Internode founder and BlueChilli investor Simon Hackett has joined a group of investors who are injecting $5 million in capital into geospatial mapping firm Spookfish. Spookfish is undertaking final testing on its aeroplane-mounted geospatial mapping system, which integrates camera systems, data storage, processing and flight operations. It is planning a commercial release next year. The deal is the latest in a string of investments from Hackett, which include BlueChilli, graphite miner Oakdale, battery storage firm RedFlow, electric vehicle venture EV Race Systems, cloud-based ecommerce firm UltraServe and aviation software developer AvSoft. Spookfish executive director Jason Marinko told Private Media Hackett is joining Hoperidge Capital, along with investors Brent Stewart and Tony Grist, as a cornerstone investor. “The vast majority of the fully committed raising has been taken up by these four cornerstone investors. We were also encouraged to received strong demand from existing Spookfish shareholders who include industry users of geospatial imagery,” Marinko says. The investors are making the investment by purchasing the ASX-listed small-cap mining firm White Star Resources, which in turn has an option to acquire the geospatial mapping firm. “White Star is acquiring Spookfish via the exercising of its option and as a result undertaking a recompliance listing and capital raising via prospectus to change its activities from a resource company to a technology company,” Marinko says. The plane-mounted imaging technology operates at a high altitude, allowing it to capture images at a high resolution and with high accuracy at a relatively low cost per capture. “Three pioneers in the geospatial and aerospace engineering sectors with complementary skills saw a massive opportunity to make a significant step change in geospatial imagery,” Marinko says. “This was by controlling the whole end-to-end process, with the aim of providing the highest quality aerial imagery at significantly improved levels of resolution, accuracy, cost effectiveness and consistency compared to current industry offerings.” When asked about Google Maps or drone (UAV) aircraft-based mapping systems, Marinko says the technologies are not direct competitors to Spookfish. “Google and the like are mostly acquirers of geospatial data such as ours so we don’t view them as a competitor. UAV’s are currently uneconomic, highly regulated and impractical for large area captures. If a suitable UAV platform ever emerges then we could simply use it ourselves,” he says. At the moment, the company is working on a tech demonstrator that will test the technologies the company will use in its commercial offering. “The Spookfish Technology Demonstrator will test all aspects of the camera system, data storage, processing and flight operations which will be scaled up and deployed in our commercial offering,” Marinko says. “Next year will involve low altitude commercialisation with a pilot program using the tech demonstrator, then testing for scaled up productivity and the preparation for large area capture with full commercial launch of our large area offering in early 2016. “Our target market is government and large corporate clients, who are the major customers of geospatial data but ultimately our images will be processed quickly and available via a simple customer portal so anyone in the market for high quality imagery with frequent updates will be able to subscribe to our service.” Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
BlueChilli last night launched its first venture capital fund of $10 million, the minimum under ESVCLP (Early Stage Venture Capital Limited Partnerships program) rules, with the aim to invest in vetted companies that have gone through its incubator program. In launching the fund, BlueChilli CEO Sebastien Eckersley-Maslin told the crowd the fund allowed investors to support early stage startups with “mitigated risk”. He says BlueChilli has developed a model that worked to create a system that de-risked the four key areas it looked at in a startup in order to invest; namely team (it supports the founders with its own internal team), technology (companies are built on its own internal platform), traction (elevated through partnerships) and term sheets (something the new fund was addressing). The first batch of investments was also named, receiving a total of $700,000 (a breakdown of how much went to each company was not available) with funding going to Comwriter.com, GiggedIn.com, TokenOne.com, GetSwift.co, and Cuzin.com. The idea is that those companies find other sources of investment too. BlueChilli chief growth hacker Alan Jones told StartupSmart the fund would also see all graduating startups that launch a minimal viable product (MVP) receive $25,000 in funds. To date, all companies going through the program have paid to have their startups built, with BlueChilli charging its services at a “cost price” of $116/hour for the team. Jones says it differs from a design agency in that startups have access to the BlueChilli curriculum, as well as office space and other services. All startups built by BlueChilli are developed on their own proprietary platform called “ChilliSource” (a .net framework), though Jones indicates that startups can graduate to other platforms if and when necessary. Eckersley-Maslin says it’s hoped the fund will invest in between 60 and 100 startups over the course of five years, something he believes is achievable given 45 startups have already been launched in two-and-a-half years. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Westpac Group, in conjunction with accelerator BlueChilli, is offering $40,000 to the Australian startup that can create the most useful and disruptive business solution for its SME and commercial real estate customers. “The Westpac Innovation Challenge” is an opportunity for Australian startups to develop new ideas to help the bank’s business customers. The winner of the round will receive $40,000 cash to develop their idea and a six month placement in BlueChilli’s startup accelerator program and the potential of further investment opportunities. BlueChilli founder and chief executive officer Sebastien Eckersley-Maslin says it’s a great opportunity to advance the development of new business services in the marketplace. ”We want to boost startups that use technology in smart ways in order to expand the services available to professionals and consumers within their industry,” he says. The challenge is open to Australian residents who either have an existing early-stage venture or a new concept that can help Westpac’s business customers prosper and grow. Westpac general manager commercial banking Alastair Welsh says the company is looking for ideas that could potentially transform their real-estate customers’ businesses. “Westpac, like our customers, knows that innovation and entrepreneurship are the engines of growth and vital for sustained performance in a rapidly changing, digital economy,” Welsh says. The challenge launches one week after the opening of Westpac Group’s new innovation centre – The Hive – and is part of the bank’s effort to deliver innovative products and services to its customers. There will be future challenge rounds which focus on solving business problems for other Westpac business customers from various industries. Commercial real estate was selected as the first area for the challenge as it is a rapidly growing part of the Australian economy and a key focus area for the Westpac Retail and Business Bank. Applications close at 11pm on Sunday, October 19. For more information and to apply, visit the BlueChilli website. Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Tasmania’s startup ecosystem is starting to attract the attention of mainland accelerator programs. In the past month the island state has been visited by the Telstra-backed Muru-D accelerator program, and BlueChilli founder and chief executive officer Sebastien Eckersley-Maslin. Muru-D held two events, one in Launceston and one in Hobart, as part of its search for its next batch of startups, while Eckersley-Maslin was in Hobart speaking at the Tasmanian ICT Conference. While it might not seem like much to those in Melbourne or Sydney, it’s an important step for a state that wants to become competitive with other regional startup hubs, as Startup Tasmania’s James Riggall explains. “Tasmania itself is still getting started for sure, there’s not much of an established startup ecosystem here,” he says. “Instead there are a number of groups working towards trying to make Tasmania competitive as a regional startup ecosystem. It’s really exciting for us to have BlueChilli’s Seb Eckersley-Maslin and Muru-D in the state within two weeks of each other. It’s a really important step to help build awareness. “The vision is to make Tasmania a place where accelerators are interested in recruiting, and in the long term to have our own home-grown accelerator programs.” Both of Muru-D’s events in the state where well attended, Riggall says, with roughly 50 entrepreneurs taking part. They provided a glimpse of the sort of startups that could call Tasmania home. “There’s a small number of startups around and we’re already starting to see some niches developing,” he says. “Looking at the people coming along to the Muru-D event and pitching on the night, there were some startups in the agricultural sector and there’s also a little bit of boutique electronics manufacturing.” Muru-D co-founder Annie Parker, who was in Tasmania representing Muru-D, says there’s a real opportunity for Tasmanian startups to be taking on the agricultural and creative arts spaces. “That’s something that Tassie specialises in really well, and will give them a fighting chance to stay in Tasmania to build it,” she says. “If you’re a B2B (business-to-business) or a straight to consumer product it’s going to be difficult to build that critical mass, that wealth of customers or small-to-medium businesses. “If I was in the agricultural tech space, or creative arts, I would find Tassie a fantastic space, with relatively low cost access to potential customers.” The Tasmanian state government has pledged funding for a “go-to-market incubator” to support Tasmanian startups to commercialise their technology. However, what exactly that incubator might entail is still unknown. “The government is doing what it can for startups, but there really needs to be the community groundswell, the energy needs to come from the community,” Riggall says.
Startup incubator BlueChilli is set for global expansion with the announcement of plans to open offices in both the US and Europe led by industry veteran Bane Hunter, who takes on the role of president, global strategy and growth. BlueChilli CEO Sebastien Eckersley-Maslin says the focus will be on the US market first, then Europe, before taking on the Asian market. The incubator already has a presence in San Francisco through its investment in CalendarTree, co-founded by Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams, but it’s most likely it will open US offices in New York. BlueChilli works slightly differently to other incubators, providing technical support in exchange for 10-30% equity. It also provides some funding, through matching that raised up to $250,000, once the company has got off the ground. “The Silicon Valley machine to date has been focused on the tech co-founder who has entrepreneurial talent – that’s just 1% of 10% of the population,” Eckersley-Maslin says. “Our model is going for the non-technical founder who has core-expertise in business or marketing, and who has an entrepreneurial bent. “That’s a much bigger market than the US tech scene has been focused on to date. We’re looking at that 1% of outstanding entrepreneurs from 90% of non-technical people.” Eckersley-Maslin says New York has the right mix to make the BlueChilli model work, with strong connections into corporates, a strong pool of business and marketing executives, and access to world-class engineers. It’s hoped that once they nail the US market, and refine their processes, then they’ll establish an office in London. “We want to create as many favourable conditions as possible to make the model work, and for that we don’t want to add the complexity of another language, so London is the obvious choice,” Eckersley-Maslin says. “Once we have that down pat, then the obvious opportunity is Asia, but by then we’ll have a refined model that we can replicate in that market. In startup terms, we’re prototyping our model in an environment we can control, before we add other complexities.” Hunter joins the company as part of senior executive team and will spend time between Australia and New York. “Bane will focus on our growth and global strategy as we expand beyond our portfolio of 40 companies to a targeted 100 companies by 2016 across Australia, USA, EU and Asian markets,” Eckersley-Maslin says. Hunter says he is delighted to be part of BlueChilli as it’s a model that challenges the status quo. “We would rather have 20-40 enthusiastic investment partners that experience consistent above-average returns than 500 partners that are ambivalent due to average returns,” Hunter says. “So we look forward to the challenge of growing our portfolio of 40 companies to more than 100 in the next couple of years,” Hunter says. BlueChilli is in talks with smaller US VCs about capital raising in that market and no funds put aside for Australian startups will be used in the expansion. “With the BlueChilli model, startups are expected to source their own seed funding, so that is not an immediate requirement for us to launch in those markets” Eckersley-Maslin says.
“Australian startups and Australian entrepreneurs find the American market very, very accessible. We need to do a better job of commercialising technology here in Australia.” That was what Federal Minister for Communications Malcolm Turnbull said, at an event in February last year, when he was still in the shadow cabinet. While in opposition, Turnbull talked about better R&D incentives, criticising the Howard government for creating uncertainty by changing eligibility rules on this one; he blasted red tape that slowed down the speed of innovation; and was critical of the fact that the number of startups funded by public organisations had decreased over time. “As we continue to pursue the important goal of improved productivity, which is closely linked to a better utilisation of technology, we have to ensure that governments are doing everything they can to make it easier for people to innovate,” he said at that time. So when Turnbull took up his mantle in the Abbott government in September last year, there were high hopes of improved government support for startups. This, thought the startup community, was a man who ‘gets’ what we’re about. Despite the fact that his stance on NBN is a source of much contention (that is another seven columns in itself), most in the startup community still saw Turnbull as the answer to getting some much-needed government attention. And he continued to say all the right things when in power. In January this year when conducting a live Facebook Q&A session (while visiting Facebook as part of a tour visiting leading US startups), he praised the potential for crowdfunded equity and said more needed to be done to encourage innovative companies. “We need to do more to encourage innovative companies in Australia . . . an obvious area is rectifying the anomalous treatment of employee shares and options in Oz,” Turnbull wrote at the time. “There is a lot of potential for crowdfunding-type models for aggregating venture capital. We need to think laterally on this critical issue.” It was only in March this year when he responded to a conversation between Nitro chief executive Sam Chandler and BlueChilli CEO Sebastien Eckersley-Maslin discussing later stage funding options for Australian startups. Turnbull waded into the conversation and invited both of them to meet and chat about the issue with him. A meeting, by the way, that never happened. Turnbull also wrote an opinion piece of his own for The Sydney Morning Herald, telling Australian startups that the government can help them. When it comes to funding, wrote Turnbull, “The role for government here is to foster a framework in which investors are protected and yet start-ups can raise money without hiring teams of lawyers and financial advisers.” Again he mentioned that the government was investigating ways to simplify rules for crowdfunding. “And finally, the government has a role in making life easier for start-ups to do business in Australia and stay here, as opposed to moving offshore,” he wrote. “One of the key priorities for the government is changing employee share schemes so that employees are not taxed on receipt of shares and options. But hopes were shattered on Tuesday when the federal budget was released. Nothing that Turnbull had floated was mentioned, and the limited support that startups had was effectively abolished. The budget announced the creation of the Entrepreneurs’ Infrastructure Program with an allowance of $485 million over five years, at the expense of the Innovation Investment Fund, Commercialisation Australia and other smaller support programs, saving $845 million over five years. That means even less public money for startups (about half of what it was), something that Turnbull had us believe was an important issue for him. Details of the new program still remain unclear. The government also cut the R&D Tax Incentive Scheme, and lo and behold, it appears it will become a more complicated process, as BDO points out “in a practical sense, the change in rates results in a more complex calculation of the benefit of the R&D tax incentive”. That was the very thing that Turnbull was critical of the Howard government for. But that’s not even where it ends. What about his ideas of better employee share option schemes and changes to rules around crowdfunded investment? Two things Turnbull has consistently argued would make a difference to the Australian startup scene. It was only a few days before the budget was announced that the government delayed plans to introduce a new regime for the employee share scheme. The delay was meant to be until later this year, but there was no mention of it in the budget. Ways to liberalise the rules to allow greater involvement from investors to facilitate crowdfunded investment are still under review, but there is no deadline on when the report on that will be delivered. You’d be forgiven for thinking it's not going to happen.
Social media analytics startup Digivizer has collected $15,000 in prize money and a $1 million investment opportunity after winning the judge’s choice award at the first Carnegie’s Den event of the year. In addition, Digivizer will receive 12 months of coaching and support from the MH Carnegie and Co team. The startup offers services which search, analyse, connect and map social media in order to keep businesses in touch with the needs and wants of customers and potential customers. Qwilr, a web-based productivity tool that allows sales teams to create and send the best quotes and pitches to clients, won the people’s choice award. Digivizer chief executive Emma Lo Russo is thrilled with the result. “It’s the first time we’ve live pitched and that was an experience in itself,’’ she says with a laugh. “For me there was so much riding on it, so we tried to focus what mattered, tried to tell the story, as we loved the story.’’ Lo Russo says Digivizer’s pitch impressed the judging panel – which included MH Carnegie and Co principal Mark Carnegie, investor and entrepreneur John Singleton, SeaPoint Ventures general partner Melissa Widner, BlueChilli CEO Sebastien Eckersley-Maslin and the CEO of The Australian newspaper, Nicholas Gray. “The judges said they would use it for their own businesses,’’ Lo Russo says. “The fact that we’ve been in market and attracting some clients helped.” Now in its third year, Digivizer is now seeking to raise money in order to grow, which is one of the reasons they decided to get involved in their first pitch event. “The first year was about building the product, this last year has really been about accelerating growth,’’ Lo Russo said. “I think what is most attractive is what Mark (Carnegie) is trying to build, and this is why it was for us the first time we have applied or pitched, was they were looking for more mature startups. “Startups with founders experienced in commercialising technology. Did you have a clear revenue model? Were you profitable? If you sought investment did you have plans for that? “It immediately said to me they’re talking about small medium enterprises almost going into that growth space.’’ Lo Russo says Digivizer is in the middle of raising funding and has already secured some investment, but raising the funds required to grow a startup can be tricky. “Unless you’re prepared to give up a lot of equity early on for not much money,’’ she says. “Once you’ve established your business, you’re making revenue, you want to make sure when you seek funding that the valuation is a true reflection of what it should be.’’
The co-founder of Sydney Dev Camp is attempting to create a directory of the “who’s who” of the Sydney tech start-up ecosystem, after launching a website called The Startup Community.
Venture technology agency BlueChilli says it is on track to invest in 100 start-ups by 2016, after announcing it has joined forces with Deloitte Private’s Entrepreneur Connect program.
Financial services start-up Moneysoft, which has been backed by Sydney incubator BlueChilli, plans to ramp up its presence in the Australian market after closing its third round of funding, bringing the total capital raised to $660,000.
Newly launched platform OzFounded is to put Australian start-ups on the map – quite literally – in a bid to facilitate networking among entrepreneurs and technology companies.
It is a rather grim irony that the York Butter Factory – a venture designed to unearth the most innovative, modern tech businesses in Australia – could fall foul to the kind of needless Twitter gaffe that other, less web-savvy, companies have blundered into.
Sydney-based technology venture company BlueChilli has picked Housl.com as its first incubated start-up hosted on Australian cloud provider Ninefold.