Seachange founder Max Olson. Photo / File
Venture capital may suddenly be much more scarce amid the economic slowdown and rising interest rates, but three savvy startups are still poised to expand in 2023.
Kai Education KaiBot continues to be a
It’s a couple of months away from launch, but the AI-powered miniature robot has already gained international recognition.
In early December, Kaibot won the Learn-to-Code category at the Smart Toys Competition in Dubai, a collaborative event between the Dubai Future Foundation and the World Economic Forum designed to highlight the best emerging AI (artificial intelligence) toys. in education.
“Kai” is Maori term for food. In this context, founder Bruce Jackson introduces it as “food for the brain.”
The KaiBot is used in conjunction with physical cards and visualization software to help children ages five to 15 learn the principles behind software programming. After scanning a series of cards, it will execute a series of moves on the ground or on special KaiTiles.
Pakuranga-based Jackson has been able to self-fund Kai’s Education, thanks to the huge success of a company he founded in 2010: 3D Printing Systems, which became the largest distributor of 3D printers in New Zealand.
He’s already had international success with Kai’s Clan, an AR and VR compatible robot that integrates with Minecraft.
If you’ve never heard of it, it’s because Jackson has concentrated much of his sales efforts abroad.
Endorsements on their website feature teachers from Mississippi and Texas, along with a Raumati educator.
Jackson has eschewed big box retailers, or companies like Amazon, in favor of making deals with public school districts in the US Those are state-level bodies that can run anything from a handful to hundreds of local schools.
The strategy allows him to stay under the radar of the big toy manufacturers while achieving considerable success.
He tells the Herald that he has already received a large order from a school district in New York. And after considerable logistical pain, 2,000 units of the Pakuranga-designed Kaibot in China have already been built, ready for the New Year launch.
Everything KaiBot does in the real world exists in the virtual world as well, and with the addition of Kainundrum, its exploits can be viewed in an interactive 3D environment as an added reward for the budding programmer.
Those who want to go further can develop their own game using lasers, doors, mirrors, and teacher lesson plans.
This allows the educator to choose the amount of technology that is brought into play, depending on the age and stage of the participant, using a combination of the physical and digital worlds.
“KaiBot is designed for a five-year-old with no coding experience, or a teacher who has never coded before,” Jackson says.
The price is also much more accessible. While the Kai’s Clan Start Pack sold for around $1700, the KaiBot will be priced at around $149.
change of sea
Seachange has tested a prototype of hydrofoil technology that it hopes will one day power electric car-carrying ferries over Cook Straight.
In 2023, it has the more modest goal of putting a 10-seater electric hydrofoil boat on the water.
The startup is partnering with Fullers on the “F8,” which will have a top speed of 30 knots and a range of 55 nautical miles on a single charge, which founder and CEO Max Olson pitches as enough for an excursion without emissions to any of the interior islands of the gulf.
Fullers collaborates by buying the first F8. Ferry company CEO Mike Horne says this will mark the first time hydrofoil EV technology has been commercialized anywhere in the world.
Horne doesn’t put a price on it. But he says that the F8 will not operate on commuter tours, but will be used as a tourist boat.
The F8 will be the first of its kind to offer a quiet and calm experience thanks to the combination of its electric motor and foils, says Horne.
Olson says Seachange’s carbon fiber hulls and airboat system stem from technology developed for the America’s Cup.
“We are standing on the shoulders of giants,” he says.
“What’s different there is that we design for safety and efficiency rather than top speed. We care much more about the comfort of the passengers.”
Horne sees gliding the F8 through the Gulf as a luxury experience. A group could hire one for a day trip to Waiheke at $95 per person, while an evening “thrill ride” around the harbor could cost $145 per person.
On the shareholder side, investors include Icehouse Ventures (the largest external backer, with a 25 percent stake), Blackbird Ventures (12 percent), Sir Stephen Tindall’s K1W1 (6 percent) and Ports of Auckland ( 2 percent).
Seachange tested its technology at Marsden Point, but now has its own boat building facility in East Tamaki, near McMullen & Wing.
McMullen & Wing’s sister company, EV Maritime, was involved in the effort to put five pure electric EV/diesel ferries and two hybrid EV/diesel ferries in Auckland waters by 2024, to be owned by AT and operated by Fullers.
Olson says that as an electric vehicle on the road, the F8 will have a higher initial cost than a conventional boat, but much lower running costs.
The “8″ in F8 represents 8 meters long (26 feet). Seachange also has 10, 14 and 18 meter vessels on its roadmap.
Fullers clients facing cancellations and delays related to a current fleet of outdated diesel vessels may roll their eyes and think “we’ll believe it when we see it.”
The company, which under a recent change now operates AT-owned vessels, has been hit by a labor crisis, and until recently was mired in talks with AT and the government over future ferry investments, which saw several deadlines looming for ordering new ships and go.
But Horne says the F8 should be in the water by September.
And he sees potential in Seachange’s technology to ultimately power passenger ferries to Waiheke and, in the future, larger hydrogen-powered vessels around the Gulf and between the North and South Islands.
A new surgical device currently under development in New Zealand could simplify a complex procedure and reduce the time patients must spend under anesthesia, improving the outcomes of major surgery.
Avasa, led by New Zealand bioengineer and GP Dr Nandoun Abeysekera, has created arterial coupler technology designed to reconnect major arteries, eliminating the need for surgeons to carry out costly and laborious suturing of the arteries.
Abeysekera tells the Herald that during today’s organ transplant or reconstructive procedures, even a skilled surgeon can take up to 45 minutes to sew two arteries together. His signature coupling device can reduce that to as little as five minutes, which means a much narrower window of time when the patient is at risk.
“Every minute we save a patient from being under anesthesia is a victory. While modern anesthesia is a safe process, it is not without its risks, especially for older or medically vulnerable patients,” says Abeysekera.
“If any part of the process of reconnecting an artery goes wrong, the tissue to which it is connected will die. It’s rare, but the main cause of tissue death after surgery, unfortunately, is technical error.”
The thinking behind the coupler is that it works by loading arteries into the device, automatically moving the arteries to a position ready for healing, and then establishing a firm vascular connection to restore blood flow.
Avasa won $750,000 in support of Callaghan Innovation at the local level.
Avasa did not enjoy any of the untethered benefits of funding in the past, and the grant is repayable. It also secured a seed funding injection from California-based Bridgewest Group, which has taken a one-third stake in the Abeysekera startup.
The founder sees Bridgewest, a private investment firm whose stakes cover everything from real estate to wireless internet to medical technology, as a crucial conduit for the key US market.
After successfully completing a trial of its coupler in a pig (pigs have a vascular system similar in size to people), Avasa will now push for US Federal Drug Administration approval if the regulator influencer endorses Avasa’s product, other agencies around the world are likely to follow suit.
In association with Callaghan, the Bridgewest Group has created an incubator in New Zealand called Bridgewest Ventures.
Abeysekera was introduced to the US company by University of Auckland Department of Surgery Professor Greg O’Grady. O’Grady is also the co-founder and CEO of Alimitetry, a start-up that recently raised $16 million in Series A funding to help market its abdominal sensor.
Abeysekera is looking for a similar success in Serie A, but anticipates that it will be in the middle of 2024.