They say it’s not what you know but who you know that counts in business. For waste-to-value business Zincovery this rings true, with newfound connections leading to more than $1 million of investment, and jumpstarting significant commercial opportunities.
Zincovery aims to recycle the steel galvanising industry’s spent acid and zinc for reuse. The business was spun out from a University of Canterbury research project undertaken by Jonathan Ring and overseen by Associate Professor of Engineering Aaron Marshall, and won Callaghan Innovation’s C-Prize 2019/20.
While quick to point out the benefits of the challenge’s $100,000 prize money – including being able to get started on hiring high-calibre staff – Zincovery says it’s newfound connections that are paying dividends.
“The real value from C-Prize is putting your name out there and getting connected into all the Government organisations, and that’s something that I didn’t realise when I first applied; I didn’t know the magnitude of building those connections and how it would benefit our business,” says Ring.
“All the help that I’ve received has come from a referral or a recommendation. Callaghan Innovation’s C-Prize Challenge was immensely beneficial for us, but I wouldn’t have done it if I hadn’t been in the UCE startup programme with the University of Canterbury, and if they hadn’t recommended I apply.”
Since its win, Zincovery has gone from strength to strength. It secured more than $1 million in its first funding round ($1,023,000); recruited four new employees and two new board directors: Lanzatech Process Engineer and Business Development Manager and Avertana co-founder Sean Molloy, and investment guru Daniel Batten; is conducting market validation to expand into China, and later Europe and other Asian markets; developing a pilot plant; and building its intellectual property (IP) strategy.
The connections that started it all
As a C-Prize Challenge mentor, Callaghan Innovation Customer Manager Sam Davies-Talwar supported Zincovery early on in the business’s journey, and has continued as an informal mentor since.
Says Ring: “Sam has his own experience of starting a business and in the process gained a wealth of experience and resources on how to run a business.
“It’s really useful to catch up with him and ask for advice on specific problems, for example around preparing board papers or managing staff.”.
And Davies -Talwar is only too happy to help.
“From my own experience, building your network early in your startup journey is key to accessing the skills, capability and advice needed to be successful. Getting a new idea to market is very much a team game; it's always such a boost making a connection that can sometimes quickly resolve what had previously felt like it might be an insurmountable task,” he says.
“One of the reasons I joined Callaghan Innovation was to leverage what I learned on my own startup journey, and to support others to hopefully leapfrog some of the challenges I faced and mistakes I made. It’s extremely satisfying to be able to play even a small role in the team’s journey.”
‘Ripple effect’ of support
Joining C-Prize created what Ring calls a ‘ripple effect’ of beneficial connections.
One of those ‘ripples’ saw the business connect with Ākina Invest Director Jackson Rowland and, through him, NZ’s Impact Enterprise Fund. Co-founded by Ākina Foundation, New Ground Capital and Impact Ventures, the fund aims to deliver market-rate financial returns and tangible societal and environmental outcomes. The Impact Enterprise Fund contributed 10% ($100,000) of Zincovery’s initial capital raise.
“There’s often a narrative in NZ that the money and support isn’t out there, but for the right business model I don’t think that’s true. Most importantly, there are investors out there that are looking to back the right things,” Rowland says.
“Through the Impact Enterprise Fund, we want to work closely with our portfolio of investors to continue helping them by adding value and enabling them to grow.”
New connection helps Zincovery get ‘investor ready’
Prior to working with Rowland, Zincovery made another valuable connection: to Louise Aitken, Chief Executive of the Ākina Foundation and C-Prize Challenge finalist judge. Aitken noticed Zincovery’s potential early on and invited the entrepreneurs to apply for the Ākina Impact Investment Readiness Programme. The programme enables impact-driven businesses to apply for up to $30,000 each to spend on financial, legal or other support to prepare for investment, with the 2021 round opening for applications in July.
This exemplifies the benefits of tapping into the innovation ecosystem, Aitken says.
“If all support organisations can come together and create ‘one front door’ for business support, then it makes it a lot easier for businesses to access the support they need. Zincovery is a reminder that when it does happen, it can be magical.
“Whatever happens in Zincovery’s journey, I think they’ll be a success story. When you look at where the business has gotten to in a year, it’s a sign of great success, not only of them but of the people who’ve supported them on the journey.”
To read more about Zincovery, check out their success story here.
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Updated: 5 July 2022