New Zealander’s are very much known for their Number 8 wire mentality – their ingenuity at times leading the world.
So to hear that Vodafone has opened a brand new complex in Christchurch from which it will grow Kiwi entrepreneurs’ start-ups to global heights, is news welcomed with arms wide open.
Officially opened in July 2016 by The Right Honourable John Key, the Vodafone xone Innovation Lab is a network test-bed where kiwi visionaries have access to the latest technologies to test and refine their innovations.
Housed in Vodafone’s Innov8 headquarters – which is bursting at the seams with brilliant, inspired and motivated minds – the lab is open to the recipients of the xone accelerator programme and other companies and individuals that may benefit from the capabilities the lab has to offer.
Leading the charge is xone programme leader Kevin Park,who is responsible for “combining Vodafone’s capability with the vision of each individual company to identify and unlock commercial opportunities,” he says.
And he’s just the man to do it. Having been at the helm of two tech start-ups and advising on many more during his role at the Icehouse, it’s as though start-up innovation is coded into Kevin’s DNA.
“There are so many priorities for growing companies and the real challenge is knowing how to strike a good balance. Part of my role here is to prioritise and provide advice, and then connect companies with experts from across Vodafone who can often help them move forward,” he says.
Kevin works closely with the head of Vodafone xone, Nicole Buisson, who sets the strategic direction for xone which Kevin then implements.
There’s certainly no denying that the team behind xone is comprised of passionate entrepreneurs who are honoured to be supporting like-minds through the many challenges they may face – particularly when it comes to cracking international markets.
“For start-up companies, links to large international sales channels are all-important. However we need to get into the markets to build these sales channels.
“The Internet has enabled us to be a part of the global marketplace, but there will always be times where growing businesses need to be in the same room as their investors or collaborators.
“The costs associated with necessary international travel can become challenging for many Kiwis – as can understanding and engaging effectively with different cultures. Luckily Kiwis are usually well respected abroad and people are prepared to give us a go!”
“The technology we use and recommend at xone is compatible with many global markets and this is essential for companies wanting to promote and scale their products internationally.” – KEVIN PARK , XONE PROGRAMME LEADER
Generating greatness on a global scale
Vodafone xone in Christchurch is part of a wider network of seven Vodafone xones worldwide; the others being in Italy, Spain, Germany, United Kingdom, Netherlands and Egypt.
Each location has its own unique approach to the accelerator programme – some have pure emphasis on innovation labs, others focus on the commercialisation process – but New Zealand is unique in that our accelerator programme has amalgamated a mix of components from the other xones and adapted these to suit the local market.
So, who exactly can apply to the xone programme?
Well, naturally, you’ll need to be a start-up or at the very least have a well established concept and prototype, but simply put, there are no minimum entry requirements. Vodafone does however look to align with those who have a global vision.
As is customary with business today, applications are online, and a shortlist of potential recipients will have the opportunity to pitch their ideas to xone’s advisory panel. The panel, consisting of serial entrepreneurs, investors, corporates, and university representatives, decides who will become the next lucky bunch of xone participants.
Those who are successful are provided with a six-month package with a total value of up to $150,000. This includes mentoring, up to $25,000 in funding, access to xone Innovation Lab equipment (valued at over $19 million), and valuable connections.
“Our brand and mentors have great international reach,” says Kevin. “This combination supports xone participants to tap into Vodafone’s global network and take their ideas to the world.
“The technology we use and recommend at xone is compatible with many global markets and this is essential for companies wanting to promote and scale their products internationally.”
One of those in Vodafone’s network is Callaghan Innovation, whom Kevin says has been an enormous supporter of the xone programme.
“Not only have they provided part of the funding for the Innovation Lab – they offer xone participants access to their scientific experts and broad networks.”
First-round recipients already making headlines
Vodafone Christchurch is only three months into its first accelerator programme but already the successful recipients have achieved so much.
“The xone companies we have on board are more impressive than we ever could have imagined,” says Kevin. “We have tested new products and facilitated commercial deals on products locally and globally.”
There were 10 recipients from the first round:
Haptly – improving pasture-based farming through real time autonomous drone tracking and management for beyond line-of-site applications.
IoTStream – democratising the “Internet-of-Things” through a network, data and storage platform that makes product development easier and faster.
LINC-ED – promoting the sharing of learning and creativity in a simple format that helps parents to understand their child’s next steps.
Wireless Guard – making homes safer and setting minds at ease by transforming existing doors and windows into smart, connected, secure devices.
Blerter – making health and safety processes easy, engaging and fun, and helping to ensure everyone goes home safe each night.
Solar Bright – going beyond conventionally accepted limitations to find new and practical lighting and renewable energy solutions for every day, real world problems.
Spalk – making sports commentary cool again by synchronising crowd-sourced commentary with live TV.
Linewize – giving schools complete control over Internet use, in real time.
Parking Sense – connecting car parks to make car parking better, easier, and more profitable.
Catch.it – letting viewers easily and legally share TV moments in real-time, while delivering new revenue for broadcasters.
As an excellent example of the programme’s effectiveness, Parking Sense recently announced a $5 million deal with LA Metro to supply car-park technology.
This deal has the potential to become a huge international venture and Kevin is sure there’ll be plenty more success on a similar scale coming to those under the guidance of the xone programme.
When asked what exactly the future looked like for Vodafone xone, Kevin noted they are committed to making it a long-term success.
“We are always talking to Callaghan Innovation about what’s working well, where we can make improvements. It’s in this spirit of collaboration that we will continue to make decisions about the future of xone.”
Applications for the second round of the accelerator programme will open late December. Head to www.xone.vodafone.co.nz for more information.
By Lydia Truesdale