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The Waikato is in the sights of venture capitalist

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Hillfarrance Venture Capital founder and managing partner Rob Vickery has set his sights on the mighty Waikato. Investing from a fund that is shaping up to be over $40m in size, Hillfarrance is seeking to make around 20 investments over the next few years.

Vickery launched New Zealand’s first venture scout programme earlier this year and allocated more than $1 million dollars for investment by highly connected “scouts” with aspirations to become venture capitalists themselves.

“These people are subject matter experts in a broad range of fields, from biochemistry to blockchain,” Vickery told me.

“We have already added one Waikato-based scout to the team, Bryn Little, and we look forward to expanding that number soon,” he said.

Vickery learned the venture capitalist trade in one of the world’s most competitive markets in the US.

Vickery’s secret to success is harnessing the raw potential of graduates and technical minds to build world-class companies.

“The University of Waikato continues to produce graduates who are pursuing ideas in the worlds of artificial intelligence and machine learning and this is a major focus of our fund,” Vickery said.

The University of Waikato is renowned for producing world-leading technologists, including Google Maps creator Dr Craig Nevill-Manning and co-founder of Google DeepMind Dr Shane Legg.

“The ability to serve our Māori and Pasifika entrepreneurial community that has been so excellently activated by the Kokiri Accelerator at the Wānanga o Aotearoa. I have already funded one startup, Kwotimation, that emerged from the latest cohort and I hope to do many more in the future.

“The sheer abundance of large corporates in the Waikato region, especially those in agriculture and logistics, who could provide game-changing opportunities to startups who are solving problems in their sector.”

Vikery asks entrepreneurs three questions: Why you, why now and why Hillfarrance?

“Why you? We invest in audacious, mission-driven founders,” Vickery said. “Typically, they are among a small handful of people in the world who are uniquely positioned to solve the particular problems they are tackling.

“Why now? We believe that timing matters more than almost any other factor in early stage technology investing. Hillfarrance heavily emphasises investing in startups that can only be built today, not ones that could have been built five years ago, nor ones that should be built five years from now. Hillfarrance seeks companies that can be catalysts to unlock new market opportunities.

“Why Hillfarrance? We only invest in startups when we believe that the opportunity is within our circle of competence, and when we believe that we can contribute something meaningful beyond our dollars. This is usually frontier technology that is pushing the boundaries of currently accepted thought in the B2B market.

“Similarly, where we invest outside of the enterprise software space, we intend to only invest in startups where we believe we can make a meaningful contribution to the business.”

Having spent some time in the Waikato, Vickery says the region needs greater cohesion between corporates, investors and startups, fostering the willingness to trial new ideas no matter how early.

Vickery would also like to see multiple central hubs for communities to aggregate around and share ideas and raise capital and structure their business.

“This is where businesses are built and funded,” Vickery said.

Vickery also recommends a focus on the centres within the Waikato.

“For example, Raglan has a growing community of successful entrepreneurs and they are still creating ideas but they have to travel to Auckland to get them funded.”

Creating more organic networking events to inspire the entrepreneurs of the future and to share ideas and connections is also top of Vickery’s list.

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David Hallett

David Hallett is a co-founder and director of Hamilton software specialist Company-X.