Runway is one of the signature events on the Angel Association NZ calendar and provides founders with the opportunity to network and meet with other investors and founders from around the country.

Founder Scholarship recipient Sarah Diermeier attended the AANZ Runway event in Wellington in June 2023.

Sarah is the Chief Scientific Officer and founder of Amaroq Therapeutics, a New Zealand-based biotechnology company focused on developing a new class of therapeutics that target lncRNA in cancer.

Here, Sarah shares her key learnings for other founders, from the Runway event.

The entrepreneurial world is a demanding realm, driven by purpose, unwavering dedication, and countless hours of hard work. But for mothers like myself, founding a startup takes on a distinct complexity, entailing a delicate balance between the demands of parenthood and the passion we have for our businesses. At a recent AANZ Runway event I had the chance to learn from one remarkable mother-entrepreneur, Rebecca Cass, as she shared her inspiring story, shedding light on the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of those who dare to blend motherhood and entrepreneurship.

My journey to this transformative event was marked by a stroke of luck – a founder scholarship that granted me the opportunity to attend my very first AANZ Runway event. My journey to Wellington from Dunedin was made all the more special as I brought my two little boys along (and my husband to look after them). To be completely honest, I always feel a hint of nervousness just before stepping into such gatherings. A room filled with strangers, all with the singular purpose of networking, engaging, small talking, and, best-case scenario, connecting with a potential investor. A bit like dating, but somehow more daunting as not connecting meaningfully with someone here means not just disappointing myself but disappointing the entire team. No pressure. A few deep breaths at the venue door as I switch from mum mode (“did everyone brush their teeth?!”) to professional and fundraising founder mode, and I stepped in.

Fortunately, the remarkable organisers, Bridge and Suse, welcomed me with open arms from the very moment I walked in. We kicked off the event with an ingenious icebreaker – sharing our signature dishes – a fun and memorable start. The organisers also provided me with a pre-matched list of investors ahead of time, which was incredibly helpful to find the right people to talk to.

First up was a virtual presentation from the heart of New York City, featuring Rebecca Cass, the founder of Angel Delivery. This direct-to-consumer food delivery service holds a special place in my life, having been both a satisfied customer and a grateful recipient of their comforting care packages. My journey with Angel Delivery began when my mother-in-law started sending us their delightful baskets right after the birth of my older son four years ago, providing a much-needed respite from cooking amid the whirlwind of life with a newborn. I was amazed to learn that Rebecca originally launched her business with precisely this scenario in mind, the venture was even called “Angel Baby” in its early days.

Rebecca’s narrative about Angel Delivery, alongside her second venture, Qula, resonated deeply with me and the rest of the audience. Her insightful guidance on realistic business planning, transparency, and integrity struck a chord with all present. One key takeaway was Rebecca’s deliberate choice to manufacture her product in the United States, while having access to brilliant food scientists in New Zealand. This decision led to a thought-provoking discussion on the crucial role of geographic location in the start up world, emphasizing the need to be where the investors are. She also highlighted a challenge familiar to me: raising capital in New Zealand can be an arduous and time-consuming process, with most time spent on refining development plans. In contrast, the United States places a premium on momentum alongside capital, making access to funds easier. She also touched on the nuances of pitching to investors in different parts of the United States. American investors, particularly those on the East Coast, are known for their passion for big dreams. They celebrate opportunities and value charisma, while investors in New Zealand often tend to scrutinize details. Rebecca advised aspiring entrepreneurs to be confident and assertive when pitching to American investors.

On balancing work and life, Rebecca shared immediately actionable advice for us founders: allocate a 24-hour break from work each week, disconnect from emails, and allow the mind to rest. This practice, she noted, is a powerful energy booster. Rebecca also delved into the unfiltered truths of combining motherhood and entrepreneurship, which felt incredibly relatable: “In my life, there are my kids and my work”. This means very early mornings, no evenings out, and having had to endure whispers about her constant travel – whispers that would likely not exist if she were a father. She was proud to set an example for her son that women can achieve anything they set their minds to. Rebecca’s’ journey illustrated that entrepreneurship is a path where resilience, dedication, and adaptability ultimately lead to success. It also served as a reminder for myself that mothers can indeed balance passion and parenthood, and achieve remarkable success.

I kept reflecting on her story during the lunch break, where I had to cut an important discussion with a new investor short to run outside because my husband had brought our baby son for a feed. Had I just passed up on a big opportunity? What will they think of me bringing a baby on work trip?

There was no time to dwell on it, as the next session was about to start, continuing with valuable insights into raising capital in the current market. The panel discussion featuring two investors, Phil McCaw (Movac) and Sam Wong (Blackbird), shed light on the current fundraising cycle (“The Unknowable”) and the importance of extending the financial runway during these uncertain times. They advised to downsize, think about survival by extending the runway to last for the next 18 months and extend rounds. In advice on how to raise capital, they emphasized a theme Rebecca had introduced earlier in the day: the need for founders to be charismatic storytellers, illustrating their journeys and why their businesses matter.

A founder who definitely fits the description of a charismatic storyteller was up next: Sean Simpson, founder of Lanzatech. Sean shared memorable pearls of wisdom, including “Any money you raise is not real until it hits the bank,” “Tomorrow is not guaranteed,” and “Prepare for disaster because it will strike.” He opened up about his own mistakes, such as the initial attempt to operate in the United States, which lasted only 18 months, and candidly shared instances of hiring a CFO without a clear role, only to part ways not once, but three times. His insights into the nuances of the entrepreneurial journey were as enlightening as they were entertaining. Sean’s experiences highlighted the real-world challenges of assembling the right team and making pivotal changes to business models when necessary. Regarding the transformation of New Zealand’s entrepreneurial landscape, Sean emphasized the need for facilitating the establishment of more deep tech companies and the importance of achieving critical mass in the entrepreneurial community.

The day concluded with a speed dating session and networking drinks, which I had to leave early to tuck my children into bed. After a day surrounded by so much passion for startups, I left feeling elated and optimistic about New Zealand’s entrepreneurial future. And on the investment front – I left with promising leads to two investors (both women) that have since turned into several follow-up meetings. Turns out they didn’t care that I had to run out to feed my baby half-way through our conversation after all.

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