City’s start-up culture ‘attractive because it’s raw’

Kitt co-founder Aleks Dahlberg believes Dunedin is a great location for start-up businesses....
Kitt co-founder Aleks Dahlberg believes Dunedin is a great location for start-up businesses. Photo: Linda Robertson
Dunedin entrepreneur Aleks Dahlberg loves the culture of start-ups in the city, saying "it’s attractive because it’s raw".

Mr Dahlberg is the co-founder of Kitt, which simplifies portfolio management and growth for DIY or "do-it-yourself" landlords — often also called self-managing landlords — while also making renting easy and transparent for tenants.

He never intended the idea to morph into a business but  it happened somewhere along the way.

"It’s kind of like a good accident," he said.

Now Kitt is entered in the Challenger Series, a competition to find the city’s most promising start-up business.

Entries close on July 7. Three new businesses could each win up to $65,000 of  services and a place in a four-month coaching series featuring Deloitte, Gallaway Cook Allan, Startup Dunedin and local and national entrepreneurs.

Startup Dunedin chairwoman Sarah Ramsay said the competition would help build on the economic success of Dunedin.

"Challenger is designed to identify our top entrepreneurs with global potential and fast-track their business ideas.

"Start-ups are an important contributor to the future economy of the city, creating jobs across all sectors.

"Even now, Startup Dunedin is supporting innovations in everything from physical products to the gaming industry, software as a service and artificial intelligence."

Up to 20 selected entrants would pitch their ideas to a panel of local entrepreneurs. Once selected, the final three entrants would spend four months working with a panel of experts, mentors and investors preparing to become investor-ready.

Mrs Ramsay said she was thrilled with the number of entries and amount of inquiry into the competition so far, and that the calibre of entries was outstanding.

Industry and Government representatives collaborated to establish the Challenger Series, including Enterprise Dunedin, Grow Dunedin Partners, Startup Dunedin, Creative HQ, Callaghan Innovation, Deloitte and Gallaway Cook Allan.

Enterprise Dunedin economic development programme manager Fraser Liggett said start-ups were playing a key role in boosting Dunedin by providing employment and increasing incomes.

The final three Challengers would be announced at a public event by July 31.

It was Mr Dahlberg’s Motueka-based father who inadvertently sowed the seed for the launch of Kitt.He rented accommodation to working tourists and, several years ago,  had a very specific kind of problem.

That led to his son eventually taking notice of the growing rental crisis. At some point, coming up with different ideas for solutions turned into a business for him and the company’s other co-founders, developing software to simplify portfolio and property management for landlords and investors.He had always been entrepreneurial and it was inevitable  he would end up heading down that path, Mr Dahlberg said.

Talking to tenants and landlords, it was obvious there needed to be a middle ground, he said.

He was there for the "long play" and there was a lot of interest in what Kitt was doing from outside New Zealand.

The problems it was developing solutions for were "more or less" the same  as those experienced by tenants and landlords in other countries.

Being "outwardly looking" from the start was something the Kitt team had taken quite seriously even before it knew it was going to be a business, he said.

Mr Dahlberg, who has lived in Dunedin since 2015, said he believed there had been more momentum than ever with start-ups this year.

There was a supportive network for start-ups in the city and many people did not realise that there were some "pretty serious players" who were all accessible.

Dunedin was like the humble New Zealand culture — except doubled — and it was very much akin to the early Silicon Valley days, which he believed was very attractive.

He cited the Distiller — Startup Dunedin’s shared work space — which gives new entrepreneurs and startup companies access to affordable office space to work out of in their first six to 18 months. There were people there at weekends "grinding away".

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