referred to the ecosystem.

A number of (applicants to our programme) remarked that they'd seen your adverts on social media for accelerators and incubators, and from there have applied to our programme.  Really pleased to see Callaghan Innovation taking such a positive step to promote the industry, and help more ventures find support across the ecosystem in programmes like ours.

This was a first for us, and we have taken a ton of learnings from the experience. Thanks to all of our partners who helped make this possible.

FLUX Demo Day

Fantastic outcomes following Flux Demo day on 29 June 2017

FLUX and The IceAngels were thrilled to host nearly 500 guests for their largest event to date, held at the MOTAT Aviation Hall, in Auckland. It was a spectacular evening, with each of the 11 FLUX and guest companies presenting extremely professional and well-prepared pitches.

All 11 startups attracted the interest they were seeking and are well positioned to attract the support they need: Genoapay, Mastaplex, Tectonus, and Osnova are closing in on their funding targets, or are nearly oversubscribed; Regen, Melodics, Lifeonics, VidApp, Blinder, Lumaten, and Armadillo have all generated good interest and are undergoing due diligence and securing further commitments. Read about Genoapay attracting a record accelerator investment here.

It’s great to see so many innovative startups are already actively managed Callaghan Innovation customers. With some seriously impressive startups coming through FLUX, the startup team is excited to be able to give these companies access to our staff and services – a unique and unfair advantage for competing on the world stage.

Lightning Lab Electric

If you plant a light bulb in your garden, does it grow into a power plant?

Lightning Lab Electric (LLE) has spent the last three months finding solutions to some important challenges facing the electricity sector.

Callaghan Innovation has powered Lightning Lab Electric with CreativeHQ because of the need for a sector specific accelerator programme addressing real and perceived issues relating to incumbency of market participants, complexity of regulations, access to data particularly end customer, uptake of new hardware (e.g. solar photovoltaic, energy storage and electric vehicles) and the significance of decisions to invest in new assets against a background of rapidly changing technology and consumer preferences.

James Muir, Callaghan Innovation Business Innovation Advisor - Energy and Environment

For some more on the journey the teams have been on, check out the LLE Blog .

We are charged up for Demo Day on Thursday 7 September, where the four teams will present. There will then be a series of breakout groups to discuss priority themes in the industry.

Callaghan Innovation will continue to liberate innovators in and around the energy sector. In addition to working with individual businesses, we will establish the Digital Energy Hub, a light touch initiative to encourage early adoption and commercialisation by the energy sector of the next wave of digital technologies which present a challenge and opportunity for many businesses in the energy sector – from start up to established – and for those in adjacent sectors such as Information Technology, transport and industry.  James Muir, Callaghan Innovation's Business Innovation Advisor for Energy and Environment, will provide a full blog soon on the outcomes – we are looking forward to it!

Vodafone XONE 2017 Launch

Congrats to the successful companies welcomed to the next Vodafone XONE

The ten companies in Vodafone xone are: Wine Grenade; Hectre; Thematic; 1Centre; EVNEX; Sonnar; Interactive; Emblim; Vensa Health; Tectonus and Parkable. Read more here!

Mahuki GLAM!

Mahuki is well under way with its current cohort of teams providing technology solutions to the GLAM sector (galleries, libraries, archives, museums).

The awesome teams are here.

Mahuki supports each team through:

  • financial support of $20,000 (in exchange for equity)
  • access to Te Papa's experts, collections and visitors
  • knowledge and understanding to better deliver to the cultural sector in NZ and globally
  • visits from international experts who are leaders in digital integration and innovation in the cultural/entertainment sector
  • the opportunity to visit global cultural leaders and meet international experts in the field.

All the best to everyone involved!

Zeropoint Ventures Launch #thenewway

Photocredit: bizEDGE
Photocredit: bizEDGE

Another new addition to the whānau, Zeropoint Ventures launched with two events in Auckland on 17 August and Wellington on 21 August.

With a virtual incubator and accelerator model, Zeropoint Ventures will provide coaching and funding for early-stage ventures to go from idea to their first $1million dollars in revenue.  There is a clear focus on revenue-first startups pushing for profitability and sustainability rather than investment as their first meaningful milestone.

The launch also announced a goal to co-create a new partnership model bringing innovators from New Zealand’s startup ecosystem and corporate representatives from across the country to a two-day retreat. This was the first steps to begin building the playbook for smarter, venture-led corporate innovation in New Zealand that leverages the local startup ecosystem. We are looking forward to the outcomes!

Zeropoint will take multiple cohorts throughout the year, with the first ventures starting soon!


Kōkiri, the Māori accelerator programme led by Te Wānanga o Aotearoa, launched at Matariki Xponential

Attempting to address the underrepresentation of Māori in tradition accelerator programmes, Kōkiri will inspire and grow Māori founders across the country through a tikanga-first design of the programme.

We are extremely pleased with the progress made toward finalising the business plan and delivery model, and look forward to the programme launch later this year!

Expressions of interest open this month

Follow the team on Facebook and Instagram

GetFunded! Workshops

Preparing researchers from CRIs and Universities in communicating the impact of science ideas for investment – be that to Industry or MBIE – KiwiNet has just wrapped up the GetFunded! Series in Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch.

Partnered with CreativeHQ, GetFunded! provided mentorship, comradeship, market validation and opportunity assessment tools to allows for deeper insights when marshalling an idea into shape.

It was great to see so many researchers volunteering their real-world projects to be worked on, validated, and developed during the Startup Weekend style events.

Congratulations to all the participants, and we hope to see some of these teams carry the idea through to new ventures!

ecentre Sprint Launch!

Teams from the inaugural Sprint Launch cohort presented at EY Britomart on Thursday 31 August to an audience of investors and mentors, to get free and frank feedback. (Press release here.)

Sprint Launch is an intensive 12 week programme run by ecentre that takes startups from prototype to first customers by opening doors to mentorship, business development and capital.

The six startups in this Sprint were all B2B with a ready prototype preparing to take the businesses on the next phase of growth.  They are: The Curiat, Mimocare, Micromanager, Element, RoleQ, and HR Health and Safety.

Well done to all who pitched and put themselves on show to get real feedback - champions!

Upcoming Events

  • 7 September 2017 Lightning Lab Electric Demo Day
  • 8 September 2017 Innovate 2017 | Entries Close
  • 21 September 2017 Angel Investment Showcase, Auckland
  • September 2017 Kōkiri expressions of interest open
  • September 2017 The Cutting Edge Competition Entries Open
  • 2 October 2017 FLUX Accelerator 2018 APPLICATIONS OPEN
  • 2 October 2017 Kōkiri Accelerator 2018 APPLICATIONS OPEN
  • 9 November 2017 ASB Ambition Showcase “Ambitious entrepreneurs share their stories of building a fast-growing business through SODA’s incubation process.”
  • 25 November 2017 FLUX Accelerator 2018 APPLICATIONS CLOSE

Is your startup related event missing from the list? Email Startup Team to get it added in the next issue.

Posted: 01 September 2017
The third in a blog post series by National Technology Networks Manager Kimberlee Jordan, following her recent Biotech trip to the United States

I don’t think there was a single session I attended at BIO 2017 that didn’t mention Big Data. One fact that has stuck with me is that Craig Venter (who led the privately-funded version of the Human Genome Project and now leads the Human Longevity Project) is in the top one percent of users of Amazon servers – putting him up there with Netflix and Zynga. That is a LOT of data!!

The rate at which DNA sequencing technologies are increasing their data output is faster than the rate at which computation power is growing, which means that our ability to generate this type of data has outstripped our ability to store and analyse it.

Venter’s Human Longevity Project has sequenced over 45,000 genomes since they kicked off, and one of their rate limiting factors is computer storage and CPU usage. This costs them about $1 million a month.

In a beautiful piece of circularity, Microsoft announced earlier in 2017 that within the next year or two they plan to be able to store data on strands of DNA and expect to have an operational storage system up and running by 2020. This will be achieved through DNA synthesis and in fact is already possible as illustrated over five years ago when a Harvard geneticist encoded one of his text books on strands of DNA.  Currently it’s just a bit slow and expensive to be practical.

So, what can we do with all this data? One of the most fascinating talks I heard at BIO 2017 was given by Atul Butte – the Pricilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg Distinguished Professor at the University of California, San Francisco (along with a long list of other impressive appointments). He is a champion for the use of public data to promote science (he was recognised by former US president Barack Obama for this commitment), and his passion is obviously infectious. More than half of his students go on to create startups in this space, even those who go into academia.  My hands down favourite quote of the conference was his comment that “If we want to change the world, we can’t sit around writing papers about it.”

Atul shared a long list of startups born to create value and improve health outcomes using big public data. He started with Carmenta Bioscience, which he co-founded in 2013 with seed investment of US$2 million. Using data mining techniques and publicly-available data from women who had suffered preeclampsia to identify biomarkers associated with this life-threatening condition, Carmenta developed an extremely accurate diagnostic for preeclampsia and in less than two years sold for an undisclosed amount to Progenity. This is how you make money from science! And the best thing is, as Atule pointed out, data is totally reusable – it’s not like oil or water.

Unlike IT startups, one does not typically think of drug discovery companies starting up in garages or mothers’ basements. But NuMedii could have done exactly that. They are a four-person company using computational prediction and big public datasets to try and work out which currently-available drugs can be used to treat other diseases. And they aren’t the only ones doing this: 9 Computational Drug Discovery Startups Using AI.

Atule emphasised the importance of tools which can analyse and manage this data. Machine learning – a subset of artificial intelligence (AI) in particular has some interesting applications. It is great for non-linear things, like pictures and pattern recognition, which means it can be used on medical data like X-rays. For a great infographic on AI see the image below, or view the full PDF online.

Artificial Intelligence infographic

Interestingly, at a recent AI meet-up in Auckland, a surgeon from Auckland Hospital noted that he spends a lot of time looking at x-rays as part of the triage process – he was keen to know if this is something that could be done by AI. The first question the crowd asked is “how much data do you have?” i.e. how many x-rays. “Heaps!” was the response…and spontaneously individuals in the room with the right expertise started mapping out potential solutions to this problem. I can’t help but wonder what goldmines of data might be lying around in our district health boards?

The convergence of AI and biotechnology offers an exciting opportunity for New Zealand – we have a wealth of the life science expertise which is essential for these types of companies, an increasing number of data scientists, and investors who love IT startups. This could be a match made in heaven.

At the end of the day, we have the data, we have the tools, in some ways the hardest part is still figuring out what question you want to ask - what is the unmet need? The answer to this question is where the opportunity lies. 

Contact Kimberlee Jordan on Twitter @kimberlee_j

Callaghan Innovation is a New Zealand government innovation agency that works with Kiwi companies to accelerate commercialisation of their new technology ideas. Our National Technology Networks team supports businesses via our four technology platforms – Advanced Manufacturing, Advanced Materials, Biotechnology and Data & IoT, with the aim of helping companies rapidly connect to new and advanced technologies. 

Posted: 30 August 2017
Sinead O’ Sullivan, aerospace engineer, entrepreneur and innovator reflects on her recent visit to New Zealand

Sinead O’ Sullivan is an aerospace engineer, entrepreneur and innovator, with experience in fields as diverse as machine learning, asteroid capture and underwater robotics. As an Entrepreneurship Fellow at the Harvard Business School, she’s been examining the landscape facing start-ups in the space sector, and the changing nature of open data.

Sinead is CEO of Fusion Space Technologies, where she leads a team of engineers who are integrating data from satellites and drones, and applying them to solve global problems. She’s an ardent proponent for innovation, and has been interested in New Zealand’s growing tech sector for several years. When she was offered the opportunity to visit New Zealand she leapt at the chance. We caught up with her towards the end of her trip, to find out if the land of the long white cloud lived up to her expectations.

Sinead, can you tell us a bit about your background?

Sure. I did my undergrad in aerospace engineering at Queens University Belfast before working in finance for two years. While I really enjoyed the technical challenges of the analysis, it wasn't hands-on enough for me, so I went back to engineering. I attended the International Space University for three months, which kind of dropped me into the middle of the space industry, and I worked on projects with the European and Brazilian space agencies.

After that, I went to the Aerospace Systems Design Lab at Georgia Tech. They deal with next generation tech – anything from supersonic aircraft to swarm drones – and I got to work on a huge range of projects. I worked on two fairly well-known NASA missions and did a project with the Federal Aviation Administration on drone regulatory issues.

Sinead O’Sullivan
Sinead O’Sullivan

I joined the Harvard Business School to do my MBA and now I'm looking at various routes to commercialisation of space technology. Most large, private companies in the US aerospace sector experience very slow innovation because a lot of their contracts are government-facing. So, among other things, I’m exploring how these companies can keep their competitive advantage over other countries who are innovating very quickly such as Russia, China, and India.

Last year, I founded a company called Fusion Space Technologies, which is still kind of operating in stealth mode. Our work is based on two hypotheses:

1. Satellite data is quickly becoming irrelevant for developing an understanding of microeconomic events, because it can only offer a snapshot.

2. With the rise of the Internet of Things (IoT), we’re producing lots of hardware that collects data in a specific format, which then doesn’t align with any other format.

We’re attempting to aggregate data – open data, for now – into a universal platform in which it can speak to each other. And we’re using that to create live, visual and non-visual maps of urban areas.

What brought you to New Zealand?

It was all a bit serendipitous. A few months ago, I was having a chat with New Zealand tech entrepreneur Blyth Rees-Jones in New York who has multiple connections to New Zealand. He asked if I’d be interested in working with Groundswell to deliver a talk via weblink at their Innovation Awards. But New Zealand has long been on my travel wish list – like most Irish people. I have a lot of Kiwi friends and my sister lived here for several years so I thought, “how about I deliver it in person?”

It snowballed from there. Callaghan Innovation very kindly stepped in to organise and fund what’s turned into a two-week innovation tour around the country! It’s been busy, but I’m feeling incredibly inspired, and I can’t wait to formalise some of the links I’ve made here.

What did you expect to find before you arrived?

I had a sense that I’d find a lot of fun, creative, liberal people who were full of energy and good ideas. I’d looked into the tech scene here a bit, but I knew I’d find a lot more once I’d scratched the surface. I haven’t been disappointed on either front! I’ve met some incredibly friendly, smart and easy-going people who are creating truly innovative companies, while helping to drive growth in New Zealand.

The whole trip was a great introduction to the country’s innovation landscape; to see how it scales from small groups up to international organisations, and what that means for the challenges they face. It’s impossible for me to pick a single highlight. I loved the NASA Mission Patch workshop that we ran with the Groundswell YiA finalists and meeting the Machine Learning/AI communities across the North Island was very special. My visit to the AR/VR Garage in Auckland was mind-blowing!

How does what you’ve seen here compare to your experience in the US and Europe?

There are loads of tech innovators here, and the work they’re doing is great, but one thing I’d say is that the tech industry seems to be fairly siloed. So, while I saw a lot of innovation in the Bay of Plenty and across greater New Zealand, some of it was hidden beneath the surface and not very obvious. Also, it seems that people don't really talk about what they're doing, or advertise when they’re doing well. It’s a bit like Ireland, actually – people really don't want to be seen to be blowing their own trumpet. That approach just doesn’t work in the US!

With organisations like Rocket Lab, you’ve got New Zealand innovators making huge strides on a global stage. For the first time since SpaceX was born, Elon Musk is probably wondering if he's got a competitor, and it turns it’s an engineer from Invercargill! But there are loads of other very cool things happening here that even people in the local area have never heard of. So there’s a discrepancy between the work being done and the stories being told.

But there’s no doubt that future of New Zealand tech is bright. I’ve loved being here, giving talks to the public, meeting business owners – especially Māori entrepreneurs, university students, and the team at Callaghan Innovation and New Zealand Trade & Enterprise, who have the desire and drive to push into other industries.

What’s next?

Well, the first thing I’m going to do once I get back to Harvard is start working on a paper that discusses New Zealand innovation. And I'm going to try to publish it in a media outlet with a readership in Silicon Valley, because I want it to reach the right audience. The tech start-up ecosystem here is good and growing, but from what I’ve seen, most of the support focuses on people who start companies. There are also lots of people who want to join high-tech companies, so we need to think differently, and that leads us to something called ‘talent arbitrage’.

I keep asking myself, why are organisations in Silicon Valley not looking to New Zealand for young, talented, innovative engineers? As I see it, with the rise of globalisation and the proliferation of high-speed internet, New Zealand should be considered a key R&D resource for high-tech companies on the west coast of the US. The cost of living there is so high that employing a single software engineer can put a start-up in financial difficulty. I’d like to see companies look to New Zealand, where frankly, they can get more bang for their buck. For the equivalent cost, they could hire two or three hugely talented engineers based here, growing the business and speeding up their development timeline in the process.

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Posted: 23 August 2017
Dr Jason Mika reviews last month's amazing Matariki XPonential event

Last month Callaghan Innovation hosted Matariki XPonential in Rotorua, building on the success of the 2015 and 2016 Inspire events.  Dr Jason Mika was there, and provides his perspective on how the event encouraged Māori entrepreneurs to be bold and take their business to the next level. 

On the brisk clear winter’s morning of 29 July 2017 the Sir Howard Morrison Performing Arts Centre in Rotorua hosted the third instalment of Callaghan Innovation’s annual Inspire event, aptly named Matariki X after the Pleiades constellation whose appearance signals the onset of the Māori New Year. This time, however, adding ‘XPonential’ signalled Callaghan Innovation’s intention to inject growth into the innovation theme.  With a ‘sold-out’ sign posted days ahead, demand for what has become a well-crafted ‘dessert,’ had exceeded expectation. Though the ‘proof of the pudding’ is always in the eating, and in this we were not to be disappointed. E ai ki ngā tīpuna, ko te kai a te rangatira, he kōrero. Ki tāku nei tītiro, kua mākona rawa atu te iti me te rahi i ngā kōrero i te tau nei.

Cliff Curtis at Matariki XPonential
Cliff Curtis at Matariki XPonential


The goal: to be inspired to act on our ideas by the exploits of others who are demonstrating what Sir Paul Callaghan described in his vision for Aoteaora as a “hub of smart, export-focused entrepreneurs, where a high quality lifestyle is achieved through excellence in education and R&D.” And from my vantage point that is precisely what we were treated to: entrepreneurs and innovators, the new, the emerging, and the well-established, all giving us their best, in short bursts of cogent, awe-inspiring, and at times hard case kōrero.

Matariki XPonential crowd

The conference opened with a stirring haka pōhiri by the mana whenua Ngāti Whakaue, as honoured guests were called into the centre stage by kuia, Margaret Herbert and Betty Herewini among them. Ngāti Whakaue’s Monty Morrison spoke for the home people and Kura Moeahu of Taranaki Whānui responded for the manuhiri. In his closing, Kura wove together the iconic Kahungunu waiata ‘Tūtira mai’ with the Callaghan Innovation whakatauākī in a way that reminded me of the eloquence of Ngāti Tahu Ngāti Whaoa kaumātua Rawiri Te Whare: “tūtira mai ngā iwi ki te rukuhia ki te wāhi ngaro, hei aha? Hei whaia te māramatanga me te aroha. Mā wai? Mā tātau, tātau e.” The rākau (baton) returned to renowned haka expert, entrepreneur and tourism operator Wetini Mitai-Ngatai as the final speaker. Blessings were offered by kaumātua Monty Morrison, before Callaghan Innovation intern Hinemihiata Lardelli and General Manager of Sectors, Hēmi Rolleston, took to the stage as MCs for the day.

Matariki XPonential haka pōhiri

Rotorua mayor Steve Chadwick said few might think of councils as ‘mind blowing’ and ‘game changing,’ but she delivered news intent on challenging that perception. First, Rotorua Lakes Council had agreed to become the first bilingual city in the country. Second, the city had turned around 10 years of population and economic decline, with a sustained commitment to long term economic development. And third, the council’s partnership with Te Arawa has been a ‘game changer,’ redefining the city’s relationship with tāngata whenua.

Who knew history and martial arts were prerequisites for a parliamentary career, but they were for the Hon. Paul Goldsmith, Minister of Science and Innovation with responsibility for Callaghan Innovation. Writing about the history of New Zealand business leaders taught Mr Goldsmith that there are no easy pathways to success, only hard ones. And startup companies that grow, both the ordinary and extraordinary, all make a contribution. Science and innovation, he said, are about making things better and making better things. While the job of the state is all about public service, there was no purer form of public service than business because you only stay in business if you give people what they want.

AR-VR stand at Matariki XPonential
AR-VR stand at Matariki XPonential


For those unsure about the role of government in our lives, the Hon. Te Ururoa Flavell, Minister of Māori Development, left us in no doubt – it’s everywhere, and it is trying to help Māori entrepreneurs, in small ways and big. Mr Flavell noted support for young entrepreneurs, the Dig My Idea pitch competition, a new Māori business accelerator, the Māori Innovation Fund, Māori social innovation, and trade missions. He urged us to “make it Māori, make it happen;” in other words, get on with the business of business, but do it in a Māori way.

Vic Crone, Callaghan Innovation’s Chief Executive, spoke to the agency’s recent history although its whakapapa extends back to 1926, a mokopuna (grandchild) of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research or DSIR.  She outlined Callaghan Innovation’s reframing of its kaupapa as “liberating innovators,” challenging enterprises to embrace the possibilities of technology, and nurturing their entrepreneurial and innovative potential to realise their ambitions. The Māori Innovation Hub at Gracefield science park, the Nuku ki te Puku Māori food and beverage collective, and Callaghan Innovation’s Māori economy team are part of this effort.

Vic Crone
Vic Crone


Headline speakers included Mind Lab and Tech Futures founder Frances Valintine, recognised as one of the world’s top 50 tech educators; recent Business Hall of Fame inductee Mavis Mullins; former New Zealander of the Year and iMoko innovator Dr Lance O’Sullivan; 2017 Young Māori business leader of the year Blanche Murray; Victoria Park New World owner and Ngāpuhi Asset Holdings director Jason Witehira; Kono chief executive and recent Prime Minister’s Business Scholarship awardee Rachel Taulelei; Sports animation revolutionary Ian Taylor; Global translations company founder Grant Straker of Straker Group; with the closing keynote address by Te Arawa’s primary export to Hollywood and soon to be Avatar star, Cliff Curtis – ka mau te wehi!

Frances Valintine
Frances Valintine


We were also introduced to several inspirational newcomers, including: Tarnix Security founder and CEO Tupaea Rolleston; Kākāno Cafe Cookery School founder Jade Temepara; Agrisea executives and husband and wife team Tāne and Clare Bradley; Toby Littin, solving our parking woes and creating revenue for unused space holders through his company Parkable; and Digital Basecamp animators and entreprenuers Te Mauri Kingi and Nigel Ward. Co-hosts Hinemihiata and Hēmi rolled out cameos from some of last year’s stars and some new ones: Plus Group owner and horticultural robotics entrepreneur Steve Saunders, IronMāori founder and social entrepreneur Heather Skipworth, and Crankworx events manager Ariki Tibble. Aranui Ventures founder Robett Hollis beamed in from the USA via video message.

Mavis Mullins
Mavis Mullins


Over dinner two Matariki XPonential guest speakers shared their experiences of bringing Māori culture, language and issues in from the margins to a more central home in mainstream society. Journalist and professional singer Lizzie Marvelley shared the vulnerabilities of writing about Māori issues for the New Zealand Herald, while Air New Zealand’s cultural development manager Andrew Baker highlighted a 10 year mission to normalise Māori language and culture within the company.

The power, passion and punch of Matariki XPonential’s leading lights is undeniable, but for me it was the new and emerging Māori entrepreneurs who stole the show. They are the best barometer of Māori success in entrepreneurship, innovation and enterprise, showing that whatever we’re doing as Māori, coupled with whatever the politicians, agencies and the economy contribute, is working. Integrating Māori values, Māori identity, and Māori aspirations into their thinking and practice, they’re operating with high fidelity as entrepreneurs.

Grant Straker
Grant Straker


The effervescent Blanche Murray epitomised the inventiveness and determination of the teina (younger sibling), free to do what the tuakana (older sibling) cannot, but doing it for, with and by her whānau because they would do the same for her. Then there was Tarnix CEO Tupaea Rolleston, who sitting at his mum’s kitchen table pondering life at 18, decided to start his own business based on what interests him (computers) and what resources he has (himself largely, and his whānau). In academia, we call this method of entrepreneurship “effectuation” — making something out of nothing but what you have, what you know and who you know. In five years Tupaea has grown his electronic security business to 24 staff with some pretty big national clients. What struck me is that he’s all about giving people careers, not jobs, taking them from low- paying to high-paying positions and giving them challenging work, skills and opportunities. Isn’t that the image of the quintessential CEO, and isn’t such wisdom supposed to arrive around age 40, not 23?

Lastly, Te Mauri Kingi and Nigel Ward have to be commended for Digital Basecamp, where their mission is to grow Rotorua’s digital economy from the ground up and help other aspiring digital natives reach the top. I hope some of their success reflects the Māori innovation pilot programme Rukuhia, in which I was involved.

Ian Taylor
Ian Taylor


Not wanting to leave the audience wondering what’s next, Callaghan Innovation’s Māori economy team alerted us to a suite of initiatives and activity to maintain the momentum  a series of local events, Kōkiri, a Māori accelerator programme led by Te Wānanga o Aotearoa, and offering the Māori innovation programme Rukuhia in Te Taitokerau. I imagine planning for Matariki XPonential 2018 is also already underway. Rotorua is a magnificant host, but Palmerston North too can be a great host. Matariki XPonential could be just the ticket to ignite Māori entrepreneurial potential in Manawatū-Whanganui. Naumai, haramai e Hemi mā ki Papaioea.

Matariki Xponential group
Posted: 15 August 2017
The second in a blog post series by National Technology Networks Manager Kimberlee Jordan, following her recent Biotech trip to the United States

You may be familiar with recent studies involving transfer of the gut microbiota (read poop) from lean and obese mice into germ-free mice which resulted in the now not-so-germ-free either remaining lean or becoming obese respectively.

One of the most interesting sessions I attended at June’s BIO 2017 – the world’s largest biotechnology event held in June - was a panel discussion which contemplated this and much more.

Microbiome 2.0: Going Beyond Bugs as Drugs was one of many fascinating sessions on the understanding and treatment of disease, a major theme as the convention canvassed the theme of breakthroughs. Speakers came from J&J (Stephanie Robertson); Leading BioSciences (Tom Hallam) as well as academia (Professor Scott Peterson).  

The human microbiome – the collective genomes of the microorganisms (bacteria, fungi, viruses etc. – commonly known as bugs) that hang out on or within the human body – has garnered a lot of attention in recent years. It has been linked to a number of diseases, including cancer, bowel disease and obesity.

It turns out that our bugs have a powerful influence on our overall health and on a range of health conditions, and using bugs as drugs has been one of the main focuses of the microbiome space. However, these colonies are complex, and can change over time (in some cases quite rapidly – one of the comments made in this session is that every time you eat you change your gut microbiota). So, there are a huge number of variables to control and understand before we can reliably manipulate our microbiome to generate better health outcomes.

One example of a new approach is modulating the gut microbiome to improve patients’ responsiveness to a new class of cancer therapies called checkpoint inhibitors. While these new therapies can be extremely effective for some patients, many fail to respond, and there can be significant toxicity issues (i.e. the drugs make patients even sicker). Significant work is now going into trying to identify a microbiome ‘signature’ that will predict how a particular patient might respond. Interestingly, the gut microbiome can also play the villain, converting drugs into molecules that are even more toxic. Getting a better understanding of these interactions will result in better outcomes for patients.

The panel also discussed a new way of thinking about bugs. Traditionally scientists have thought of microorganisms in terms of taxonomies or species, but Scott Peterson suggested it made more sense to understand bugs in terms of their genetic makeup. A typical gene count for a typical microorganism is around 3000-5000. Humans, by comparison have around 19,000-20,000.  Our human genomes can vary by about 10 percent, compared with around 70 percent for bacteria. If we treat bugs as bags of genes we can better understand the ways in which these microbes (genes) affect or modulate our immune system and overall health.

And of course, no panel discussion on the human microbiome would be compete without time spent on the so-called gut-brain axis. In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, the gut-brain axis refers to the biochemical and neural signals that travel between the gut and the brain.


I was horrified to discover the details of how this can work. For example, a sugar-loving bacteria can produce enzymes that can travel to the brain and cut out the signals of satiety, meaning you crave more sugar. I was wondering how on earth this might happen (our gut is a fairly hostile environment for proteins), and it turns out that all you need is a “leaky gut”. Basically, these enzymes can leak out from anywhere even slightly damaged in the intestine and be carried in your plasma to your brain – where they can have an influence not always understood.

Making you eat more junk food might be the least of your worries, as new evidence suggests a link to Alzheimer’s as well. Yikes! Correcting the ecology of the microbiome so that bad things don’t happen could have a massive impact on human health and disease.

Given the increasingly vast amount of relevant data we can access and the level of complexity associated with the various microbiome - human interactions, how do we wade through all of this to reliably achieve good health outcomes?

Unsurprisingly the answer to this is Big Data. Integrating DNA sequence data with other sources of data such as RNA and protein sequences, as well as characterising the metabolites present within a microbial community, will give a clearer picture of that community and its influence on health.

I will write more about Big Data and Biotech next time, but for now I will come full circle and leave you with this factoid to consider. According to Prof Scott Peterson, 40 percent of the dry weight of faeces is bacteria – which means that it is full of information. So, the next time someone tells you you’re full of it, you should take it as a compliment!

Contact Kimberlee Jordan on Twitter @kimberlee_j

Callaghan Innovation is a New Zealand government innovation agency that works with Kiwi companies to accelerate commercialisation of their new technology ideas. Our National Technology Networks team supports businesses via our four technology platforms – Advanced Manufacturing, Advanced Materials, Biotechnology and Data & IoT, with the aim of helping companies rapidly connect to new and advanced technologies.