Acceleration to turn ideas into businesses

DAN KHAN

Last updated 07:27 14/11/2012

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OPINION: Usain Bolt, climate change, GST deadlines and Auckland house prices don't need it.

However, it is exactly what we do want for New Zealand hi-tech and innovation - acceleration.

The role of getting bigger, faster, better outcomes for Kiwi products, innovations and smarts is cut a hundred different ways depending on who you are talking to. But one method of supercharging good ideas into global businesses is gaining a lot of traction.

Fast-track innovation programmes like Auckland's Foodbowl, which champions smart food technology, and the imminent kickoff of the first New Zealand digital accelerator Lightning Lab in Wellington are two examples of initiatives specifically established to drive faster outcomes for smart Kiwi innovation.

With one full of stainless steel and food-grade tech and the other running lean and mean through the cloud, they're as different as dairy and digital.

But the premise is the same - packing plug-in capability and expertise into a focused framework to allow entrepreneurs, start-ups and aspirational techies to bring their vision to fruition.

The success of the Lightning Lab and the Foodbowl will be in the ventures that springboard off them into the real world. Doing it faster is better for all.

At the recent national NZ Angel Association Summit, Wellington tech investor, Marcel van den Assum, was upfront about the challenges of New Zealand's angel investors, faced with investing in start-up companies and taking them into the world market.

After about 10 years of structured angel investment in New Zealand, there are still huge lessons being learned, van den Assum said, touching on a widespread theme at the summit. Finding better ways to make more of the talent and tech coming out of this corner of the world is a theme that goes far wider than angels. Take a bunch of smarts, pack it into a room with a bunch of tech and a strong dose of experience and set the timer going. What comes out is better than what went in. Acceleration is widely touted around the world as building strong results for innovation, in all sorts of industries.

The US town of Boulder, Colorado was basically built into a multibillion-dollar start-up factory from the outcomes driven by the TechStars accelerator, which now runs across the US and has inspired similar programmes around the world. The faith that we can do the same in New Zealand is reflected by the $18 million going into the Foodbowl and the seed funding van den Assum has invested in the Lightning Lab alongside the likes of early Trade Me investor Phil McCaw, digi-natives like Dave Moskovitz and Stefan Korn and clout capital like Stephen Tindall's K1W1 fund and Auckland-based Sparkbox.

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Why? Because acceleration brings together a collective wisdom and capability and applies it directly with guidance - intense, focused and results-driven. An Olympic bootcamp for business growth.

Internationally "acceleration" appears to stack up, but New Zealand isn't Israel and Wellington is not New York. Between the Bowl and the Lab and their peer programmes driving bigger, better, faster results, we will see the best of established talent and tech backing the next generation of success.

That will answer the question. Even better, it will answer it fast.

Dan Khan is the programme driver at Lightning Lab, a 12-week digital accelerator programme for start-ups.

- The Dominion Post

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