OPINION: Are we seeing the emergence of a new generation of entrepreneurs? That was the question posed by Norman Evans after the final day of the Unlimited Investment Challenge.
Ten start-ups were pitched to a room full of serious investors over the course of a day. All the start-ups had been through an intensive process to get them to this stage, including workshops that encouraged them to hone their stories and their pitch.
They were a fascinating mix - a couple of drinks companies, selling iced tea in one case and the other exploring a demand for something different with a range of elderberry drinks.
One Wairarapa start-up invented a new range of safety goggles and glasses based on the founder's many years of experience in forestry. Another was marketing a tool, coupled with computer games, designed to rehabilitate stroke victims. The start-up's team was stacked with doctors and had some impressive results.
Another was marketing an online self-help leadership tool, while yet another had discovered a lucrative niche for dog accessories, just the sort of thing to take the United States by storm.
In almost every case, they had runs on the board and had demonstrated a market for their products. While most were looking for further investment, they were also looking for experienced investors who would come onboard with good advice on how to grow.
They all got a good grilling and a warm reception from our panel of investors, and most look likely to pick up investment because they participated, which is a great outcome. But equally encouraging were the comments from Mr Evans, a serial entrepreneur and director of Dunedin's Upstart incubator.
Too often, Kiwi start-ups focus on their founder, or product, and forget the importance of brand and the ability to scale quickly - probably the thing which interests investors most. After all, why would you put your money into a company with the growth trajectory of a woozy snail? And probably all the entrepreneurs were guilty of being a little conservative, not showing enough global ambition of the kind that drove 42 Below for example.
But it takes a fair chunk of ambition combined with experience to think that way. Hopefully, our entrepreneurs will get there and this is a first step along the way. I certainly got that sense from a number of them. Mr Evans got that feeling too. It is easy to pick holes in most start-ups and their ambitions, or lack of, and our investors didn't hold back, but there was a sense of optimism at the end of the day that maybe we were beginning to see a tipping point in the kind of people involved.
"What I liked is that we are starting to see genuine entrepreneurs coming through," Mr Evans said. "Finally, I get people talking brand at me, and ultimately, that's all that matters. We saw a group of entrepreneurs pitching to us, not a succession of techos obsessed with their inventions."
Mark Revington is the editor of Unlimited magazine, unlimited.co.nz.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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