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When fundraising, New Zealand startup founders should play the ‘Kiwi card’



New Zealand, a country of 5 million people in the South Pacific, has witnessed a shifting tech startup landscape over the last couple of years. While some major global companies like Xero, Rocket Lab, LanzaTech and Seequent have shined a spotlight on New Zealand’s startup scene, the country historically hasn’t had access to much venture capital.

As a country with an economy that primarily exports agricultural products, the New Zealand startup world has usually relied on funding from a community of high-net-worth individuals and family offices who probably made their millions through real estate or farming.

In March last year, the New Zealand government launched Elevate, an NZD $300 million fund of funds program that’s been providing millions to local VCs to invest into the startup community to fill the early-stage capital gap. At the same time, foreign investors have been flooding onto the scene, attracted to the small country that has a reputation for producing great companies. Founders and VCs in New Zealand are hopeful that the increase in funding from multiple sources is a signal that technology might just become the country’s next big industry.

That is, if the momentum that has led to more early-stage capital continues.

We spoke to two founders (Peter Beck of Rocket Lab and Cecilia Robinson of Au Pair Link, My Food Bag and Tend) as well as two investors (Phoebe Harrop, principal at Blackbird Ventures, and Robbie Paul, CEO of Icehouse Ventures) to nail down the top tips for New Zealand founders looking to put their mark on the markets. Here’s what we learned.

Think big and back yourself

New Zealanders typically tend to have an introspective view, failing to think big and globally from day one, Beck said. This is in part due to the fact that Kiwis grow up in a culture that suffers from “tall poppy syndrome,” a phenomenon where people who have achieved any measure of success are derided, cut down or sabotaged. As a result, not many people want to be a tall poppy.

Play the Kiwi card. New Zealand sits favorably on the minds of the international community. Icehouse Ventures CEO Robbie Paul

“If you’re going to build a company, it’s incredibly painful, it takes a lot of work,” Beck told TechCrunch. “Why would you waste your time building a little company? Let’s build a big company. So go after big problems.”

In order to psych yourself up to tackle those big problems, don’t be too humble. New Zealand consistently punches above its weight and produces world-class entrepreneurs and tech startups, Paul said.

“Back yourself and know you can win on a global stage,” Paul told TechCrunch. “While starting on a rock at the bottom of the world comes with challenges, there are plenty of advantages, too.”

Don’t get starry-eyed over a big check

“Remember that the least valuable thing an investor ever gives you is their money,” said Beck. “As you think about building your business, how and where you want to go, make sure you utilize investors to help you get there. People get starry-eyed by the check and don’t really sit back and go, ‘Well, is this person actually strategic to me or not?’”

When Beck was building Rocket Lab, he was highly selective about the investors he brought in, saying the differentiating factor between investors is not their capital, but rather who they can call. For example, Khosla Ventures participated in Rocket Lab’s Series A round, which Beck said opened the door to another big VC, Bessemer, to invest, in a Series B. DCVC led the Series C, but by the time Rocket Lab got around to its Series D, Bessemer was paving the way to Greenspring, which is a limited partner (LP) of Bessemer. Sovereign wealth funds, where the real big checks come from, participated in the company’s E round, and they were LPs of Greenspring.

“So as your company continues to grow, there are larger and larger pools of capital that you can then go and attract, and if all you’ve got is John from Pakuranga, John doesn’t have the phone number and credibility to sovereign wealth funds,” said Beck. “It’s all about setting up the company so that when you want to do a bigger round, you can go and tap that venture capitalist’s LPs and then it can tap that LP’s LPs and ultimately end up in sovereign wealth funds or others that can write a $100 million check no problems at all. It’s a smooth path there, and where it’s tricky is when there’s no path or the path is truncated, and the challenge with New Zealand is even though there are some better quality venture capital firms in New Zealand, where are their relationships with LPs?”


Tesla more than tripled its Austin gigafactory workforce in 2022



Tesla’s 2,500-acre manufacturing hub in Austin, Texas tripled its workforce last year, according to the company’s annual compliance report filed with county officials. Bloomberg first reported on the news.

The report filed with Travis County’s Economic Development Program shows that Tesla increased its Austin workforce from just 3,523 contingent and permanent employees in 2021 to 12,277 by the end of 2022. Bloomberg reports that just over half of Tesla’s workers reside in the county, with the average full-time employee earning a salary of at least $47,147. Outside of Tesla’s factory, the average salary of an Austin worker is $68,060, according to data from ZipRecruiter.

TechCrunch was unable to acquire a copy of the report, so it’s not clear if those workers are all full-time. If they are, Tesla has hired a far cry more full-time employees than it is contracted to do. According to the agreement between Tesla and Travis County, the company is obligated to create 5,001 new full-time jobs over the next four years.

The contract also states that Tesla must invest about $1.1 billion in the county over the next five years. Tesla’s compliance report shows that the automaker last year invested $5.81 billion in Gigafactory Texas, which officially launched a year ago at a “Cyber Rodeo” event. In January, Tesla notified regulators that it plans to invest another $770 million into an expansion of the factory to include a battery cell testing site and cathode and drive unit manufacturing site. With that investment will come more jobs.

Tesla’s choice to move its headquarters to Texas and build a gigafactory there has helped the state lead the nation in job growth. The automaker builds its Model Y crossover there and plans to build its Cybertruck in Texas, as well. Giga Texas will also be a model for sustainable manufacturing, CEO Elon Musk has said. Last year, Tesla completed the first phase of what will become “the largest rooftop solar installation in the world,” according to the report, per Bloomberg. Tesla has begun on the second phase of installation, but already there are reports of being able to see the rooftop from space. The goal is to generate 27 megawatts of power.

Musk has also promised to turn the site into an “ecological paradise,” complete with a boardwalk and a hiking/biking trail that will open to the public. There haven’t been many updates on that front, and locals have been concerned that the site is actually more of an environmental nightmare that has led to noise and water pollution. The site, located at the intersection of State Highway 130 and Harold Green Road, east of Austin, is along the Colorado River and could create a climate catastrophe if the river overflows.

The site of Tesla’s gigafactory has also historically been the home of low-income households and has a large population of Spanish-speaking residents. It’s not clear if the jobs at the factory reflect the demographic population of the community in which it resides.

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Launch startup Stoke Space rolls out software tool for complex hardware development



Stoke Space, a company that’s developing a fully reusable rocket, has unveiled a new tool to let hardware companies track the design, testing and integration of parts. The new tool, Fusion, is targeting an unsexy but essential aspect of the hardware workflow.

It’s a solution born out of “ubiquitous pain in the industry,” Stoke CEO Andy Lapsa said in a recent interview. The current parts tracking status quo is marked by cumbersome, balkanized solutions built on piles of paperwork and spreadsheets. Many of the existing tools are not optimized “for boots on the ground,” but for finance or procurement teams, or even the C-suite, Lapsa explained.

In contrast, Fusion is designed to optimize simple inventory transactions and parts organization, and it will continue to track parts through their lifespan: as they are built into larger assemblies and go through testing. In an extreme example, such as hardware failures, Fusion will help teams connect anomalous data to the exact serial numbers of the parts involved.

Image credit: Stoke Space

“If you think about aerospace in general, there’s a need and a desire to be able to understand the part pedigree of every single part number and serial number that’s in an assembly,” Lapsa said. “So not only do you understand the configuration, you understand the history of all of those parts dating back to forever.”

While Lapsa clarified that Fusion is the result of an organic in-house need for better parts management – designing a fully reusable rocket is complicated, after all – turning it into a sell-able product was a decision that the Stoke team made early on. It’s a notable example of a rocket startup generating pathways for revenue while their vehicle is still under development.

Fusion offers particular relevance to startups. Many existing tools are designed for production runs – not the fast-moving research and development environment that many hardware startups find themselves, Lapsa added. In these environments, speed and accuracy are paramount.

Brent Bradbury, Stoke’s head of software, echoed these comments.

“The parts are changing, the people are changing, the processes are changing,” he said. “This lets us capture all that as it happens without a whole lot of extra work.”

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Amid a boom in AI accelerators, a UC Berkeley-focused outfit, House Fund, swings open its doors



Companies at the forefront of AI would naturally like to stay at the forefront, so it’s no surprise they want to stay close to smaller startups that are putting some of their newest advancements to work.

Last month, for example, Neo, a startup accelerator founded by Silicon Valley investor Ali Partovi, announced that OpenAI and Microsoft have offered to provide free software and advice to companies in a new track focused on artificial intelligence.

Now, another Bay Area outfit — House Fund, which invests in startups with ties to UC Berkeley — says it is launching an AI accelerator and that, similarly, OpenAI, Microsoft, Databricks, and Google’s Gradient Ventures are offering participating startups free and early access to tech from their companies, along with mentorship from top AI founders and executives at these companies.

We talked with House Fund founder Jeremy Fiance over the weekend to get a bit more color about the program, which will replace a broader-based accelerator program House Fund has run and whose alums include an additive manufacturing software company, Dyndrite, and the managed app development platform Chowbotics, whose most recent round in January brought the company’s total funding to more than $60 million.

For founders interested in learning more, the new AI accelerator program runs for two months, kicking off in early July and ending in early September. Six or so companies will be accepted, with the early application deadline coming up next week on April 13th. (The final application deadline is on June 1.) As for the time commitment involved across those two months, every startup could have a different experience, says Fiance. “We’re there when you need us, and we’re good at staying out of the way.”

There will be the requisite kickoff retreat to spark the program and founders to get to know one another. Candidates who are accepted will also have access to some of UC Berkeley’s renowned AI professors, including Michael Jordan, Ion Stoica, and Trevor Darrell. And they can opt into dinners and events in collaboration with these various constituents.

As for some of the financial dynamics, every startup that goes through the program will receive a $1 million investment on a $10 million post-money SAFE note. Importantly, too, as with the House Fund’s venture dollars, its AI accelerator is seeking startups that have at least one Berkeley-affiliated founder on the co-founding team. That includes alumni, faculty, PhDs, postdocs, staff, students, dropouts, and other affiliates.

There is no demo day. Instead, says Fiance, founders will receive “directed, personal introductions” to the VCs who best fit with their startups.

Given the buzz over AI, the new program could supercharge House Fund, the venture organization, which is already growing fast. Fiance launched it in 2016 with just $6 million and it now manages $300 million in assets, including on behalf of Berkeley Endowment Management Company and the University of California.

At the same time, the competition out there is fierce and growing more so by the day.

Though OpenAI has offered to partner with House Fund, for example, the San Francisco-based company announced its own accelerator back in November. Called Converge, the cohort was to be made up of 10 or so founders who received $1 million each and admission to five weeks of office hours, workshops and other events that ended and that received their funding from the OpenAI Startup Fund.

Y Combinator, the biggest accelerator in the world, is also oozing with AI startups right now, all of them part of a winter class that will be talking directly with investors this week via demo days that are taking place tomorrow, April 5th, and on Thursday.

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