AngelHQ_SPOT

We’re Wellington’s Angel Investment Club – our fifty or so members invest in early stage companies with the potential for rapid global expansion.

We meet regularly to review opportunities, manage our portfolio, exchange war stories and celebrate our ventures’ successes!  We also host a variety of international guests each year to share their experience and build our connections overseas.

We run and participate in networking events, panel discussions and presentations to get to know the amazing entrepreneurs in our community.

On our site, you can find out more about us, apply for membership, apply for funding or get in touch with club manager.

Irrigation idea finds fertile ground

This story originally appeared in the New Zealand Herald

Kiwi company uses sensors and software to give each part of a field the precise amount of water it needs .

Isaac Bentwich of Varigate

The world is running out of water. Demand has grown a staggering 60 per cent every decade for the past 50 years, says Isaac Bentwich, chief executive and chairman of a new Wellington-based irrigation software company.

An Israeli-turned-Kiwi entrepreneur, Bentwich should know, hailing from one of the planet’s drier regions. So perhaps it’s not surprising he was struck by the potential of the technology of his company, Varigate.

The concept is simple, he says. Land is not homogeneous, and hence water absorption and its availability to plants varies greatly across a field.

“Current irrigation systems waste a lot of water because they water fields evenly. Our uniqueness and focus is on ‘listening to the ground’, and providing each part of a field with exactly the right amount of water that it needs, at any given time.”

Varigate’s software technology works with automated irrigation systems to adjust spray levels in response to sensors in the ground, reducing the water needed to irrigate large fields by up to 20 per cent.

Bentwich stumbled across the seeds of Varigate’s technology at Landcare Research when visiting New Zealand in 2010. Landcare was doing some pioneering work on the management of terrestrial biodiversity and land resources.

“Its highly advanced technological approach to eco troubleshooting was inspiring,” says Bentwich, a former commercialisation consultant for Auckland University’s commercialisation arm, Uniservices, and the founder and successful seller of two Israeli technology companies.

“When I first visited New Zealand I was wowed by the strength of innovation here, but I also saw that there was room for significant improvement in the commercialisation of that innovation.”

Determined to commercialise Varigate’s technology and requiring capital and support to do so, Bentwich hooked up with Marcel van den Assum, an early-stage company or “angel” investor and chair of the New Zealand Angel Association, through mutual friend Dean Tilyard, head of the Palmerston North-based business incubator the BioCommerce Centre.

The Varigate system requires the user to download a mobile app and position three wireless sensors in the ground. The sensors send readings to the Varigate cloud.

The patent-pending pattern-recognition analysis methodology coupled with the software then studies a field’s condition and soil structure to determine how much water is required for a specific part of a field and automatically instructs the irrigation system to water where it’s needed.

The user can study irrigation field maps on a cellphone and change settings as needed.

For farmers and landowners, the appeal is obvious, Bentwich says. It’s “simple, cost-effective and low-maintenance” because it solves the puzzle of how to make significant water cost savings while increasing crop and dairy yield.

Van den Assum was first struck by Varigate’s strong intellectual property (IP) portfolio and Bentwich’s impressive track record. “It’s New Zealand IP which is exciting, but I was also attracted by the aspirational story around the planet’s water shortage and the demands on water globally.

“Plus Isaac is someone who has the global expertise to commercialise it effectively. It’s a good proposition for investment in New Zealand but I believe it will get world attention from an investment point of view.”

Varigate raised more than $1.5 million from investors this year.

Small, privately owned farms are embracing the technology and form the backbone of the customer body, van den Assum says.

“But while New Zealand is at the forefront of agricultural technology innovation, the truth is water’s commercial value is still not appreciated here,” he says. “So Varigate is not going to build a significant revenue stream in New Zealand.

“It’s going to be enough to validate the technology and show customers to recognise its value, but the big markets are in the massive arid regions of USA, China and the Middle East.”

Both van den Assum and Bentwich agree it’s hard to argue against any innovation that helps to save the Earth’s haemorrhaging water stocks.

“More than 40 per cent of the world’s food is provided by irrigated agriculture,” Bentwich says.

Produced in conjunction with the Angel Association of New Zealand.

Watering can-do
• Varigate uses a mobile app and sensors in the ground to measure where water is needed and how much.
• Irrigation systems can then deliver water only to the areas that need it based on the soil structure and condition.
• Adjustments can be made using the app from anywhere.
• Described as simple, cost-effective and low-maintenance.

 

Wipster launches video software at SXSW festival

This story originally appeared in the New Zealand Herald

Wellington-based start-up Wipster has launched its video sharing software platform globally, just over a year after being founded by filmmaker Rollo Wenlock.

Rollo Wenlock

Wenlock travelled to Texas recently to unveil his cloud-based video review and approval platform at the SXSW festival.

The SXSW festival pulls in some 50,000 visitors – made up of the music, film and interactive industry’s most influential names.

Wenlock says the experience was incredible.

“SXSW is amazing, it’s the place to discover and test the latest ideas from the interactive industries… it’s the place where tech meets art,” he said.

Wenlock believes more New Zealand start-ups should take the plunge and venture to the annual 10-day SXSW conference in Austin, Texas.

“You really need to be in the area to take advantage of the opportunities, it’s a huge group of creative people,” he said.

Around 50 per cent of Wipster’s customers are based in America.

Following the SXSW festival, Wenlock went to San Francisco presenting Wipster to new audiences and filming a series about the future of video, when he found out popular note taking and archiving app maker Evernote had bought a subscription to Wipster.

“I was only 15 minutes away from their office, so I called and said I could show them how it works in person,” Wenlock said.

Evernote has more than 11 million users and after an impromptu hour-and-half meeting, Wenlock says they were so impressed with Wipster, Evernote are now looking at ways to roll out Wipster features to their paying users.

“If I hadn’t been here, none of this would have happened, there’s a lot of serendipity about this,” Wenlock said.

In just over a year, Wipster has a product that’s being used in more than 65 countries around the world and being subscribed to by big international companies.

Last year Wipster raised over $600,000 from investors including the ICE Angels, AngelsHQ, Forbes contributor Ben Kepes, and Xero chairman Sam Knowles.

Xero’s chief executive Rod Drury has been an advocate of Wipster since its inception.

“Their platform is unique. It provides a clean, creative space perfect for teams working remotely or telecommuting, and gives the right amount of structure to our video creation projects” Drury said.

Wenlock says the next step is to begin ramping up sales to production companies and advertising agencies, and tweaking the ‘product-market fit,’ – aligning Wipster better with the requirements of its users.

After just a few days back in Wellington, Wenlock will be returning Stateside to attend the National Association of Broadcasters in Las Vegas next week.

Data deals with dairying dilemma

This story originally appeared in the New Zealand Herald

Software gives farmers a simple tool to help keep waterways clean
regen farmer

 

Wellington agritech firm ReGen is helping dairy farmers manage a key issue – disposing of the effluent that cows produce.

The company’s ReGen Effluent system uses on-farm hardware that constantly measures soil moisture, soil temperature and rainfall, then transmits that data to ReGen’s servers, where it is processed by the company’s software.

On-farm systems that record such measurements aren’t new, but ReGen’s innovation lies in its software, which turns the data into a simple daily recommendation. This is sent to the farmer by text message, instructing them either to irrigate effluent out on to their farm, or not.

It’s an important daily decision for farmers, says Bridgit Hawkins, ReGen’s chief executive. “Irrigate effluent on to ground that’s too wet, for example, and it can either run off the surface or flow straight through the soil; either way, potentially ending up in waterways.”

There are tools that allow farmers to check via their computers how much rain they’ve had or what their soil moisture is, but the farmer is still left asking “what does that mean for me on my farm for this particular activity today?”, says Hawkins.

“That’s what we feel is really innovative about us, because generating that recommendation is quite a hard thing to do. It’s easy to display some data on a graph, but much harder to decipher what that means, relative to the key activities on a farm.”

ReGen has customers around New Zealand, but is particularly focused on Southland, where the regional council is relatively prescriptive in terms of how farmers manage effluent, says Hawkins.

“Our customers tend to be early adopters of technology, but we’re now starting to see the next wave of ‘fast followers’ come on board. There’s increasing regulatory pressure on farmers to address environmental issues related to a number of different farm activities, and that’s leading to further opportunities for the company.”

ReGen is also developing a service related to water irrigation, and this year launched a product to help farmers make decisions on the use of nitrogen fertilisers for grass growth.

“Again, there’s a real environmental benefit from using the nitrogen tool, because every time a farmer applies nitrogen and it’s not used to grow grass it ultimately ends up being leached,” says Hawkins. “That’s wasted money for farmers in terms of the cost of the fertiliser, but it’s also a part of how nitrogen ends up in waterways.”

ReGen was formed in 2010, but the genesis of its technology stretches back to 2006, when Hawkins was leading the rural development programme at data science firm Harmonic, and doing some work with researchers at Massey University.

One of the researchers’ areas of interest was deferred irrigation – delaying irrigating out effluent until conditions are right. Mixing that with Harmonic’s data-science focus sparked the ReGen Effluent concept, which was subsequently backed by other industry partners and government R&D support.

In 2011 the firm also attracted interest from New Zealand’s angel investment community, led by life-science/clean-tech investors and venture developers Pacific Channel and the Wellington-based angel investment group Angel HQ.

It was novice angel investor Paul Waddington’s first angel investment and he says several things piqued his interest in the company: Hawkins’ track record in the agricultural sector; the relatively large domestic opportunity for the technology; and its offshore potential.

“The other major attraction with ReGen is it’s a decision-support tool,” says Waddington. “It’s doing more than just gathering and displaying data; it’s actually making recommendations, which is the future in terms of technology, particularly with the advent of big data.”

 

Open Door Session with Angel HQ . All-comers welcome

We will be running our first Open Door session on Wednesday 16th October from 12pm – 2pm at Caliente (cnr of Willis and Manners).

This is an open, unplanned, no booking required session for you to meet with Angel HQ.  If you are interested in exploring what it would take to get in front of the club or how the process works for investee companies. We will have a member or two and our manager ready to take your questions and find out more about your business.

We take applications at any time but this is an opportunity to speak directly to a member and plan from there.

We don’t know who is coming so please be patient if you have to wait – or you might just get 2 hours to yourself! Spread the news and we hope to see you there.

Angel HQ presentation to the Pasadena Angels

Dave Moskovitz from Angel HQ is in the US at the moment, and while he was there he met with The Pasadena Angels.  Building international connections is key for Angel HQ – to help us source smart capital for those companies we’d like to grow into the US market, for one.

Here’s Dave’s speech – which gives you a great overview of our club’s activities and highlights the key reasons those international connections matter…:

My name is Dave Moskovitz, and I’m an angel investor and serial entrepreneur.

I was born at Huntington Memorial Hospital here in Pasadena, but I’ve been living in NZ since 1982.

I bring warm greetings of the board of my home club, AngelHQ in Wellington, and from Phil McCaw, the Chair of the Angel Association NZ.

I’m the Chairman of WebFund, a privately held seed fund / incubator specialising in online startups and also the Chairman of our portfolio company MusicHype, which is in the process of setting up offices here in LA.  The main purpose of my trip here is establishing industry relationships, interviewing potential hires, and meeting potential follow-on investors.

Today I’m here to talk about trans-national angel investment.  I would like to see, and am personally committed to working toward strong relationships between NZ and California early stage investors and entrepreneurs.

It is a truism that angels don’t like investing in companies far away from home.  That said, many NZ companies aspire to prove their concept in the excellent test market that is NZ, and then scale in the US market, which becomes their new home.

NZ may only have a population of 4m people, but it has a very vibrant early stage community, largely thanks to an excellent education system that produces world-class graduates, excellent social capital resulting from high levels of trust between individuals, and the “kiwi ingenuity” that results from a history of living on islands isolated from the rest of the world by large stretches of ocean.

My home town of Wellington (the capital) only has 200,000 people, but we have three active incubators and a dozen different organisations and groups that service the early stage scene.  We’re home to Peter Jackson’s Weta Studios, and this hub of creativity creates a culture of innovation that permeates the community.

Our Angel Association comprises 15 clubs and institutional investors.  In the 12 months to June 2010, USD 40m was invested by angels in 80 deals, more or less evenly split between first round and follow-on, with nearly three-fourths of deals syndicated.  Nationally we’re known for excellence in web services, digital media, bioactives, and functional foods.

My own club, AngelHQ, has been going for just over 2-1/2 years, has 28 members, of whom 15 have made more than one investment.  In calendar 2009 and 2010 we’ve made 7 investments to the tune of just over $1m USD.  Almost all of these were syndicated.  Companies included a mobile content delivery platform, breast screening software, a cloud computing platform, an on-line children’s game-world focusing on environnmental issues, a marine collision warning system, and a semiconductor manufacturing facility.

Valuations in NZ are significantly lower than US companies.  MUCH lower.  As an asset class, angel investment is very underdeveloped; we don’t have the same degree of investable wealth or risk appetite as you have here, but we do have the same levels of entrepreneurial drive.  And nearly all of our early stage companies want to jump the Pacific to be active in the US market, and we would love to have some aligned smart money on deck to help companies make that transition.

If active investment isn’t your thing but you would still like exposure to early stage NZ companies, there are three different angel funds you can invest in.

I fell in love at first sight with NZ, with its low population density, pristine natural beauty, friendly locals, great infrastructure, and excellent cultural and entertainment opportunities.  It’s a great place for a getaway or bolt-hole, and it’s straightforward to gain residence as a foreign investor.  Last year the World Bank rated NZ the 3rd easiest place to do business, and the easiest place in the world to start a business.  Oh, and there’s no capital gains tax.

The Angel community is close-knit and very friendly, even between nominally competing groups, and if you come for a visit we’ll all roll out the red carpet for you.

I know this has come out sounding more like a pitch than I really intended, but the desire to cooperate, learn from each other, and most importantly to do great deals together is totally genuine.

If you’d like to know more, please come see me after the meeting, and let’s start a relationship.

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