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The Influencers: Marian Johnson

Ministry of Awesome Chief Awesome Officer

International Women’s Day just passed and I’m thinking about why it’s hard to get a long list together of female startup founders in Christchurch.

The scarcity of female founders is a global issue and to appreciate the size of the problem here’s a few stats to consider: 83 percent of all venture capital investment goes to all-male founder teams, 12 percent goes to mixed gender teams and only a tiny four percent goes to all-female teams.

We also know that investor teams are mostly male. In the UK, 48 percent of VC teams are all-male with only 13 percent having a female senior executive.

The majority of startups attracting capital are technology-based and fewer than 26 percent of tech employees are women.

Attitudes to risk differ amongst the sexes, with men showing as more pro-risk than women.

High growth startups are inherently risky so maybe an aversion to risk is also one of the factors for why female founders are rarer than male.

But companies with female leaders are 12 percent more profitable than their counterparts.

We also know that, according to Pew Research, women are 34 percent better at working out compromises and 34 percent more likely to be honest and ethical.

Whether the problem is unconscious bias, lack of representation in ‘startup’ sectors, or gender profiles, we must get behind our female founders and give them the connections and opportunity they need to level up and, in doing so, benefit us all.


The Influencers: Marian Johnson

Ministry of Awesome Chief Awesome Officer

The second month of the year has almost gone and there is no better time than the present to make good on the resolutions you’ve made for yourself.

Whether you’re thinking of launching your own startup, joining an ambitious new startup team, or really getting into the Christchurch and Canterbury innovation scene, you’ve got some incredible opportunities coming up to meet your new tribe.

Dip your toes in by coming along to the startup ecosystem fixture – Coffee & Jam.

Coffee & Jam takes place on the second Tuesday of every month from 12:30pm to 1:30PM at EPIC.

Here, you’ll find a broad cross section of people all focused on entrepreneurship, startups, and innovation in our region.

Just Google ‘coffeeandjam’ to find upcoming event details.

Also check out Canterbury Angel’s Pitch & Pizza event.

Canterbury Angels had a record 2019 with $845,000 raised and nine deals done.

2020 looks to surpass if momentum is anything to go by.

At Pitch & Pizza, you’ll get to hear some practice pitches from local startups then eat pizza with the crowd afterward.

Check it out at

Finally, if you’ve always wanted to be part of a startup team but didn’t have an idea (or a team), we’ve got you covered!

This year’s ultimate intro to entrepreneurship, Startup Weekend, will take place on 22-24 May.

Christchurch is a city that has rolled out the red carpet for startups and innovators – so get amongst it! We’re looking forward to meeting you.


The Influencers: Marian Johnson

It’s hard to say goodbye to that most wonderful of things – the Kiwi summer holiday. In between the pavs and beach cricket this year, it was hard to miss the horror of the human and ecological tragedy unfolding in Australia giving us all a window into the impact of climate change.


Ministry of Awesome Chief Awesome Officer

With the passing of the Zero Carbon amendment last year, New Zealand is taking a lead in the global charge against climate change. And Christchurch, with its aggressive goals of becoming carbon neutral by 2030, is a part of that charge.

Behaviour change will certainly be required to hit these targets; innovation and technology breakthroughs will also be critical to their achievement.

It’s encouraging then to note that Callaghan Innovation’s CPrize, a national innovation challenge, chose environmental sustainability as its 2020 challenge theme.

Just as we broke for the holidays at the end of last year, 10 finalists were chosen from the national entries.

A quick look at the teams show solutions in agriculture, waste management, packaging, and aquaculture – each driving sustainability across mega industries or individual behaviours.

We’re very proud to count three of the 10 ventures are Christchurch-based including Radius Robotics who are part of the startup cohort at Te Ōhaka – Centre for Growth & Innovation.

Miraculous innovations aside, we’re all facing an individual challenge in this battle.

Our city’s carbon emissions break out thus: transportation 53 percent, stationary energy 23 percent, agriculture 11 percent, waste nine percent, and industry four percent. What can each of us do to reduce our own emissions?


Marian Johnson

The Influencers: Marian Johnson

One of the best parts of my job is getting to meet talented entrepreneurs and helping them succeed. And that’s exactly what the whole team got to do last week at the Pressure Cooker final of FoodStarter 2019 – a national competition looking for the most innovative food and beverage startups in New Zealand.


Ministry of Awesome Chief Awesome Officer

There were five talented startups who made the cut on Wednesday night from a total of 121 entries from all over New Zealand. The judging panel got to taste some seriously delicious vegan Kiwi Dip, the creamiest sheep’s milk yoghurt, flavourful vegan pastrami, dainty pre-biotic pudding, and the most amazing vegan sausage we have ever had the good fortune to experience. And – you guessed it – the winner was Ananda Simply Wholefoods with their spicy vegan sausage that was simply outstanding.

Locally sourced, plant-based, dairy and gluten free was definitely the theme of this year’s competition, nicely summed up by one of the competitors, Paul Seymour, whose presentation began with the statement ‘Veganism is the greatest social revolution in the history of the world!”

Ananda now goes on to win the $75,000 FoodStarter business incubation package whose main prize is the holy grail for most food startups – full distribution of their product across the Foodstuffs South Island retail network, courtesy of New World. They’ll also get a full brand review from Strategy Advertising, everything they need to scale to retail production from FoodSouth, and business mentorship and commercialisation how-to from our team at Ministry of Awesome.







Marian Johnson: The Influencers

If the theme of the last few months has been startup and innovation funding, then the theme of the last few weeks has been Celebration, with a capital “C”.


Ministry of Awesome Chief Awesome Officer

This month the business community is celebrating twice, with two phenomenal black tie events: the Westpac Champion Awards and the Deloitte Fast 50 Awards. Both awards show a nominee list replete with companies using innovation as a clear differentiator in their competitive sector.

At the Westpac Champion Awards, 15 fantastic organisations won for their category with three of those winners clearly targeting a global market with ‘born in Canterbury’ entrepreneurship and innovation.

Supreme Award winners Ethique – a zero waste beauty brand – and Taska Prosthetics – creators of the world’s first waterproof prosthetic hand, are targeting the lucrative US market.

Meanwhile, Medsaland have already had some success there; it has just opened up new markets in the US and the UK. Medsalv, the winner of the Businesses for Good category, has only recently emerged from the UC’s Summer Startup programme with their business that drives environmental sustainability in healthcare through recycling single-use medical equipment.

The second glittery business awards show set in Christchurch this month was the Deloitte Fast 50 awards which showcases the 50 top fastest-growing companies in our region. The award celebration was held at the Isaac Theatre Royal and – once again – the nominees feature recent startups and clearly underline the role that innovation is playing in our changing business landscape.







Marian Johnson: The Influencers

If the last few months of winter 2019 had a theme for our city’s startup and innovation ecosystem, that theme would be startup funding.


Ministry of Awesome Chief Awesome Officer

As you know, our government’s Wellness Budget allocates $300 million to a fund of funds for startup investment managed by NZ Venture Investment Fund. While our local startups have decent access to early seed funding, they’ve not been able to easily access the larger sums required for global growth. This has impacted our speed to market and our ability as a country to be competitive with homegrown innovation. The NZVIF fund of funds is set to change that.

There’s also been plenty of activity from international venture capital groups. Blackbird Ventures have recently announced they are setting up an Auckland office, raising a seed fund dedicated to Kiwi founders, and running their community building Sunrise conference in Auckland in October.

Christchurch has also recently hosted Innovation Bay – an Australian tech investment network – with two events run in the central city. The first event had local startups hearing from a panel of leading Australian VCs. The second was an event where handpicked NZ startups pitched to Australian investors.

An increased level of interest and activity in NZ startups from international investors is encouraging. However, we’re looking forward to seeing our homegrown investor ecosystem catch up quickly so that we can ensure that NZ innovation builds the NZ economy rather than moving overseas to access foreign investment.






Marian Johnson: The Influencers

July saw an impressive bump of activity in the city’s startup and innovation ecosystem, beginning with a visit from Minister Megan Woods at one of our city’s young tech companies, Orbica (


Ministry of Awesome Chief Awesome Officer

After checking out Orbica’s location-based data platform, Minister Woods took the opportunity to announce an important update to the government’s research and development Tax Incentive scheme.

The update puts early stage startups in a better position by providing for a limited form of refunds in the scheme’s first year as well as providing a wider definition of research and development that ensures its application to tech startups.

Over at the airport, Lightning Lab’s tourism accelerator kicked into full gear with several startup teams from across the country quickly building their sustainable tourism ventures and preparing for the Demo Day on 20 August at the James Hay Theatre.

Another large scale national accelerator programme running from Christchurch is the NZ Aerospace Challenge which is looking for breakthroughs in agritech inspired by aerospace technology and data available from satellites and UAVs. The incubation programme for the semifinalists is running now and we are looking forward to seeing how far they’ve come in a few months’ time.

And – don’t forget to book your tickets now for the upcoming Canterbury Tech Summit. This year’s lineup is awesome with former CEO of Facebook Australia and New Zealand as well as the co-founder of Sharesies and Nigel Latta sharing the mainstage. See you there.





Marian Johnson: The Influencers

In support of our Government’s undertaking to invest two percent of GDP into research and development (R&D) by 2027, some excellent initiatives have emerged.


Ministry of Awesome Chief Awesome Officer

These include: a $300 million ‘fund of funds’ that will help New Zealand start-ups grow and scale; the research and development tax incentive scheme designed to reward innovation; and a $106 million injection into ‘green’ innovation. These changes will help drive an increasingly productive New Zealand economy.

The New Zealand Venture Investment Fund is committed to plenty of ‘fund of funds’ activity in the South Island – a commitment that we are keen to encourage and support through ongoing introduction of potential ventures and ensuring a steady pipeline of new start-ups with strong capability and focus in our city’s ecosystem.

That start-up pipeline is so important for the future of our city. Ministry of Awesome and Young Enterprise Scheme are working hard on that pipeline at a high school level while the University of Canterbury (UC) and Ara are identifying capable future start-up founders and teams through their own entrepreneurship programmes.

We are very excited to be working alongside the Ministry of Primary Industries to identify up and coming high growth ventures through our Startup Activation Sessions at Te Ōhaka in Christchurch and Blinc Innovation at Lincoln.

Check out and for more information on these and future sessions.




Marian Johnson: The Influencers

The last week of May was TechWeek 2019 and what a juggernaut of a week it was!


Ministry of Awesome Chief Awesome Officer

From Monday’s ‘Canterbury Tech’ event showcasing our city’s world class heathtech/medtech sector through to the launch event for Te Ōhaka – Centre for Growth and Innovation, TechWeek 2019 really showed how quickly our tech sector is growing and maturing.

The Te Ōhaka launch was officiated by the Honourable Dr. Megan Woods, Minister of Science and Innovation and we were particularly grateful to be joined by a few distinguished guests from across the ditch and as far away as Silicon Valley.

Te Ōhaka is based on the SETsquared business incubator shared by five universities in Southern England. In 2015, it was ranked as the top university-based business incubator in the world by UBI Global and by 2016, it had assisted over 1,000 startups and directly contributed roughly $11 billion NZD to the UK economy.

Like SETsquared, Te Ōhaka hosts and supports high growth startup companies, promotes intellectual transfer from learning institution to business, and guides tertiary students into successful entrepreneurship. It is based on Ara’s city centre campus and is strengthened by the 17,000 ambitious Ara students who are now poised to be part of this community.

Te Ōhaka is open to anyone working on a high growth business with potential global impact. If this sounds like you, check out the website and find out a little bit more about the community.





Marian Johnson: The Influencers

At Ministry of Awesome, we support innovation and high growth startups because we know that a dynamic startup ecosystem will transform this city with future jobs, industries and global relevance.


Ministry of Awesome Chief Awesome Officer

For NZ startups, it’s been challenging to access the capital required to scale global from NZ. But the fundraising landscape is changing quickly. Our angel networks are getting stronger, new funds are being established and interest in NZ startups is gaining ground.

According to New Zealand Venture Investment Fund (NZVIF), total annual investment in NZ early stage ventures was around $100m in 2018 – an extraordinary rate of growth compared to the $30m invested in 2007.

Then there’s the brand new Simplicity KiwiSaver fund managed by Icehouse Ventures – a fund completely designed to help Kiwi startups accelerate and go global. This means that everyday Kiwis can fuel and benefit from homegrown startup growth rather than external investors who frequently require Kiwi startups to relocate to wherever the fund is. This means NZ loses out on the upside of their success including the creation of new jobs and innovation.

Later this month, the official opening ceremony of Christchurch’s Te Ōhaka – Centre for Growth and Innovation hosts Mark Bregman, a prominent California based venture capitalist. Mark is currently raising a $40m fund for NZ tech startups and his interest seems to herald a wave of global interest in our country’s startup and innovation landscape.