Startup investment in New Zealand has grown and matured despite the challenges of COVID-19, according to the latest Startup Investment report from PwC and the Angel Association (AANZ).

In 2020, investors provided more follow-on capital than ever before, with 69% ($109m) of all investment being follow-on capital, indicating a commitment to support startups through to exit.

At the same time, 2020 saw a broadening of the startup investor base, with more venture capital funds choosing to invest in startups now amounting to 45% of total startup investment. The broadening investment base has offered more opportunities for investors to syndicate with 85% choosing to invest with others in 2020, the highest it has ever been, according to Young Company Finance deal data supplied by NZ Growth Capital Partners . This is on top of the long term growth in startup investment over the last 15 years, from a total investment value of $20m in 2006 to $157m in 2020.

NZ startup investment

Source: PWC & AANZ.

PwC Partner Anand Reddy says the result is heartening.

“This time last year, we were considering what impact COVID 19 might have on the world of startup investment and the importance of backing startups through periods of uncertainty. A year later, and the startup ecosystem has demonstrated not only its resilience but an increase in maturity” says Reddy.

“In March 2021 alone we saw two substantial Kiwi grown technology businesses, Vend and Seequent, sold to offshore buyers. The realisation of value at this scale creates not only an opportunity for founders and investors to reinvest funds and expertise in new startups, it also attracts a wider pool of investors to New Zealand to help get future startups off the ground. We now have an ecosystem that is more self-sufficient and sustainable.”

Suse Reynolds, Chair of the Angel Association, says that early stage investment as an asset class is maturing in New Zealand.

“A noticeable trend is that deal sizes are getting larger as early stage ventures and angel backed ventures scale and require larger quantums of growth capital. This is a trend we expected and we are pleased to see.

“Another positive trend is the increasing number of deals being led and supported by funds drawing on capital from offshore investors which speaks to the quality of deal flow and increasing profile of New Zealand as a source of appealing opportunities. Seven deals were led by offshore venture capital firms and 11 deals received investment from offshore venture capital firms in 2020.

“In all these instances New Zealand angels and venture investors also provided capital. This bodes well for the ecosystem as these early investors continue to be part of the increasing value and growth of these ventures and deepen their expertise as venture investors.”

Reddy cautions however that Government support for early stage startups remains crucial.

“When the Government’s new Research and Development Tax Incentive was first launched in 2019/20, there were concerns that it was too narrow in scope to have any real impact for startups – with many Callaghan Innovation Growth Grant recipients unable to benefit. I’m pleased that policy makers have taken on board this feedback, confirming that existing Growth Grant recipients should qualify for the new incentive and could potentially receive support at similar investment levels. This is great news for those startups who require funding to attract and support highly skilled individuals to carry out R&D.”

The latest Startup Investment report profiles the investment journeys of three Kiwi startups – academic review website Publons, flight crew management software Merlot.aero and digital classroom tool Kami. Each is at different stages of the investment journey, from completing the full cycle of realising value and reinvestment, to continuing aggressive international growth.

Investors and founders of Publons, Merlot.aero and Kami also comment on how the startup investment ecosystem in New Zealand is maturing with an increasing cadence of founders and investors realising value, and then reinvesting into the next great Kiwi startup. The report looks at the long term journey towards the investment ecosystem in New Zealand becoming self sustainable, and the growing focus on ‘global first’ when startups think about their markets and their investors, rather than New Zealand first then global later.

“This maturing investment market will create exponential value and impact for Kiwis, the economy and communities around New Zealand,” says Reddy.

“Change is coming and the future looks bright.”