Nicholas Gruen


Early funding solved for Australia’s “lean startups”?

4:29AM | Wednesday, 9 April

A submission to the Financial Systems Inquiry by Innovation Australia highlights Australian market failure in early stage equity capital, saying it was a longstanding issue “particularly in relation to innovation-based and other innovation intensive startups”.   Innovation Australia has oversight over the government’s industry innovation and venture capital programs delivered by AusIndustry. It also administers Commercialisation Australia (whose grant program is currently on hold until after the budget is released) and the Innovation Investment Fund.   The report highlights a number of inefficiencies in accessible markets and funding, but said that there were “emerging new approaches to sourcing, managing and mobilising venture capital” which provided alternatives to the VC fund approach.   It singled out “low-capital lean startups that are software-based, web-mediated and disruptive to existing business models” as the type of companies that were benefiting from this approach.   It went on to say capital-intensive innovation (e.g. biotech, medtech, new materials and advanced manufacturing) were the areas that remained starved of capital.   Innovation Australia chair Nicholas Gruen, who signed off on the report, told StartupSmart he believed that most new “lean startup” companies now had adequate opportunities for early capital in Australia through a number of incubators and early stage investors.   “While I believe that to be the case, I’m quite open to the possibility that I might be wrong,” Gruen says.   Blue Chilli CEO Sebastien Eckersley-Maslin says while the situation for early stage lean startups is definitely a lot healthier than it was two years ago, it's not a solved problem.   “Whilst there is more capital available at Series A now than there was even a year ago, there is a significant shortfall in ‘risk capital’ – money being invested in seed stage companies with high risk,” Eckersley-Maslin says.   “Risk capital comes with diversification of investments, which requires volume of opportunities. An investor who has made 10 investments is more prepared to take a punt on a high-growth/high-risk opportunity.”   Eckersley-Maslin says that assuming a timeline of startups of research and development (seed), prototyping and commercialisation (angel), growth (series A), expansion (series B), then “there is a lot of support at R&D through universities, through the R&D tax offset at seed”.   “There's support at growth with the ESVCLP program by AusIndustry, the (now former) Commercialisation Australia matched funding program, and with Industry Funds Forum matched funding,” he says. “There is, however, a gap in the prototyping and commercialisation stage, which is the high risk area and is where the IP being generated at R&D is being turned into commercially viable products.”   He says a good comparison for the Australian early-stage funding scene is Israel, where a community with a population the size of NSW (8 million) has 24 incubators under the government-matched incubator program (where the government supplies 5:1 matched funding for startups built in incubators).   Investors’ Org president Brian Goldberg says he believed most early-stage lean startups accepted that they were to undertake the initial tech build and concept launch on their own time and effort. He added they were not well positioned for a VC at that stage.   Goldberg says those startups enjoy the current trends of joining an accelerator as a means to achieve this first stage.   “However, once the startup launches and needs funding to scale and grow, the challenge of successfully seeking VC funding in an efficient and timely manner is, in my view, not sorted,” Goldberg says.   The Innovation Australia report made a number of similar observations about access to growth capital saying that the Australian banking sector was not performing well in the provision of development finance.   The full report from Innovation Australia can be viewed on the FSI website, along with other submissions.   The report makes a number of recommendations, including:   “New channels for mobilising and managing capital include new pooled-fund models, including syndicated angel funds, which may be organisationally linked to accelerator and incubator initiatives, retail investor funds, and crowd-sourced equity, debt or reward funds.”

Breezedocs receives $250,000 in Commercialisation Australia funding

3:29AM | Thursday, 13 March

Automated document processing start-up Breezedocs has locked in a $250,000 grant from Commercialisation Australia, the federal government’s venture capital organisation.   The start-up has been developing the product for two years. They launched a beta round as an entity called OneTouch and launched to the market in August 2012.   Co-founder and managing director Hany Pham told StartupSmart they waited until they were sure they met all the criteria before applying.   “Commercialisation Australia is great but it’s a tricky little window you need to be in, post research and development but pre-revenue,” Pham says, adding while they’re making revenue now they had minimal revenue when they applied.   “As an enterprise start-up, you launch quietly and if that doesn’t work as great as you hoped you launch again with the feedback from the users.”   In a statement, Commercialisation Australia chief executive Doron Ben-Meir said their support of Breezedocs went beyond the invested funds.   “In addition to grant funding, Commercialisation Australia provides companies such as Breezedocs with access to our expert network of successful entrepreneurs, domain experts, professional investors and strategic corporates which helps them get to where they need to be faster.”   The funds will go towards building the engineering team and expanding their Australian operations and customer network.   Breezedocs intends to launch an office in the United States in late 2014 and have already begun working with clients.   “We’re already getting started there so we’re up late at night doing phone calls for the US time zone and why we always sign off our emails with the US number,” Pham says.   This is the start-ups second funding round, after raising $250,000 in 2013 private equity investors including Angelcube accelerator co-founder Adrian Stone and economist Nicholas Gruen.

Melbourne start-up OneTouch heads to Silicon Valley with $150k in its back pocket

4:00PM | Tuesday, 16 April

Melbourne start-up OneTouch, which offers technology that allows businesses to scan and process documents such as pay slips and tax returns, has kicked off a tour of Silicon Valley for investors and customers after snaring $150,000 in funding.   The business secured the cash from Adrian Stone, founder of tech incubator AngelCube, which recently won StartupSmart’s Best Start-up Investor award, and high-profile economist Nicholas Gruen, who has previously backed Aussie start-ups Kaggle and BiNu.   Fresh from the funding injection, OneTouch, founded in 2011 by Hany Pham and John Schagen (pictured below), is currently traversing California’s tech scene in the hope of striking further partnerships to help boost the business.   OneTouch is in the US as part of the Advance Innovation program, which picked 25 Australian start-ups for the sought-after Silicon Valley tour last month.   The business has developed B2B-focused software that automatically reads and captures information from any document, such as pay slips, tax returns and receipts.   Pham, who has a team of developers in Melbourne and offshore, tells StartupSmart the idea originates from his background as a mortgage broker, where he had to deal with a large volume of documents.   “We wanted to create software that could read and process these documents – it’s now possibly a bigger deal than we first thought,” he says from San Francisco.   Above: Hany Pham and John Schagen.   “The feedback (in the US) has been that it’s solving a real problem in managing documents. I don’t need to go too much into the problem because people understand it.”   “This kind of technology is very popular right now, as is enterprise software.”   Pham says he has put $200,000 of his own money into the business in order to develop and iterate the technology. He has since used his connections to strike a deal with Connective, the second largest mortgage aggregator in Australia, which linked OneTouch to more than 1600 brokers.   “We’ll look to target any industry that involves a lot of documents – it’s still early days,” he says. “We’re toying with a subscription model and a cost-per-page model. It will depend on the feedback.”   Pham says the strength of his personal relationships with Stone and Gruen opened the doorway to the $150,000 investment.   “Adrian is very free and willing to help start-ups and after we had evidence of traction, which was people interested in it, he agreed to back us,” he says.   “Nick expressed an interest right away. I didn’t show him a PowerPoint slide – I guess he’s mainly investing in me and John.”   “With B2B enterprise software, there’s a clear revenue model – it’s not like launching a rocket and hoping for the best.”   “It’s clear who our customer is and we demonstrated to Nick that we are the right guys to back. I’ve got a strong sales background and John has a strong software background.”   “We’ve got a reasonable runway with capital now. I will probably want to raise a series A here in Silicon Valley, but it’s more important to build networks for customers. We want to build a tailored model for the US market.”

Mobile app venture biNu adds $4.3 million to money pool

3:31AM | Monday, 11 March

Sydney-based start-up biNu has snagged $4.3 million from investors including 500 Startups, having already received funds from Google’s Eric Schmidt and Seek co-founder Paul Bassat.

goCatch takes out top prize at Tech 23

8:18PM | Wednesday, 24 August

Tech start-ups goCatch, Filter Squad, OrionVM and StageBitz are among this year’s winners at innovation event Tech 23, which saw 23 early-stage companies vie for the chance to share in $150,000.

Enterprize shortlists five for $100,000 prize

8:32PM | Tuesday, 16 August

Data-mining start-up Kaggle and drug developer Calpain Therapeutics are among the finalists of this year’s Enterprize competition, which will see one company walk away with $100,000 to get their product to market.

Data-mining start-up Kaggle launches $US3.3m competition

4:11AM | Tuesday, 5 April

Australian data-mining start-up Kaggle is aiming to generate international interest after launching a $US3.3 million online data analysis competition, attracting contestants from around the world.