FY2021: The year that was virtually unique and uniquely virtual

The end of the financial year is a good time to take stock and consider how far we have come.  I reflected on my last annual wrap-up at the end of 2019 and had a laugh about the title ‘Goodbye 2019, here’s to an awesome 2020’.   

To be fair, it was awesome for a lot of companies, there is no doubt about that.  Business owners and leaders were challenged to be agile and innovative.  All were looking carefully at their cash burn – something which our start-up founders have become so adept at.  While it feels like we are coming out the other side, many are still struggling with the stress and challenges that the year brought.  If nothing else, we have definitely learnt a lot.   

Learnings for 20/21 

Virtual meetings work quite well, but you still can’t beat person-to-person meetings.  Check out my piece on human connection when it comes to angel investing.  We should try and retain most of this virtual way of working and not slip into old habits too quick – better for the planet, better for families with working mums and dads 😊 and better for your budget! 

But just because you are working virtually, does not mean you should be distant – keep up the communications both internally and externally.  It is surprising how important those chats at the coffee machine are – you need to consider how to retain this in a virtual environment.   

And on communications, life’s too short to be all business.  You’re likely surrounded by interesting people with unique lives.  If you understand them better, I guarantee you will work better together.  Talk to your staff, customers, partners and suppliers about how things are going for them.  You will be pleasantly surprised by the discussions and value that it will add to both your days.  Relationships, even if virtual, are the lifeblood of a successful business. 

Agile approaches and innovations drive our world and sometimes you need something bad to happen to realise the true potential of something or speed up a transition… consider every threat to be an opportunity.   

Consider our portfolio company Heilala Vanilla – with a worldwide shutdown of restaurants which delivered the lion’s share of its revenue, the company quickly innovated and repurposed its vanilla tanks to produce hand sanitiser in a time of global need.  Heilala is a long-standing supporter of the Tongan community where the company’s vanilla plantations are so it was a no-brainer for them to donate sanitiser supplies to local hospitals.   

Fast-forward eight months and now that the barriers are down on product diversification, Heilala recently launched its fabulous brightening facial oil, Bioblume. I was fortunate to receive a free trial and the soothing, nourishing oil smells divine – suffice to say I will be going back for more! 


On the capital raising front, we facilitated the investment of $5.7m in 34 companies. 

Enterprise Angels investors supported existing portfolio companies to the tune of $4m over the last twelve months, up $0.5m on the previous year, and invested $1.7in 10 new portfolio companies, double the previous year. Iwas great to see our investors seizing the opportunities in the uncertain climate. 

EA Fund 3 closed at $3m with 63 investors and has now completed 13 investments. COVID-19 had a big impact on the insurance industry which impacted the growth of two of our earliest investments, JRNY and Firstcheck.  On the flip side, Chnnl and Inhibit Coatings have both seen tremendous upside over the year.  Inhibit’s product could prove very useful in fighting the spread of viruses such as COVID-19 as research has shown it kills 99.9% of viruses from surfaces using its silver nanoparticle coating.  Chnnl is having a positive impact on DHBs throughout NZ and Australia with positive feedback from users and strong growth. 

We continued to run our Pitch Nights, Impact Coffee Clubs and other meetings remotely or socially distanced as required due to COVID regulations at the time. We really appreciate the continued support of our partners and members who adapted with us and played their part in the biggest Enterprise Angels Pitch Night to date, 98 attendees. We did have a captive audience though given it was during lockdown…  

Impact Angels 

Our impact angel group is continuing to grow.  Our virtual Impact Coffee Clubs are a place for social enterprises to be connected with industry experts and potential investors as well as an opportunity to have robust discussions on the problems they are trying to solve.   

Over the year, wengaged with ten inspiring founders, sharing their stories.  We heard from founders solving a number of environmental issues such as waste (biodegradable shoes, reducing single use coffee cups with a unique rental offering) and addressing food systems  organic, sustainable, local supplies (LinaxAgain AgainThe Bread and Butter Bakery) 

We also heard from founders solving social issues such as addressing access to content and education for visually and hearing-impaired people (Sonnar and Karaand transforming the entertainment industry into one that supports women, trans folks, gender diverse artists, and non-binary storytellers from across the sexuality spectrum, with varying disability experiences, and from all ethnic, racial, and religious backgrounds (Narrative Muse) 

Over the coming year we will focus on growing the support for impact founders to feed into our deal pipeline.  As the pipeline grows, we hope to leverage this and launch an impact angel fund so impact angels can gain diversification and we can lead impact deals and support the founders with confidence in knowing we have the funds to support their journeys 

In this space, we continue to support Bill Murphy and the Purpose Capital Impact Fund, which made its first investment during the year into Whakatōhea Mussels and recently closed at $21.7m. 


In November, I attended the Angel Association (AANZ) Annual Summit, unfortunately no international guests as usual but quality, engaging speakers focussing on the local ecosystem and its benefits and challenges.   A highlight for me was hearing Ian Taylor from Animation Research present and how they hunkered down over the year and made some very impressive innovations: The company’s Sports Division ‘Virtual Eye’ was able build a new platform to continue covering PGA Tour Golf from its offices in Dunedin (where traditionally it deployed crews of up to 12 people to locations around the world) and also support Major League Baseball with the aid of state-side staff, once international travel became impossible. You can access several of the AANZ presentations from the event here.  

The ecosystem is humming as we welcome a number of new funds into New Zealand; technology incubators (supported by both operational capital and loan funding from Callaghan Innovation) and venture capital funds leveraging the govt support of the Elevate fundThis bodes well for our portfolio companies as they bring not only capital but extensive networks offshore to leverage. We are in discussions with a number of these funds to provide administration and compliance services as we do for Purpose Capital Impact Fund. 


At the end of last year, we farewelled our Marketing Administrator, Courtney, as she took up an exciting corporate role with the Classic Group. We were fortunate to find Jeanette to join us as Marketing Coordinator and fill the void.  Our newer team members are progressing well with Jordan, our intern, graduating. He now works remotely from Dunedin and our Investment Graduate (Joshhas been promoted to Investment Associate. 

We’re braced and ready for whatever 2021 throws our way – buckle up it’s going to be a fun ride! 

Get in touch!

We welcome engagement from anyone interested or involved in the early stage investment market - Investors, Angel Members, Strategic or Corporate Partners, Founders, Incubators or Accelerators, Deal Referrers, Acquisition Partners etc.