Venture Taranaki Trust (VTT)
Could you be the next great startup success?
Idea Summit 2019 was launched at Johnson Corner. James from Yonder (2018 winners) shared his experience.
After winning the local incubator competition, Idea Summit, in 2018, tourism chat-bot start-up Yonder appear to be on a winning streak. Could you be sitting on this year’s winning business idea?
The Yonder duo of James Donald and Letitia Stevenson entered their idea for Yonder in the inaugural Idea Summit 2018, that saw more than 75 entries all vying for a spot as a finalist, and ultimately, first place with the chance to take home $10,000.
“We thought we had a good idea on our hands, however, you obviously never know who you’re up against and what the judges are looking for”, said James.
Selected as a finalist Yonder then took part in the Idea Summit 10-week incubator programme that saw them receive expert business advice, coaching and mentoring, as well as the chance to pitch their idea and receive judging feedback.
“The Idea Summit programme was built to ensure our entries are given the support and resources required to build and create viable businesses,” says Venture Taranaki Business Advisor and event organiser Nick Field.
This year, Idea Summit will condense the incubation period into 7 weeks and give even more entries a chance at success.
“Last year, from all that entered, five finalists were selected by our judging panel, however this year of those that enter, we’ll select 20 to pitch for a shot at the final five.”
“The remaining 15 entries will then be offered places in another accelerator programme, connecting them with coaching and mentoring and the opportunity to build their business”, says Nick.
Winners of the 2018 event, Yonder offer tourism operators an industry-specific conversational chat tool that works as a virtual assistant for operators and their customers.
“The tourism industry worldwide is growing significantly, and more travellers want to communicate and book quickly through intelligent online systems, however, their lack of resources results in operators and hotels missing out on bookings”, says Letitia.
After meeting at another start-up related event James and Letitia connected over tech and a passion to improve the way tourism operators do business.
“It’s been so rewarding working with operators, helping them to support their business needs. We’ve already seen some real business benefits starting to transpire, which makes it all the more rewarding”, says Letitia.
Since taking out Idea Summit, Yonder has continued their winning streak, leveraging the connections they built throughout the course of the competition.
“Venture Taranaki has been a huge support, helping us to connect with funding opportunities and build our business on the back of our win.”
“Starting out is definitely daunting, but the support we were given has made it as easy as possible and allowed us to focus on building the best offering possible — we’ve been able to stick to what we’re good at. We’ve been fortunate enough to draw on expert opinions and support when we’ve needed it, and this has definitely played a part in our trajectory” says Letitia.
Last year, Yonder was fortunate enough to receive funding from Callaghan Innovation in the form of a Getting Started Grant which allowed them to investigate the feasibility of service, and more recently in May, they have been approved for an R&D Project Grant to support their continued growth.
“The Getting Started grant allowed us to research and confirm the feasibility of the complex components in our product. That gave us the confidence of where we wanted to go and helped us set a roadmap to get there.”
“We have been fortunate to receive our initial grant and now our R&D Project Grant. It’s great to have access to funding and continued support as a start-up. Venture Taranaki has played a big role in joining these dots for us, and it’s been invaluable to have this continued support after Idea Summit was all done”, says James.
The pair were also accepted into the Massey University ECentre Global Sprint Programme in February and fortunate enough to earn a spot as part of the 2019 SaaStr Annual kiwi delegation in San Francisco. Selected from 150 entrants, as one of 12 representatives who were provided with the opportunity to hear from and meet some of the world’s most successful SaaS (Software as a Service) businesses.
“The past year really has been a journey for us. Since winning Idea Summit this time last year, we’ve met and connected with amazing people, been able to build and grow our business, and contribute to streamlining customer acquisition in the tourism space,” says James.
Johnson Corner’s innovation platform, Johnson Labs, is supporting Idea Summit this year, as part of its mission to help increase startup activity in Taranaki.