If Quidnet Ventures has its way, New Zealand will soon be known for more than kiwi and haka. The new fund’s founders recently came to San Francisco to make their pitch for New Zealand’s technology startups, including four recently started companies.
The fund is a recognition that technology entrepreneurship has become a global business, even at the edge of the world, where there is potential to start companies as long as you can muster sufficient tech talent, business savvy, and capital. Quidnet is in the process of raising a $40 million fund in the hopes of doing 10 to 20 investments in the next four years. It’s a logical next step in a land made famous by Peter Jackson, creator of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit films, which were enabled by the Weta Digital special effects company.
Quidnet Ventures formed to fill the gap for New Zealand’s tech startups, which have had good luck getting initial funding but need more venture investment to get them through the stages of launching their products and going into global markets. Quidnet Ventures will invest $750,000 to $5 million in each startup to make that happen, said Mark Bregman, managing director of the fund, in an interview with VentureBeat.
“The challenge is how to get companies from early proof of concept to demonstrating some revenue and a global reach,” Bregman said.
After serving in top technical positions at Netapp, IBM, and Symantec, Bregman decided to move into investing. He had always liked working with early-stage companies, but he was “very cynical” about venture investors on Sand Hill Road, with their giant funds chasing unicorns. But he had bought property in New Zealand in 2000, and he has been engaged in watch the tech scene develop there.
“Ten years ago, it was primarily an agricultural economy with tourism and a movie industry rising because of Weta,” he said. “But in the last few years, tech has really come on strong.”
A lot of companies use New Zealand as a test bed. It has an early adopter culture with 4.5 million tech-savvy citizens, 80 percent of whom will be connected to the internet via ultra-fast broadband by 2022. And if a project doesn’t work out, then no one finds out, as it is so remote, Bregman said.
“It’s an interesting place from that point of view,” Bregman said. “For the local companies, that means New Zealand is a good surrogate for the world market.”
But while those companies have strong technical foundations and good access to angel investors, they need help coming to the U.S. and doing marketing. New Zealand’s culture values humble personalities, much in the same way that Japanese and Finnish cultures do. But if you’re humble in Silicon Valley, no one listens to you, Bregman said.
“We are dedicated early investors, focused on exceptional teams and capital-efficient companies,” Bregman said. “It’s the edge of the world, very resourceful in its isolation. It’s about quiet achievement.”
The government of New Zealand has pledged to put $100 million into its green tech sector, and it also has tax incentives for research and development. Bregman said the fund is committed to raising a third of its funds in New Zealand and the rest elsewhere.
Elizabeth van Rooyen, another Quidnet cofounder, has a background in private equity and startup consulting and venture investing. She said, “What we are bringing to the market is institutional funding knowledge. There’s creative intellectual property in New Zealand, but very little experience building global businesses.”
If they’re successful, the team hopes they can help put New Zealand on the map as a tech haven, much like Finland and Israel have become.
Quidnet highlighted four new companies, including one that it has invested in:
Founded by Brendan Roberts and Pete Weaver, the company is creating a voice-driven digital assistant for small businesses. It will help small companies make use of their business data via a software-as-a-service. It lets them ask questions like, “What was my website traffic in November?” and get easy answers back. Quidnet invested in Aider.
Dawn Aerospace is a new rocket company that wants to make suborbital and orbital space trips more affordable. It has proposed creating a rocket that can take off and land, much like a space shuttle. It will take off horizontally like a plane and then fly into suborbital and orbital space with the goal of launching small payloads, such as a small number of satellites, as well.
Boma has created a marketing automation platform for professional services firms, like accountants and bookkeepers. In other words, it’s for companies that are traditionally bad at marketing. It helps move clients to a comprehensive platform where they can see analytics and manage campaigns across a large number of platforms. It gives them data-driven recommendations on their campaigns.
FaceMe is creating intelligent digital humans to handle customer service. Driven by AI, these digital humans will be animated by a rendering engine to look realistic. It’s based on the notion that in the next 10 years, only 15 percent of interactions with a business will be with a human. So FaceMe is putting a friendly face on artificial intelligence conversations.