Dunedin – Notes on Sauntering around the South Island Startup Ecosystem


Fully fuelled on Black Shag coffee and a little time to spare, a detour was in order. Directly south for the obligatory photos of Bluff signage and Southern Ocean with a stop at Omaui (NZ’s most Southern Northerly facing beach).

I drove past the old Bluff Freezing Works that’s being turned into an Aquaculture Park and then somehow missed the Catlins. Sidenote: I want a GPS with “interesting projects” and “take the long way” tourist modes.

A relaxed cruise through the rolling hills following Fonterra milk trucks and a speedy rural NZ Post driver delivered me to the lush hills surrounding the Otago Harbour.

Hello Dunedin.

I visited Dunedin a decade ago, stayed for a day and my memory was of it being dark, cold and damp. This time round it was exploding with luminescent yellow flowers across the hills and spectacular rhododendron displays in suburban gardens.

A town that’s kept much of its wonderful Victorian and Edwardian architecture from the boom days of gold. It’s produced some of New Zealand’s biggest companies, as well as a multitude of great Kiwi music and fashion has been brewed in its micro-climates.

Listening to the locals it’s hard to tell if the University of Otago and Otago Polytechnic are famed as much for the great quality of education they produce. Or the great quantity of local beers the student body consumes.


I wasn’t expecting this. Five levels that start with a cafe and events area, work upwards to coworking spaces and topped with penthouse views. Natural light, polished wood floors, quirky decoration done with a humorous artist’s eye and homely touches that tie the place into a whole that far exceeds its parts. This is New York Soho wrapped in 1860’s neo-baroque stone and glass.

Kate and Jason Lindsey didn’t start out to create a coworking space. They fell in love with a building, and took a massive punt to purchase the whole thing.

The dream was penthouse living, the reality was paying a mortgage and restoration bills.

They were forced to evolve from landlords to business incubators as their early tenants were cash strapped startups. Quickly realising that in order to survive themselves they had to help their tenants thrive.

That culture of giving and collaboration kept on growing to not just encompass entrepreneurs but art, food and the broader community as well. It permeates the atmosphere, as playful and experimental as the decorations.

Jason speaks softly and makes tales of hardship sound like lighthearted lessons. Lots and lots of lessons. They have persisted in spite of a thread in Dunedin thinking that its best days are in its past. Both Kate and Jason reject that thinking. 

In a world where gold is made from ideas, Dunedin has vast potential.

Jason lays out a compelling argument that Dunedin’s best days are coming.

It has a spectacular natural environment, a mix of architecture, facilities and cosy city living that provides access to local and international students, world class University and Polytechnic resources, enough bars, cafes and restaurants and Summer time for ideas to foment and enough Winter time for people to buckle down and bring them life.

“From free-to-public business events, early stage funding grants, acceleration and mentorship programs, to well run event management. The Petridish community, smoothes out the path to success.”

My suggestion… Go check out the culture at Petridish.

Startup Dunedin

I didn’t have to go far to meet Mckenzie Dowson the bubbly Community Co-Ordinator at Startup Dunedin. She was having a coffee at the Petridish cafe. She rounded up Rachel Butler the General Manager at Startup Dunedin who was also in the vicinity. Unfortunately I didn’t get to meet Angus Pauley their Programme Facilitator.

Apparently they were in the midst of a renovation of their own working space The Distiller. Rachel kindly took some time out from schlepping boxes to the boot of her car to paint a picture of Startup Dunedin activities.

They have The Distiller which is their own non-profit space. It’s for those participating in Startup Dunedin’s programmes and external events such as Angel NZ. They run events and programmes all year round.

They are also linked into the Mainland Angel Investors and the Regional Business Partner Network.

It was began as an initiative of the Grow Dunedin Partnership. With a volunteer board of representatives from Dunedin’s local entrepreneurs as well as from the University and Polytechnic. There’s quite a few familiar names on this board including once again Sarah Ramsay, Scott Mason and Jason Lindsey.

They have funding from the Dunedin City Council, the University of Otago, the Otago Polytechnic, Creative HQ and Callaghan Innovation.

If you are in Dunedin and at the very beginning of your startup journey definitely look at one of their programmes; Co.Starters, Audacious or Startup Weekend.

Check their website for events as well.


Heidi Renata a wāhinepreneur, CEO and founder of INNOV8HQ.

Aotearoa’s first Business Marae.

It was also one of the worlds first indigenous co-working spaces. I didn’t get to see INNOV8HQ but from what others have told me it’s a beautiful space.

INNOV8HQ specialises in consulting for businesses that are high-impact, growth orientated and technology focused and entrepreneurs who are wanting to commercialise their innovations.

They also run Te Aroha a philanthropic program supporting community initiatives such as KiwiHarvest and the International Science Festival.

We caught up for coffee overlooking Saint Clair beach. With covid INNOV8HQ is going through a renovation and Heidi going in a new direction. She has dark piercing eyes with a cheeky sparkle that haven’t been dimmed one bit by 20 years of helping others succeed. 

A sharp business woman in her own right, you can see those sparkling eyes light right up when the topic of conversation was female and indigenous entrepreneurs. She was born to inspire.

We covered a lot of ground in an hour from business to travel, to history, to covid, to where best to apply talent. She’s happy putting more energy into consulting.

Coworking spaces are hard work and she cheekily suggested more cafes should jump into the game…

Imagine what New Zealand would look like with thousands of incubators?

Comp Girls Otago (STEM Club)

Magdeline Huang popped up out of the LinkedIn woodwork with loads of helpful recommendations for people and places all over the South Island.

Magdeline is a student at the University of Otago studying Computer Science and Entrepreneurship. She is the leader of a women in tech club the Comp Girls Otago and member of the Otago Momentum Investment Committee. Momentum is a national student-led investment program.

She was the winner of New Zealand’s inaugural Red Bull Basement University and represented New Zealand at the international finals in Toronto.

In between studying for exams she is building “Temp.” A platform for students to list and hire items to each other.

Temp’s mission is to create a sharing culture which promotes sustainability while helping students earn some money from the items they list.

I wish her all the best. 


Black Shag Coffee

Ocean Beach Bluff

Petridish 8 Stafford Street, Dunedin, Otago, New Zealand

Ross & Glendining Building

Startup Dunedin

University of Otago

Otago Polytechnic

Dunedin City Council

Creative HQ

Callaghan Innovation

Mainland Angel Investors (MAI)

Regional Business Partner Network



International Science Festival

Comp Girls Otago (STEM Club)


Next up… Oamaru.