Upstart merges with powerHouse

Rueben Skipper (left) and Steve Silvey, from Upstart business incubator, reflect on its merger with powerHouse Ventures. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
Rueben Skipper (left) and Steve Silvey, from Upstart business incubator, reflect on its merger with powerHouse Ventures. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
Dunedin's Upstart business incubator has announced its merger with early stage technology investment firm powerHouse Ventures.

The merger will provide seed funding and support for businesses within the research-based technology sector.

It follows a partnership between Upstart and the Christchurch-based powerHouse Ventures, which was announced in November last year.

That had resulted in a six-figure investment in University of Otago spin-out Photonic Innovations Ltd, a start-up company which aimed to commercialise novel gas detection technology.

Upstart, which is jointly owned by the Dunedin City Council, University of Otago and Otago Polytechnic, has been helping high-growth companies get started since 2004, by providing incubation and angel investment services.

Successful graduates include award-winning technology start-up companies such as TracMap NZ Ltd, TracPlus Global Ltd and Innovative Learning. PowerHouse Ventures was established in 2006 and specialises in investing in intellectual property.

The company uses private and public investment to develop new spin-out ventures sourced primarily from research partners such as universities, polytechnics and Crown research institutes.

It has a network of investors across the country and now has operations in Dunedin, Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland.

Upstart chief executive Steve Silvey believed the merger would enhance Dunedin's support for start-ups.

''Having a technology investor and incubator based in Dunedin plays to one of the city's great strengths, its globally relevant knowledge base.

''Furthermore, it brings investment capital to the city and strengthens our connections nationally and internationally,'' Mr Silvey said.

It was a ''logical progression'' from the partnership the two entities had developed.

''We can see a good pipeline of opportunities emerging over the next few years, which will lead to a steady stream of new businesses based here in Dunedin,'' he said.

PowerHouse has a portfolio of 15 active investments, including a company making robots which inspect industrial surfaces such as food storage silos, a business designing and building small hydropower turbines, and it has invested in a tool to to monitor field production and plan for harvesting and processing.

Its chief executive, Dr Stephen Hampson, believed Dunedin was well placed to take advantage of increased funding and support for technology start-ups.

Upstart will take on the powerHouse brand and all three staff will remain in the Union St offices.


Marketing Upstart

The trade name is rendered as ^pstart. They've got a House on Princes St.

What's this?

This announcement of a 'merger' between Upstart and Powerhouse Ventures to provide incubation and angel investment capital sounds very interesting in principle, but what and how does it affect the Upstart shareholders, the University, the Polytechnic and the Dunedin City Council? Does the investments mean Upstart takes equity in the companies, or is a secured loan, or simply a grant? Who or what is Powerhouse Ventures? If a secured loan, what would the terms be? Would it be short term interest bearing bridging finance re-payable in a short term, or would it be a standard commercial interest-bearing term loan? If it is an equity investment would there be an issue of shares at a par value, and would those shares be preferential as opposed to ordinary with respect to any future dividends? If it is simply a grant on a 'caveat emptor' basis then it could just be another example of the taxpayer - in the case of the University and Polytechnic - and a donation from the ratepayers in the case of the DCC. We, the  citizens need to know this in order to assess what is going on, before we all applaud these actions.

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