Queenstown – Notes on Sauntering around the South Island Startup Ecosystem


Taking the Cromwell route past “Roaring Meg” and into the Frankton end of the sparkling Lake Wakatipu doesn’t really prepare you for when you come upon the Remarkables. The aptly named mountain playgrounds of Queenstown.

A small town with all the trappings of big city living loaded with bars, clubs and restaurants. The real estate prices to go with it and a very interesting startup ecology.

Mountain Club Coworking

  • There’s several co-working spaces in Queenstown but new entrants Mountain Club are getting more than their fair share of mentions. Christopher Davern and friends have created beautiful, well appointed and well positioned spaces.

SaaS on the Street

I met Simon Small at the Mountain Club, 5 Mile Frankton.

The space has slick views of the Mountains, understated leather furnishings with a hint of Nordic cool, and Simon fits right in. Quick to smile, ready to help, man about town, and all things SaaS.

He’s dedicated to helping New Zealand create, build, expand and globalise Software-as-a-Service businesses.

He hosts and produces a regular podcast “SaaS on the Street” you can find them on Youtube or check out Simon on LinkedIn. If you’re in the area do make the effort to find the man himself.

Impactech Group

On the ground floor of the same building as the Mountain Club is Joe’s Garage, a busy, cafe and bar. There I caught a coffee with the astute and friendly Jasper van Halder. An ex-corporate lawyer and McKinsey consultant he’s now managing director of the Queenstown branch of the Impactech Group.

Impactech takes a different approach to startups, they are not passive financiers. They invest their own money and literally work within the companies they partner with. This can include anything from creating financial models and business plans to finding suppliers and clients. Interesting.

Startup Queenstown Lakes

Lawyer by training, startup under the belt, dynamic and well known throughout the region. Detecting a theme here?

New Zealand is blessed with active women and Olivia Wensley is another lady who’s name came up everywhere I went in Otago.

Previously Head of Growth and Innovation for Automio and now Chief Executive Officer for Startup Queenstown Lakes, Olivia is bright eyed and on the ball. Busy on the phone when I arrived, she quickly gave me the run down on Queenstown.

Startup Queenstown Lakes, is a charitable trust established in 2018. It brings together founders, investors and the local community.

It has a volunteer Board of Trustees made up of community stakeholders and has regular input from a laundry list of local and national entities including; Queenstown Lakes District Council (QLDC), the Queenstown Chamber of Commerce, Ignite Wanaka Chamber of Commerce, Destination Queenstown, Lake Wanaka Tourism, Study Queenstown, and Film Otago Southland. The trust also gets some funding from Creative HQ (via Callaghan Innovation).

They’ve done a fantastic job of bringing together so many threads to weave a solid platform for startup innovation.

Working hard to leverage the regions natural strengths they’re actively pushing development in tourism-tech, hospitality-tech, and adventure-tech.

It’s hard to believe Olivia was only appointed CEO just this year. She’s running fast and hard to manage the nearly one hundred events they’ve had in 2020 alone. She doesn’t muck around.

Be sure to checkout their calendar of events and inquire about their startup programs.

It took her two seconds to get Peter Harris into a meeting room. Peter is the Queenstown Lakes District Council’s Economic Development Manager and whip sharp. He’s someone who thinks things through before a word is spoken.

So when we got onto the topic of investing into startups he threw me with an unexpected question…

Is it better to raise local money or money from overseas?

I’m interested to hear what others think on this. Foreign or local money? Why?

Each answer comes with its own set of pro’s and cons and the question was pondered considerably on the drive to Invercargill.

Wherever the money comes from, Startup Queenstown Lakes is in good hands.

Mountain Club

SaaS On the Street (check Simon’s profile on LinkedIn)

Impactech Group

Startup Queenstown Lakes intheloop@startupqueenstownlakes.com

Queenstown Lakes District Council (QLDC)

Queenstown Chamber of Commerce

Ignite Wanaka, Wanaka Chamber of Commerce

Destination Queenstown

Lake Wanaka Tourism

Study Queenstown

Film Otago Southland

Creative HQ

Callaghan Innovation

Mainland Angel Investors


Next up… Invercargill