Help schemes for start-ups forge ahead

Unitech's Centre for Business Innovation and Entrepreneurship is casting its net wide in search of start-up companies to assist through its Venture Accelerator scheme.

Unitech’s Centre for Business Innovation and Entrepreneurship is casting its net wide in search of start-up companies to assist through its Venture Accelerator scheme – also known as the Technology Incubator.

It has emailed all people and companies on its mailing list asking them to recommend suitable candidates for assistance in starting a technology-based business.

The email appeal does not mean the Venture Accelerator is short of candidates, says a spokeswoman. It has two ventures using the incubator already, since it started last month “and we’ve only got room for six.”

The Acclerator is part of a wide-ranging programme at the centre, which also embraces a masters’ degree and a PhD in business innovation.

It provides mentoring services for the people in emerging businesses. “It’s about developing their business capability and the skills they need.”

It is impossible to say whether the number of companies engaged so far is in line with the incubator’s plan, she says. “I don’t think you could plan targets for something of this kind. There are no real guiding lights.”

The scheme has attracted a lot of applications from the wrong kind of companies, she says – businesses which are already established and clearly have management and administration skills. “They were basically looking for money, and that’s not what we’re about.”

The incubator is one of various help-schemes conceived in the past several months for technology-based startups. A joint venture begun last year by Clear Communications and Compaq, with assistance from Microsoft has had a few applicants already, says Clear spokeswoman Rochelle Lockley. Applications for the first round of assistance under the scheme close on February 16 and a panel from the three companies will then select three or four of those with the most merit. “We’re aiming at [helping] about 12 startups a year – three or four in each quarter.”

The KiwiStartup scheme offers a loan of technology and software for 90 days, at the end of which time they must be returned or purchased. The sponsor companies will also guide the startups in finding new sources of funding and support at the end of the period, Lockley says.

A third programme started last year is Hewlett-Packard’s Garage scheme, which makes direct financial grants to companies in the middle stage of development. Currently there are two companies established in the “Garage” in New Zealand, says Mark Bowman, general manager of solutions business for HP NZ.

“Another two or three are in the pipeline and that is about the target we had.” Response was good in the early months of the scheme, around mid-year, but slackened off closer to Christmas, he says.

HP had a similar problem to the Unitec scheme with applicants at the wrong stage of progress, but in its case, many applicants lacked maturity.

“We were getting startups and they do not fall under the criteria for the programme. We want companies with well-established business plans; not just a twinkle in someone's eye."

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