New Zealand’s UAV tech takeover

Chris Thomson, Callaghan Innovation’s Aviation Sector Manager attended NAB in Las Vegas this April. With five New Zealand companies on board he wraps up from four days of technology mayhem.

From 18-21st April a group of NZ UAV technology companies were on stage at the 2016 National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) show in Las Vegas.

Callaghan Innovation sponsored the New Zealand UAV Technology Pavilion as the final part of the C-Prize competition (next generation UAV technology for the screen industry). NAB  is the largest show on earth for media and broadcast technology with more than 100,000 attendees and 1,800 exhibitors from around the world. In short; NAB is a crazy-big business bonanza for cameras, film equipment, editing software, virtual reality gear, and much more. The show features a dedicated area for “aerial robotics” and this is where the NZ crew set up camp.


The NZ Pavillion at NAB


C-Prize winners Vortec UAV showed off their thrust-vectoring technology, with their cycloidal gyroscope (pictured) drawing lots of attention. The lads made excellent connections with all the major drone manufacturers as they build multiple opportunities to commercialise their IP. Ex DJI and 3D Robotics drone guru Colin Guinness looked like a kid at Christmas!


Vortec’s popular stand at NAB


Aeronavics were on their fifth trip to NAB and their experience shone through in the quality and presentation of their products. As the industry matures so does the knowledge of their customers who help build their reputation even further.

Dotterel Technologies, another C-Prize finalist, found a true niche as the only company offering active and passive noise cancellation systems for UAVs. The potential for this NZ start-up was recognised as they won the “Most Innovative Product” award at the show by Newshooter. This was a massive achievement considering the number of products on show, and they are off to a great start with incredible media and market interest.

Wipster (video editing software) and Britten Aero (film production and UAV products) rounded out the team with some great results. Wipster were in full business development mode with Vimeo and Adobe while Sam hit a home run, signing a non-disclosure agreement with DJI for future product development!

It was great to connect with some of the other NZ companies at the show including Shotover Camera Systems (CEO Brad Hurndell was so busy he lost his voice!), the Syrp boys (definitely the cool kids), Park Road, Weta, Maori TV, Pango Productions, Moxion and more.


The NZ contingent at NAB


NAB is a huge stage for technology companies but it was amazing to see the representation from NZ Inc. To use an unverified cliche; per capita of population I’m sure NZ was punching well above its weight.

Talking about NZ companies at NAB, Bailey Mackey from Pango Production summed up the story beautifully: don’t be afraid to pump your own tyres, be confident on an international stage and celebrate what we’re good at.

NAB was a great example of this and Callaghan Innovation is keen to continue working with Airshare and UAVNZ to build a world class industry in NZ.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

We have moved!

Hi everyone, our blog has relocated to the Callaghan Innovation website, and now goes under the moniker Disruptive Influence.

Please feel free to read our regular posts, subscribe and comment at our new home!

boarded up window

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Start-up highlights May 2016

  1. Tech Innovation Showcase at Astrolab

Hosted by the Auckland-based Technology Incubator Astrolab, the Tech Innovation Showcase was a unique addition to Tech Week Akl. Guests were warmly welcomed with canapes and drinks, after which new and prospective ventures commercialising NZ-sourced science and technology based at various incubators, universities and other research institutes were showcased.

Start-up highlights may 2016 1

Michael Lonsdale, CEO of Moxion presents the proprietary end-to-end collaborative film editing technology. Moxion is incubated at Astrolab. Source: Elena Higgison.


  1. ArcAngels Investment Evening

Opened by the new Chair Cecilia Tarrant, this first ArcAngels event of the year saw 5 women-led start-ups pitching for investment. Fuel50 and Acuite updated the investors on their progress since the last investment round, whilst presenting their business strategies for the upcoming months. Presentations from SeekStock, The Baby Bag and Little Bird, were also followed by sharp questions and robust investment discussions.

Start-up highlights May 2016 2.jpg

Cecilia Tarrant, new Chair of ArcAngels opens the investment evening. Source: @SummerParkSees


  1. Founders Angels Forum

As part of the process of evaluating acceleration programmes that have been running in NZ for the last three years and their impact on the start-up ecosystem in New Zealand, Callaghan Innovation, Creative HQ and the Angel Association of New Zealand sought feedback from Angel investors, founders and legal professionals.  Held in Wellington and Auckland, the forums engaged communities to discuss key topics such as investment mechanisms, risk management, criteria that influence investment decisions, current funding landscape in NZ, what it means for start-ups to take international investment, and the long-term vision for growing the NZ start-up ecosystem.

Start-up highlight May 2016 3

The Founders and Angels panel Wellington at Creative HQ with moderator and Head of Acceleration Lightning Lab, Brett Holland. Source: Elena Higgison.


  1. Innovation Mission to Israel

Organised by the Trans-Tasman Business Circle, this Innovation Mission is taking place from 29 May to 1 June 2016. At a time of increased global interest in centres of innovation such as Silicon Valley, Israel, Berlin among others, the mission will engage with and learn from Israel’s highly successful innovation ecosystem which has earned the country an enviable reputation as the “Start-up Nation.” Brett Oliver, CEO of Astrolab is taking part in this mission.

Start-up highlights May 2016 4

Oren Gershtein, Managing Director of Ideality Roads addresses the mission in Israel. Source: @OrenGershtein


  1. Start-up Weekend Wellington

Over 54 hours this weekend just been, developers, designers and ideas folk got together at Biz Dojo Wellington for a marathon of inspiration, perspiration, collaboration and fun. Pitches from 15 teams that had designed and built a new product, service or business marked the culmination of this high-energy weekend. More on SWWLG Twitter and Facebook.

Start-up highlihgts 2016 5

Participants, mentors, volunteers and sponsors of Startup Weekend Wellington. Source: @SWWLG


  1. Lightning Lab Updates

The teams at LL XX and LL AKL are busy prepping for Demo Day in June! Follow their progress by visiting the web links or on Twitter.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Ian Taylor and Mary Quin steal the show for Māori at the NZ Hi Tech awards

At last year’s Hi-Tech Awards, NZ’s top event recognising technology industry success, the challenge was laid to ‘get more Māori in the room’. Hemi Rolleston, Callaghan Innovation’s General Manager Maori Economy & Business Innovation Services, writes about how Callaghan Innovation took up that challenge.

Blogs and acronyms have become the norm these days.  It takes something really big to inspire me to write a blog, and my staff will tell you I use acronyms all the time.  One that I use with them often is SBD – same but different.  I use this to explain in simple terms why we have a Māori economy team and why we have many Māori economy initiatives.  The suite of services for firms is generally the same; however the approach, tactics and initiatives used to engage and inspire Māori are very often different.  One such initiative was launched on Friday 20 May in Auckland – the inaugural Māori Hi Tech Award at the 20th anniversary of the NZ Hi Tech Awards.  The launch of this award and the impact that Ian Taylor and Dr Mary Quin had on the audience when launching the award is the inspiration for my blog.

IMG_7110 copy

Ian Taylor, media and technology entrepreneur at the Hi Tech awards in Auckland


To put the awards into context, they are the premium New Zealand event for technology entrepreneurs.  Last year I was privileged to attend and witness a Māori success story – Grant Straker from Straker Translations took out one of the premium Hi Tech Awards.  When accepting the award, Grant put the challenge out to Māori as follows:  “We need more Māori here tonight, not just working behind the bar”. This was both thought provoking and challenging.  Fortunately I was sitting next to my Chief Executive, Dr Mary Quin, and we accepted that challenge with both hands.  Grant was spot on – there wouldn’t have been any more than ten Māori in the audience.  So along with Ian Taylor and Grant, we went about changing this by creating the Māori Innovation Hi Tech Award.

Fast forward 12 months and here we are, sitting at the awards again.  The stage has been set; the Chair, Wayne Norrie, opens the evening in Te Reo, providing a great scene setter for Ian and Mary, who are about to launch the new Māori Hi Tech Award in front of a full house.  Ian is on familiar territory as he is among his friends from the mainstream entrepreneurial world, but this time he is proudly wearing his Māori hat.  He uses his innovative animation technology to tell the Māori story of the creation and the great migration, ending and beginning his korero in Te Reo – a language he has not grown up with and which he does not feel confident in.

Ian explained the significance of the launch of Māori Innovation Hi Tech Award, recalling as a child being taught about Captain Cook’s arrival in New Zealand, but not hearing anything about the great Māori entrepreneurs of the great migration, the risk takers, the early adopters that Māori were.  “As a Māori kid, we grew up without Māori role models.  Well, tonight that’s about to change,” Ian emphatically told the audience.  “Now some might ask why we need a separate award.  Are we not good enough to enter in the mainstream categories?”  He then showed that Māori were indeed able to go up against the very best by acknowledging Grant Straker as a finalist in the new award and a winner in the awards last year.  Ian then noted that there were a huge 22 entries in the new category, marking a record that should be celebrated.  “Watch this space for Māori – tonight is only the beginning,”

IMG_7111 copy

Mary Quin, CEO Callaghan Innovation, at the Hi Tech awards last Friday night


Mary Quin began her speech by acknowledging local iwi, those prominent people in the audience and the late Sir Paul Callaghan, as well as all the Māori businesses that had entered the awards.  No reading from notes and perfect pronunciation – and all in Te Reo.  This was from a non-Māori Chief Executive who had spent all her career overseas, speaking to a predominantly non-Māori audience.  Mary had intended to then translate her speech into English, however the occasion beckoned for her to be bold – and she was, by letting the Māori words stand for themselves. The impact in the room was powerful; two well respected leaders in the mainstream environment embracing Māori leadership to a predominantly non-Māori audience.

As the names of the six finalists in the Māori Hi Tech Award category were read out – with all of them doing amazing things in the technology world – one couldn’t help but warmed by the positive kaupapa of these entries.  They included improving Māori health, teaching young Māori to code, and focusing on education, culture and sustainability.  The winner on the night was Tiaki, a collaboration of Māori fishing businesses embracing technology for sustainability in the fishing industry.  Although Tiaki took out the award on the night, all Māori were the winners.  This included the 22 entrants, the Hi Tech Trust for embracing, without question, the new award category, Ian Taylor, and the formidable leadership of Ian and Mary combined.  Finally I want to acknowledge Grant Straker for being bold.  As I said to him on the night “Be careful what you ask for, as you might just get it”.

IMG_7124 copy

Hemi Rolleston leads Callaghan Innovation’s haka, Rukuhia


It was therefore fitting to end the launch of the award with the Callaghan Innovation haka Rukuhia!!, which is about being bold in pursuit of excellence and making a difference.  From my perspective the words in the haka certainly summed up the night.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment



  1. AgTech Silicon Valley Forum


Sprout and WNT Ventures team representatives recently attended the AgTechSVForum ‘How Digital Technology is Transforming AgTech’ in Silicon Valley on April 21st, in association with Callaghan Innovation and Wharf 42.

It provided New Zealand AgTech and AgBusiness leaders with the opportunity to meet and engage with leading food and farming executives from across the region. Keynotes and case studies from New Zealand explained how Kiwis are addressing some of the key challenges facing the agriculture sector. The future of AgTech and the impact that advancing digital technologies are having on the industry was a major focus.

Simon Brown AgTechCallaghan Innovation’s Simon Brown – General Manager Accelerator Services – at the AgTechSV Forum. Photo:


  1. Sprout


The Sprout teams attended the Mobiletech Primary Industries 2016 event in Rotorua on March 30th to 31st. Established in 2013, it is now a major industry event for showcasing new technologies designed to increase the productivity of New Zealand’s primary food and fibre industries.

Mobile tech RotoruaThe Mobiletech event in Rotorua. Photo:

The 2015 Sprout companies are now preparing for the Sprout Investor Showcase in Hamilton on May 11th. Investors will listen to the companies pitch and hear more about their Sprout journey. Registrations are now open for the 2016 Sprout programme.


  1. Te Papa Mahuki Business Innovation Hub


On Wednesday April 20th Te Papa launched its new innovation hub, Mahuki.

Mahuki will offer New Zealand entrepreneurs a residential programme where they can develop the next generation of experiences for the culture, heritage and learning sectors. Te Papa will invest around $1 million to establish Mahuki. Applications are now open and will close at 9am on Friday 9 June 2016.

Te Papa Mahuki launchAttendees at the Te Papa Mahuki Launch. Photo:


  1. Creative HQ


Creative HQ has a number of interesting things on the go, including the opening of 1st Assembly, a space for hardware-focussed Hutt startups to work and collaborate. 1st Assembly’s second monthly Startup Garage event was held on the 26th of April, featuring Andrew Sinclair from Motovated Design and Analysis.

The R9 Accelerator, powered by Better for Business and Creative HQ, is a 12 week programme to turn government project opportunities into innovative and impactful solutions. Now coming out of its sixth week, key updates can be found through Creative HQ here.

Creative HQ Accelerator 9CoHelix’s  Nicole, Dan, Alex at the R9 AcceleratorPhoto:×677.jpg


  1. Lightning Lab XX


Check out the latest featured team from Lightning Lab XX, Patternsnap. This start-up has developed an interior design app that allows designers to browse wallpaper and fabric samples.

The teams also had the pleasure of hearing talks from Lightning Lab XX Mentor Pallas Hupe Cotter and Soraya Darabi, co-founder of Zady.

Paula hupe cotterPallas Hupe Cotter talks to the teams about personal motivations


  1. Wintec Innes48 Competition Results


The fifth Wintec Innes48 Competition, powered by Soda Inc, has come to a close following 48 hours of innovation, idea thrashing and challenging the status quo during April 8th – 10th. Winners of the ‘Most Viable Business’, ‘Gallagher Craziest Idea That Might Just Work’, and ‘Best Pitch’ awards are listed on the competition blog post.

Dose DirectWinner of the Most Viable Business Award, DoseDirect. Photo:


  1. The Icehouse


The Icehouse and ICE Angels have announced the launch of a $10m fund called Tuhua which will invest in 25 leading kiwi start-ups over the next three years.

Tuhua has received investment from a network of world class kiwi business leaders including more than 50 ICE Angels’ members as well as a number of kiwi entrepreneurs, corporate executives and professional investors.


  1. Lightning Lab Auckland


The latest from Lightning Lab Digital in Auckland has seen teams celebrating small wins. Teams such as Waywiser, and Sonnar. Other highlights include the lunch event with Microsoft and 14 MPs, and an evening with 70 Ice Angel investors. More found here.

Brittany from WaywiserBrittany from Waywiser pitching to Microsoft and MPs. Photo:

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Weighing up the options: embrace the niche or automate?

Callaghan Innovation national technology network manager for advanced materials, Kirsten Edgar, explains why automation could be a double-edged sword for New Zealand companies.

At the recent Advanced Composites Innovation Conference in Melbourne I gained a fascinating insight into international trends and emerging technologies that could impact on New Zealand companies – particularly composite companies in our marine or aerospace HVMS sectors.

Leslie Jay Cohen, Senior Vice President of HITCO Carbon Composites was the keynote speaker. HITCO is a US-based supplier of composite solutions, mainly to the aerospace and defence industries. About 20 years ago the company had to make some hard choices in order to remain competitive and grow. Centrally, they chose not to emigrate, i.e. move to a country offering cheap labour – Leslie’s comment was that employing inexpensive but unmotivated people ends up being incredibly expensive in the long run!  Their other option was to automate, a decision which has led to increased success and market share for the company.

Leslie Jay Cohen

Dr Leslie Jay Cohen

Leslie shared several lessons that HITCO had learned during this change.  He talked in particular about the importance of getting your processes right, mainly focusing on inventory processes, and of empowering your people – if they do not feel that they can hit the ‘stop’ button on your automated production line because the product is not up to specification, automation will be of no benefit.

As interesting as these lessons were, the key question in my mind was this: are New Zealand composites manufacturing companies going to be faced with this same choice?

Having had discussions about the potential impact of automation on New Zealand advanced materials companies with a number of people previously, my thoughts are that automation could be a double-edged sword for our companies.  If they don’t automate, there is the chance that they will be priced out by larger (automated) international competitors.  However, if they do automate, they risk losing a key advantage that New Zealand companies in this space can offer: nimbleness (or as a colleague put it, the ability to offer “fast, flexible and few” manufacturing).

Composite aero automation.jpg

Goodrich Aerostructure: automated fiber placement machine

Given the range of composites, and materials-based companies in New Zealand (in terms of size and focus), no single conclusion on this topic will fit all those that might be affected.  I would instead suggest that if you are not already talking about this balancing act internally, it might be good to start the conversation. Callaghan Innovation provides connection to leading experts across a range of fields, so if this is a conversation your business is starting to have, and would like input from those with experience, get in touch with me:

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Start-up highlights March 2016


On Thursday March 17th Sprout companies presented to a handpicked group of investors and agribusiness leaders at the 2016 New Zealand Agribusiness Investment showcase in Palmerston North. This was part of the wider New Zealand Agri Investment Week designed with a focus on problem solving and innovation in agritech.


Photo: @NZTEnews


Lightning Lab XX

Lightning Lab XX was officially launched on International Women’s Day (March 8th) in Wellington. Read more on the highlights including sessions by Annette Presley (Co-Founder of Slingshot), a screening of Code in celebration of International Women’s Day and the meet and greet with Lightning Lab XX mentors. Here’s a great article about Lightning Lab XX written by The New Zealand Herald.


Shiobhan Bulfin of Melon Health kicked off the first day of the programme


Lightning Lab Auckland

For Lightning Lab Auckland the past week has seen teams work on customer validation and initial branding. “Speed dating” sessions have been underway, where over 30 mentors met with the companies on the 16th and 23rd of March. A key feature was a presentation on the Microsoft Azure cloud computing platform by Vishesh Oberoi.



Start-up Digest

Coming up during May 9th – 11th in New York is the highly anticipated TechCrunch Disrupt conference.  Entrepreneurs, investors and influencers come together to discuss hot tech topics, and be part of the Start-up Battlefield competition. Other past events included the Entrepreneurs Unleashed event on the 29th of March in Auckland and the Wellington PHP Meetup also on the 29th at the Bizdojo.


Wintec Innes48 Competition

The 2016 Wintec Innes48 Competition powered by Soda Inc and sponsored by Wintec and Gallagher will soon go ahead in an action packed weekend during April 8th – 10th in Hamilton. The competition is an opportunity for up to 15 teams innovate and create a business within 48 hours – the top 6 teams will pitch their newly created business to a panel of judges and an audience of 300 people. Applications for teams are now open, with the chance to win over $10k in cash while competing in New Zealand’s largest 48hour business start-up competition.




Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment