CIE alumni have created hundreds of start-ups. Below is a showcase of a few of them.
Kami is a cloud-based platform that has transformed the way educators engage and interact with their students by allowing collaboration on digital documents from anywhere. Kami experienced astronomical growth in 2020 as schools around the world quickly responded to COVID-19 by adopting digital solutions to engage with students remotely. That year, they grew from 8 to 22 million users in 180 countries.
“It was through CIE and Velocity that we met our Chairman and Chief Revenue Officer Bob Drummond and one of our early investors Rudi Bublitz from Flying Kiwi Angels. When you join CIE Velocity, you don’t just join to win. You learn and grow every aspect of your business and entrepreneurial life.” Hengjie Wang, Co-founder
Auror is transforming retail security with its world-leading crime prevention and detection intelligence platform. Servicing over 90% of the retail enterprise market in New Zealand and saving police over 600,000 hours a year in investigations. The company has expanded to Australia, North America, and the UK, supporting law enforcement agencies and some of the world’s largest retailers, including Walmart, Woolworths, and Coles.
“CIE’s Velocity programme enabled us to put our company strategy down on paper. We didn’t walk away with just seed funding. It helped us create the real basis for the company and to stress test it with judges and mentors. It’s surprising how much of it still holds true today.” Phil Thomson, Co-founder
Alimetry provides digital healthcare and diagnostic devices to support patients with gastrointestinal diseases. Alimetry is the result of over a decade of award-winning scientific research out of the University of Auckland and supported by the experience of its founding team CEO Greg O’Grady and Chief Scientific Officer Peng Du.
“I cut my teeth in the CIE Velocity programme, and still highly recommend it to anyone. You learn best by doing. The structured programme and mentorship that comes with it are both fun and rewarding. I have also benefited from excellent mentorship and advice from UniServices and within the CIE, and I continue those relationships today.” Greg O’Grady, Co-founder & CEO
Sustainable space travel may be on the horizon with Zenno Astronautic’s fuel-free satellite control and propulsion system. This technology is part of Zenno’s greater mission to create cutting-edge hardware and software that make space exploration sustainable and commercially compelling. Founded by former University of Auckland Engineering (Honours) student Max Arshavsky, Zenno pioneers applications of super-magnets in sustainable space exploration.
“It was just great to have the support from CIE early on. It was good to have some private space to work from and experienced people to consult with. Most importantly though, it was great to be respected and treated as real entrepreneurs. CIE succeeded at creating a safe environment where we could learn and prosper while being very fragile as a business, and I’m very grateful for this!” Max Arshavsky
Founded by an engineering student, Arash Tayebi, Kara Technologies is on a mission to help companies all around the world make their services accessible to the Deaf community and those who use sign language with the help of the company’s hyper-realistic signing avatars. Kara Technologies’ digital humans have high-fidelity faces, giving them the ability to be fully expressive and engaging – easily connecting with the audience. They can preside at the bottom of any screen or device, interpreting content into a signed language or be part of the content rather than just translating it.
“The support was amazing. Without the Centre of Innovation and Entrepreneurship and UniServices, we wouldn’t even exist at all – they gave us the confidence to do it and helped connect us to the resources we needed.” Arash Tayebi
StretchSense is a global leader in high-precision motion capture technology for the gaming and animation sectors and has produced a hand motion capture solution that combines stretch sensor gloves with machine learning. With its headquarters in Auckland, the company now has offices throughout the world with hundreds of visual effects studios using its technology worldwide. The venture was first founded in 2012 by CEO Dr Benjamin O’Brien, Chief Technology Officer Dr Todd Gisby, and bioengineering Professor Iain Anderson.
“What we were able to do was very unusual for Ph.D. students and academic staff. The University effectively took a punt on us and created an environment where we were able to learn very quickly which we fully maximised and gave us a valuable head start.” Dr Benjamin O’Brien
With plans to become the world’s biggest community-led marketplace, Kiki is aimed at connecting everyday people who don’t want to lose money on rent while away with those people that need a short-term rental of 6 months or less. Modelled on dating app features, Kiki matches people based on their compatibility criteria and leverages social media as a form of authenticity check. In 2023, Kiki raised US$6 million in seed capital for its New York launch – an amount thought to be one of the biggest in New Zealand seed capital history.
“I wouldn’t be here without CIE and Unleash Space.” Toby Thomas-Smith
Wayve is re-imagining autonomous mobility and has pioneered a new machine-learning approach to autonomous vehicles with a vision to create a smarter, safer, more sustainable world. Their innovative approach has won the confidence of investors such as Microsoft and Virgin with $258M in funding to date.
“I really do believe that the culture at the University of Auckland and my experience in the CIE Velocity programme were formative for me to become an entrepreneur. I loved the things I learned through being involved with CIE.” Alex Kendall, Co-founder & CEO
Te Miringa Parkes is the founder of Ūkaipō, a business aiming to help families honour the Māori birthing practice of planting the placenta to give back to the Whenua (land). Traditional containers such as Uku (clay pot) or Harakeke kete (flax basket) are inaccessible or hard to make. In response, Te Miringa designed a leak-proof, biodegradable Rau Whenua placenta planting container that enhance the beauty and meaning of the practice in a practical, accessible and contemporary way.
Te Miringa describes her experience in CIE’s Venture Lab incubator as “life changing”.
RosterLab is an AI rostering software solution. Founded by Engineering PhD candidate Isaac Cleland and based on his research with Associate Professor Andrew Mason and Dr Michael O’Sullivan into developing new techniques for mathematically optimising large and complex roster models.
“It was an impulsive decision to enter Velocity towards the end of my PhD. I had zero expectations of success but after winning an award my ambitions quickly changed from academia to entrepreneurship.” Isaac Cleland, Co-founder
SpinPoi is a social enterprise dedicated to working with poi to improve health and well-being for all ages and abilities through evidence-based products and services. Founded by Dr Kate Riegle van West in 2019 following her PhD thesis that showed clinical benefits in grip strength, balance, and the ability to sustain attention for healthy older adults after just one month of practice.
Kate’s study was a world-first investigation of the well-being benefits of poi, supervised by the University of Auckland Centre for Brain Research and the School of Dance Studies.
ElementX is an applied AI agency that specialises in helping organisations leverage cutting-edge Artificial Intelligence to increase productivity, save costs, and create new competitive advantages. Backed by a team of AI experts highly trained on the latest AI technologies to deliver world-leading solutions, R&D, and consulting services.
“ElementX wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for all the inspiration and support we received from CIE’s programmes, and the continued encouragement from the Auckland Bioengineering Institute.” Ming Cheuk, Co-founder
EnergyBank is an energy storage technology company that aims to provide a solution for storing the excess supply of renewable energy generated from the offshore wind market. By using the principles of gravitational potential and mechanical energy EnergyBank’s system involves raising and lowering extremely large masses of iron ore in very deep water.
“I wasn’t really interested in building my own company, all I wanted was to build rockets but I ended up going through the CIE Velocity programme anyway which turned out to be a really valuable learning experience. The most important thing it taught me was the Lean Canvas framework which completely changed my view of the world of business. I was kind of a cynical, twenty-something student who thought everything taught in business schools was about exploitatively maximising profits. So, when I realised that it was more about solving real, hard problems, I had found my calling.” Tim Hawkey, Co-founder
Toku Eyes leverages AI technology to scan eyes and predict the likelihood of blindness, stroke or heart disease. An estimated 90% of cases of blindness today are due to undiagnosed diseases and could be prevented with early diagnosis. This statistic along with a personal experience motivated University of Auckland scientist and lecturer Ehsan Vaghefi, to make the leap from research to entrepreneurship and launch Toku Eyes.
“If you win [CIE’s Velocity $100k Challenge], great, you have cash to experiment and put towards your minimum viable product. But the real value is in the experience of pitching in front of other entrepreneurs, and defending your idea. Scientists, myself included, look at all the good things about our idea, but lack the perspective of a commercial enterprise. And 99% of the time, good ideas don’t work because they are poorly executed. Challenges like this help you encounter difficult questions that you’ve never faced before.” Ehsan Vaghefi, Co-founder & CEO
Green Spot Technologies is a circular economy venture that ferments and upcycles natural food byproducts from food processing industries to produce highly nutritious ingredients. Developed by scientist Dr Ninna Granucci while studying for her PhD. Green Spot’s technology utilises waste such as brewery spent grains, winery grapes marc and beverage apple pomace and creates flours that are high fibre (including prebiotics), high protein, rich in minerals and clean label.
“You will always have a next big problem that will need a big solution. It’s not enough to have one good idea, you have to have many good ideas and work hard to transform them into solutions on the path to taking something from the lab to market. Going through CIE’s Velocity, I learned that you have to be comfortable with the uncomfortable, and that still holds true.” Dr Ninna Granucci, Founder and CEO
Hectre is a company focused on orchard management and fruit sizing software to help the horticultural industry with issues such as quality control, harvest management, payroll, timesheets and more. Hectre’s software includes the award-winning mobile fruit sizing app Spectre which delivers accurate and reliable sizing data, saving time and money. Simplicity and accessibility are at the core of Hectre’s offering, which Founder Matty Blomfield hopes empowers fruit growers and packers to make informed decisions.
MAUI63 was given its name because when the not-for-profit venture began, only 63 Māui dolphins remained. Using drone technology and AI to collect and process visual data, the founders hope to empower scientists, government, fisheries and the general public to take action to try and save the world’s rarest dolphin from extinction and influence future marine conservation efforts.
Kitea Health has created a ground-breaking implantable pressure-sensing device. This device has the potential to improve the lives of millions of patients worldwide who suffer from hydrocephalus or chronic heart conditions and empowers patients to monitor life-threatening symptoms from the comfort of their homes.
“The University of Auckland is becoming more future-focused, and we will all see the benefits from that.”” Dr Simon Malpas Founder and CEO
Vertus Energy is a CleanTech venture that uses technology to revolutionise the production of green fuel by making the process of converting methane released from sludge, manure, and other organic waste into renewable energy faster and more efficient.
“I gained knowledge [through CIE] about all kinds of things such as social entrepreneurship, the Business Model Canvas, the importance of understanding the problem at hand, and market validation. I also admired how committed students were to finding solutions to complex problems in such a short period of time, and love that I have since had the chance to put my learnings into practice at Vertus Energy.” Freddy Gonzalez, Co-founder
A venture co-founded by University of Auckland Professor Thor Besier and alumnus Dr Ju Zhang, Formus Labs is a pre-operative planning software designed to assist orthopaedic surgeons with delivering joint replacement surgeries. Formus Labs’ software combines medical imaging data with biomechanical simulation to optimise implant selection and placement for an individual patient.
“The connections we made through CIE Velocity and the Business School were extremely important for making our journey a success,” Professor Thor Besier, Co-founder
Moodi is a mental wellness brand for women that aims to elevate self-care routines with science-backed functional blends to help them feel less stressed, less overwhelmed, more energised, and have better sleep.
“Exploring entrepreneurship was always a dream for me, and when I got to university, I discovered the valuable resources there to help make it happen. I entered the CIE Velocity $100k Challenge to put my business idea for Moodi to the test and see if it had the potential to succeed. This experience gave me the confidence to take my idea to the next level and create a minimum viable product.” Kate Gatfield-Jeffries, Founder
Cotiss aims to make the tender process easier with intuitive software designed to make the process more efficient, saving time and money for small to medium-sized procurement teams who work in high-regulation and compliance industries, such as banking,, healthcare and local and central government departments
“Tackling CIE Velocity together not only solidified our friendship but also planted the seeds of our future partnership. What’s interesting is that these roles and strengths we showcased during the CIE Velocity challenge are still very much alive in our roles at Cotiss today” Matt Whiting, Co-founder & Co-CEO
Avasa founder, Nandoun Abeysekera. has developed a revolutionary coupler that is set to become the new standard of care in microsurgery, eliminating the need for hand-sewing, and drastically reducing the time and risk of complications during surgery. Avasa is on a mission to maximize surgeon performance and give patients who have suffered from debilitating diseases or deformities a new lease on life.
“The CIE Velocity programme really changed the way I understood this project and helped define some of the goals and directions of the company,” Nandoun Abeysekera, Founder
Vortex Power Systems
Vortex Power Systems aims to turn waste heat found in industrial wastewater into clean electricity by harnessing it to form an atmospheric vortex, the energy of which is harvested using a turbine made from a ring of angled sails, to power a generator. While similar to wind turbines, the parts involved are significantly less expensive.
“Fairly early in the process, I had to decide whether to keep my research patentable or publish, so I went to see [Director of Commercialisation] Stephen Flint at UniServices. He said UniServices would fund the early stages of the patent, which meant I could go ahead and publish academically without affecting the patent application.” Neil Hawkes, Founder
Valka Yoga develops and sells sustainable, functional yoga mats and accessories and is committed to ensuring it is ‘the most eco-friendly yoga mat in the world’. Available in the New Zealand and Australian markets, Founder Danny Garg is expanding into the US market.
“The CIE Velocity programme encouraged me to think big and empowered me to act on my vision.” Danny Garg, Founder & CEO
RisosEnterprises Ltd. is embarking on a mission to revolutionise water safety with a novel, trademarked, handheld water pathogen detector called the Waicorder. The Waicorder technology uses novel photonics to quantify and qualify water-borne micro pathogens and dissolved components in real time.
“Winning the CIE Velocity $100k Challenge in 2021 and our ongoing customer feedback and collaborations is my confirmation that the Waicorder technology is a serious undertaking worth pursuing” Dr Alex Risos , Founder
Let’s Talk Consent
Let’s Talk Consent is a social enterprise designed to catalyse change in the area of sexual harm. With rape and sexual violence regularly in New Zealand news headlines, the founders of Let’s Talk Consent saw the value of consent education
“I was constantly amazed at the generosity our mentors and the CIE Team offered in terms of their time, connections, and pastoral support on our ventures.” Jasmine Gray, Co-founder
BioFab, is a biotechnology company making a sustainable alternative to expanded polystyrene. They are using New Zealand fungi to grow a compostable and functional fungal mycelium packaging material they call mushroom packaging. This breakthrough technology for the construction and packaging industries is just their first step on a mission to encourage a world where waste streams regenerate, rather than destroy, our natural environment.
“I submitted an idea to the CIE Velocity Innovation Challenge where I won the Bioscience Award. That award gave me confidence in my idea, which inspired me to submit it to a global biotech leadership conference where I ended up getting the top prize. Now, the very same idea has been implemented into the R&D strategy of BioFab.” Jessica Chiang, Co-founder
Cropsy Technologies is developing a combination of patent-pending hardware and AI to help horticulturalists make data-driven decisions. With a focus on the wine industry, which has an estimated annual value of NZ$2 billion, founders Leila Deljkovic,Alo Alomari, Winston Su and Rory Buchanan hope to give growers a competitive advantage and empower them to boost productivity cost-effectively.
“The process of developing your idea into a business is more important than the idea itself, and that’s what we learned from CIE’s Velocity. Highlights for me were the mentors we got from the programme, both of whom we stay in touch with regularly, and one of our mentors is now an advisor for Cropsy.” Leila Deljkovic, Co-founder
Manzana is a new creative space and community supporting women entrepreneurs who are driven to change the world. Founded by Dil Khosa and Ché Zara Blomfield, the co-working space on Auckland City’s High Street offers workshops, events, and networking opportunities, all designed to empower and support women entrepreneurs striving to improve how we connect with each other and our environment.
“I learned a lot of valuable skills through the [CIE Velocity] programme – for example, it’s one of my earliest memories of learning to pitch! But I most enjoyed having the opportunity to meet and be inspired by like-minded people which kickstarted my journey into entrepreneurship.” Dil Khosa, Co-founder
Bodymapp’s cutting-edge app enables iPhones to scan and generate 3D avatars that accurately reflect the user’s body shape, allowing users to track and visualise changes to their bodies. Particularly popular among people pursuing health and fitness goals, Bodymapp’s technology can be used by anyone who wants to know more about their body or visually track changes.
“I am a huge fan of the University of Auckland’s Business School and its continued investment in entrepreneurship and encouraging its students to pursue this. Having seen a number of education institutions across the world, I really believe that the University of Auckland does a world class job at encouraging innovation which will be critical for any students thinking about a career in business.” Dipra Ray, Co-founder
Delta Waterways has developed an innovative solution that uses high-tech satellite data to monitor waterways remotely. Measurements can be taken anywhere at a much higher frequency and generate hundreds of thousands more data points than the current hand sample method. Using advanced data analysis techniques and machine learning, conclusions can be drawn about waterway health, the surrounding land and the interaction between the two. Implementation of Delta Waterways’ cutting-edge solution has the potential to save councils time and money while returning better than ever before data about the health of waterways via a monitoring software tool.
“CIE Venture Lab was invaluable in progressing our idea into an actual business. The six-month journey was very engaging; weekly meetings with mentors, and frequent workshops with industry experts around things like IP and company structure. There’s also the cohort support aspect of being surrounded by people that know exactly what kind of struggle you’re going through.” Brendan Bell, Co-founder
PrintGig is an online platform where anyone can take advantage of advanced 3D printing technologies with no technical skills required. PrintGig was born during the first Covid-19 lockdown when University of Auckland Master of Business Management student Reese Chen and friend Caleb McIvor noticed a gap in the market for 3D printing services and an increase in demand for 3D-printed prototypes.
“As a start-up company, the most significant pain point is that we don’t know what we don’t know. The CIE workshops genuinely helped us move forward and build a solid foundation of understanding. Working with Venture Lab Manager Ken Erskine was a truly amazing experience. It’s hard to find people who we can trust to expose our problems to, and go to for honest help and answers. Ken is the type of person who will tear us apart and help us rebuild. We couldn’t have got this far without him.” Reese Chen, Co-founder
Eskwelabs is a data upskilling school in Southeast Asia that is democratising access to new job opportunities by helping adult learners capitalise on where humans can offer better value than technology. Eswelabs aims to equip learners with job-ready data skills they can take straight to the workforce. Their flagship Data Science and Data Analytics bootcamps have taught hundreds of students topics like Machine Learning, effective data visualisation and stakeholder communication. On average, their graduates’ salaries increase by 50% and have landed roles in e-commerce, banking, start-ups, and large consultancy companies.
iCanStudy aims to train users to learn like a genius. Dr Justin Sung’s research-informed venture is a cognitive retraining programme that incorporates higher-order and self-regulated learning concepts. Designed to be interacted with for a couple of hours per week, the programme teaches research-backed methods to upgrade how efficiently users process information and learn.
Atypical AI is a generative Artificial Intelligence (AI) platform focused on the education sector that is dedicated to creating novel, personalised AI-enabled teaching and student assessment. Grounded in learning science, Atypical AI puts educators and students at the centre of their design and embraces a diversity-first mindset allowing a safe, equitable and accessible learning experience.