Startmate's startup mentorship cohort in Melbourne. (Photo: Supplied)

Move over Silicon Valley: NZ could be the next best base for startups

New Zealand’s startup community continues to flourish despite Covid-19 – so much so that an Australian accelerator is expanding across the Tasman to help unlock the potential.

As Covid-19 forces businesses and economies across the world to tighten their belts and count their pennies, it’s a promising sign of growth that an Australian company called Startmate has expanded into New Zealand to mentor home-grown startups.

Known as a startup accelerator, Startmate channels capital and experience from established company founders to nurture emerging startups. Founded in 2011 and backed by leading Silicon Valley venture capital firms, it has fostered an impressive range of successful and innovative companies, with the accumulated valuation of its 110 alumni passing $1bn earlier this year.

It usually operates its 12-week mentorship programmes (cohorts) in Melbourne and Sydney. However, with more New Zealand startups moving across the Tasman to attend the programmes in recent years, Startmate decided to target the next one at the New Zealand market.

“Our local presence will mean founders can remain in New Zealand while still tapping into a world-class network of mentors and investors,” said Startmate CEO Michael Batko.

He said that despite Covid-19, the startup communities in Australia and New Zealand have continued to flourish and adapt to new opportunities. In fact, the way both countries have handled the pandemic made the trans-Tasman region an ideal place for startup investment and collaboration, shifting the focus away from more established centres overseas.

“I strongly believe there will be an increasing number of global startups starting and keeping their main operations in New Zealand. The relative advantage of non-Silicon Valley startups has skyrocketed… it doesn’t make a difference to customers or investors where you are because email and video-conferencing has levelled the playing field. There’s a great opportunity now for startups to have global impact while remaining in their home country.”

Startmate CEO Michael Batko. (Photo: Supplied)

Running from July to October, the New Zealand programme will bring expertise and mentorship from established home-grown companies like Xero, Raygun, EducationPerfect, Wish, Vend, and 90Seconds along with internationals firms like Canva and Atlassian.

Each mentor invests $10,000 to $250,000 in the cohort, and the accepted startups will see a $75,000 investment at their latest valuation. Over the 12 weeks, the startup founders also receive the tools and mentorship from industry leaders to get their businesses off the ground.

While it was originally going to be held at a physical venue in Auckland, Covid-19 restrictions mean the programme will be held exclusively online, at the same time as the Melbourne cohort. Batko said this would allow startups from across New Zealand to participate and connect with the global network without physically relocating.

“This year’s global collective shift online means the high-profile speakers and investors in our network are more able to get involved with our programme because of the greater flexibility remote working affords. The bridge to our Silicon Valley network will be easier to cross now than before,” he said. 

Startmate calls itself “industry agnostic” – meaning it doesn’t care what kind of startups apply, as long as they have a great idea, are tech-enabled and pre-Series A funding.

The last cohort earlier this year in Sydney fostered a range of innovative startups including one that 3D-prints personalised breast prostheses for women who have undergone mastectomies and another that aims to convert waste water from breweries into hydrogen energy.

Since 2017, Startmate’s emphasis on diversity at its cohorts has seen the number of women participants increase from 10% to 60%. Gemma Lloyd, CEO of WORK180, a women’s workplace advocacy business, said that her company has tripled in size and raised a total of $4.2m since participating in the 2018 Sydney cohort.

“It was one of the most rewarding experiences we have ever had,” she said.



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