Lightning Lab Manufacturing director talks on trends, the accelerator community and the Kiwi spirit of invention

The Internet of Things or IoT is a burgeoning global trend blending objects and technology which we could be seeing at this year’s new Lightning Lab for manufacturing in Wellington, director Shawn O’Keefe says. We caught up with O’Keefe to find out about this year’s programme and to pick his brains about the expanding nature of start up culture and what the climate is like for it here in New Zealand.

Creative HQ, the team behind Lightning Lab, has adapted its acceleration format of intensive mentoring, networking, and business up skilling to make it suitable for physical products and hardware, making this Lightning Lab’s first ever product and manufacturing accelerator.

Applications are now open for the three-month programme, which runs from August to October this year in Wellington’s Hutt City and will conclude with a Demo Day, giving teams the chance to pitch their business to a room of investors and key players in the start-up community. The programme will have about 8-10 teams which will be selected in mid-July.

Director of the programme, Shawn O’Keefe has plenty of experience within the accelerator/start up world after being a big part of the community in his home country, spending fourteen years as producer of South by Southwest Interactive (SXSW) in Austin Texas before moving to Wellington early this month to take on the current role.

O’Keefe says he is hoping to find people that have innovative ideas but also have a prototype “The programme is going to be most beneficial to those who are trying to scale and need to develop a business model and make the right connections and help grow their business. I think we are open to anybody with a clear plan and to help get their fantastic idea off the ground.”

He says a trend he anticipates and also hopes to see a lot of is the ‘Internet of Things’ [IoT] which he says is to do with the integration of technology into the objects around us.

“I think we will see a lot of interesting things happening in that space. Lightning Lab is quite diverse so we will have a lot of special companies participating, one might be a particular product serving a particular market.”

As an example of IoT O’Keefe points to Nest, a thermostat company purchased by Google “…and there’s a whole number of different groups that develop sensors that live in our environment through the internet and can communicate a variety of data to the cloud,” he says. “Nest is the most well-known application. But many others, anything from special alarm clocks that live on your bedside table to any other kind of wearable devices. We are getting to see digital world interact with the physical world in a way we never have before. Living outside of our smartphones and laptops, its very much becoming embedded. I think it’s an exciting time and that’s why I think the programme is so special, I think we will see some really innovative stuff.”

O’Keefe says despite the distance between New Zealand and the States, he hasn’t noticed too many differences in the production and manufacturing design industries. “Because of the internet culture I think innovation has spread pretty quickly. What is particularly cool is that Kiwis have this number 8 wire attitude and there is a spirit of invention here that I think is really special so the programme can really harness that in some special way and help get that moving in the right direction and help people scale into other markets.”

In terms of countries he thinks are ahead in the start up world, O’Keefe says the spread is all over “I think it’s really emerging all over the world. If you look at the different global accelerator networks there is a lot of action in the US and in Europe,” he says. “The cool thing about it is it’s being really driven from the bottom up a lot of the time. You get teams coming together and people that have access to tools they never had before. 3D printing has been around a long time used in more traditional and more established industries but when you put it in the hands of a digital creative or a young person…we are at an age where I can have a thought or a cool idea and basically develop a prototype in a matter of hours.”

He says the entrants will be chosen by a selection committee consisting of mentors, investors and experts “…they will go through an analysis of the different teams and look at them versus the criteria and what makes them special and what we feel is going to be the right ingredients to their success and that we can appropriately meet their needs.”

A Lightning Lab release says “The new accelerator will focus on turning prototypes being built in the garage into successful businesses. Design and product development partners are currently being brought on board to assist with prototypes at a variety of stages, although ventures already producing in small volumes or with a fully functioning prototype will likely have the most to gain from the accelerator,” the release says. “Shawn’s unparalleled global network amongst the ‘bleeding edge’ of technologists and thought-leaders means this Lightning Lab will push participants to a whole new level of opportunity and challenge.”

The last two Labs resulted in over $4.4M of total investment in the participating companies.

Creative HQ comms and marketing manager Nicola Mitchell says teams Common Ledger, CloudCannon and Glass Jar have been the programme’s biggest successes so far.

According to Stuff since launching in 2014, Common Ledger is vying to become another strong NZ tech export which raised $1 million in a pre-series A round to help it establish an Australian customer base and look at expanding into the UK.

TechCrunch says CloudCannon is a simple CMS for web designers and their clients aimed at offering simple visual editing without the need for an advanced technical skill set which launched globally from TechCrunch Disrupt: London’s Startup Alley last October. The company also announced $500,000 in new funding, and a partnership with domain name registry Rightside.

Meanwhile, according to Creative HQ Glass Jar, which created an app which helps make group payments easier has been accepted into Y Combinator, a leading seed investment accelerator based in Silicon Valley.

  • Read more on Lightning Lab here.

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