Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland has a rich community of female entrepreneurs spanning fields from online supermarket disruption to robotics, aerospace and food technology. For investors, these innovators make an extraordinary talent pool.
In the second part of our two-part series on the local female venture ecosystem, we speak with some of Auckland’s female founders and funders on their experience of the capital raising journey.
Irina Miller – CEO, Daisy Lab
Irina is a former consultant for Fonterra, the global dairy co-operative responsible for 30 per cent of the world’s dairy export and New Zealand’s largest company. Together with molecular biologist Dr Nikki Freed, she has founded Daisy Lab, a precision fermentation company. Precision fermentation trains microorganisms to create different substances when breaking down sugars. (Think of it as a way of making protein without a cow.) In January 2022 they received US$250,000 (NZ$320,000) in start-up funding from Outset Ventures, Stephen Tindall’s K1W1 and Sustainable Food Ventures (US). Then in August they won a share of a NZ$1 million grant through the Westpac NZ Government Innovation Fund, which was aimed at decarbonising Aotearoa New Zealand.
Irina says Auckland is a good place for a woman to start a business.
“Personally, I regret not doing it sooner. I struggled with motivation working in a corporate world. Things always seemed to move slower than I hoped. When you are running your own business, particularly a start-up, the pace is breakneck. I think I was always built for it. I just didn’t know it.”
Irina says her experience of raising capital in Auckland was positive.
“It was better than we anticipated. Daisy Lab is our first start-up, and our preconceptions about VCs and fundraising were primarily based on movies and TV shows. The process is often portrayed as a brutal, cut-throat race with very little chance of actually securing the capital. Luckily, it wasn’t nearly as dramatic! On the contrary, we found that most investors are considerate and genuinely want you to succeed, even if they are not ready to invest themselves. Many investors are also happy to offer help and advice – regardless of whether they have invested in you or not.”
Sarah Balle – Founder, Supie
Online supermarket Supie is led by Sarah Balle, a former accountant who vowed to disrupt New Zealand’s supermarket duopoly. She secured NZ$2.5 million in a first capital raise in 2021, then brought forward a second capital raise because of massive demand, raising nearly NZ$4 million via crowdfunding platform Snowball Effect. The New Zealand Commerce Commission supermarket review of competition in the grocery sector boosted revenue, as did changes in buying habits due to Covid-19.
Supie, which rolled out to the Auckland region in 2021 with other regions to follow, describes itself as “pioneering a new way to bring food to your table directly from the people who produce it, grow it, and make it.”
Sarah sees the value of working with other women in the Auckland start-up ecosystem.
“The women I’ve met in the start-up community and their drive to succeed is impressive. Their intimate knowledge of, and ideas for, their respective areas and industries of expertise is unmatched. It is now up to investors to fuel our women-led start-ups. We’re incredibly grateful for the funding we’ve received from the ArcAngels Fund and their investor network that supports women-led businesses. We were also a Coralus [formally SheEO] venture in 2021, which has provided mentoring and other operating support throughout our start-up journey.”
Sarah considers the opportunities for investors here remain relatively unexplored.
“I believe we, as Kiwis, are only at the beginning of this journey in tapping into women-founded start-ups and the incredible talent pool that exists. I look forward to seeing how it grows and gets the support it needs over the coming decade.”
Maria Jose Alvarez – Investment Manager, WNT Ventures
WNT Ventures is an early-stage venture capital fund which Maria Jose (MJ) describes as New Zealand’s longest-standing deep-tech incubator. WNT’s motto is to guide founders “from garage to greatness”. MJ says she will always select the best performer, but she’s drawn to investing in female founders to make sure decisions on venture capital are more evenly spread.
“When female founders pitch Femtech innovation, for example, there needs to be female decision makers in the room for effective understanding of the impact on the female market. Having gender, thought and ethnic diversity represented by the decision makers leads to more diversity in solutions, so it’s important that VC professionals reflect our communities.”
MJ says the depth and scope of Auckland’s start-ups is considerable. “I have worked with a large number of female founders from a range of fields, such as automating solutions in agriculture, soft robotics, cyber security, AI in healthcare, and carbon credits with AI. They are across most sectors and are bringing exciting solutions to market.”
Mitali Purohit – Senior Investment Manager, Nuance Capital
Mitali Purohit is a Senior Investment Manager at Nuance Connected Capital, a science and deep-tech fund which – unusually – has a female managing partner and employs four female scientists out of five employees. The company believes New Zealand has an untapped and undervalued start-up ecosystem with a smart, educated talent pool.
Mitali explains the benefits of diversity from an investor’s perspective.
“It’s about giving everyone a chance to have a say at a business level. Women might pick up risks and opportunities men might not think about, and vice versa – this helps us build stronger foundations for business. International data shows that companies co-led by women are more resourceful; they get to a critical milestone faster than a man with the same amount of capital.
“We see benefits of having female founders in the team or at governance level and see this as important to the company doing well. If this talent mix is not in place, we help a team to invest in diversity. Our unique outlook and perspectives mean we add diversity of thought to any decision and show by example that women can be successful in any role.”
Mitali believes in 2022 there are more opportunities for investment in female-led start-ups, but also for more women to work in venture capital.
“Fifteen years ago I didn’t see many female VCs or founders. As a woman in this space right now, it is encouraging to see so many female investment managers coming through. The VC space has awoken to the power of diversity in start-ups and the financial results it provides. There’s never been a better time to raise funds as a female-founded start-up.”
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DISCLAIMER: This article provides general information on potential investment opportunities in Auckland and is not intended to be used as a substitute for financial advice. The views and opinions expressed are those of the relevant author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Tātaki Auckland Unlimited. Tātaki Auckland Unlimited disclaims all liability in connection with any action that may be taken in reliance of this article, and for any error, deficiency, flaw or omission contained in it.