We are Startup Queenstown Lakes

We are a coalition of entrepreneurs, investors, changemakers, and citizens, building an entrepreneurial and innovation community for the Queenstown Lakes District. We are a catalyst and champion for the local startup community  to make an impact nationally and globally. We believe a thriving startup ecosystem is critical for our region to achieve economic diversity, increased productivity, and resilience.

We are Startup Queenstown Lakes.


The Queenstown Lakes region has a history of innovation with a global reach. From the creation of jet boats to bungee jumping to Oscar-winning film-production technology, we have a long history of pioneers who have made a worldwide impact. We want to accelerate the development of our startup ecosystem so that we are:

  • Building a diversified and resilient local economy, conducive to building nationally and internationally successful businesses that provide a diverse range of high-value jobs and opportunities for locals and immigrants alike.
  • Leveraging our history and strength as a tourism and adventure destination while using best-practices from other markets to shorten the timeline to success.
  • Capitalizing on our reputation as a vibrant and fun place to live, work, and play to create a thriving environment for innovators, technologists, and entrepreneurs to build their next big idea.


We bring together the various startup initiatives and activities under one umbrella so that every resource is working in a unified, coordinated fashion in our region. Individuals and organizations within the startup community maintain their autonomy, with support of a one-stop shop for strategic planning, thinking, resource coordination, fundraising, etc.

And at a leadership level, we:

  • Provide business advisor support to new entrepreneurs, run the Startup Foundations education programme for first-time entrepreneurs, and  run community building events
  • Identify and coordinate funding from local, regional, and national economic development resources
  • Promote local, national, and global programmes that will benefit entrepreneurs and startups in our region


The ecosystem of Startup Queenstown Lakes is:

  • Protecting the unique and precious environment surrounding us,
  • Promoting a positive social impact that raises the quality of life for all residents,
  • Acting in a sustainable way for the long-term benefit of current and future generations.


How can you get involved?

We have launched www.startupqueenstownlakes.com as our online presence to make it easy for everyone to stay connected. On the website you can:

  1. See upcoming events and activities that you can participate in
  2. Sign up for our email list to stay in the loop with startup activities in the region

Have an idea or initiative you’re working on that you want to get on the radar? Send an email to intheloop@startupqueenstownlakes.com.

Our Board of Trustees & Leadership

Startup Queenstown Lakes Trust is independently managed by a board of trustees which have been appointed to oversee our mission.

David Wallace

David Wallace

David is managing director of Armillary Private Capital, a specialist investment banking, funds management, financial training and advisory firm. He has a background in investment banking, equities research and corporate treasury, with more than 20 years experience working in the private capital markets in New Zealand.

Luke Taylor

Luke is a product development and design thinking cosultant for corporate innovation. He is the former GM for Go Orange, Country Manager for local tech firm Magic Memories and Operations Manager for Real Journeys. Luke is a veteran of the New Zealand Navy.


Alexa Forbes

Alexa is an elected Otago Regional Councillor and a lecturer and researcher in Leadership for Change programmes at Otago Polytechnic.  Her research is focused on two exponential curves – technological and environmental. She will help guide SQL towards wider community benefit.


Wayne Hudson

Wayne is a legal consultant with more than 35 years experience as a commercial and corporate lawyer, having been a partner in Bell Gully and Hudson Gavin Martin. He is focused on the technology business sector, advising on the commercialisation of technology and intellectual property, the sale and purchase of technology businesses, capital raising, structuring start-up companies and dealing with shareholder issues.


Michelle Trapski

Michelle is a seasoned executive with an extensive background in tourism and small business scaling up. She is the former CEO of Active Adventures and AJ Hackett Bungy and brings extensive governance experinece as a trustee/director for several prominent organisations including NZ Snowsports, The Headwaters (Camp Glenorchy), and Ruapehu Alpine Lifts.


Glyn Lewers

Glyn is an elected Queenstown Lakes District Councillor and Civil/Structural Engineer at Airey Consultants Ltd. He is chair of the Frankton Community Association, a board member of Destination Queenstown and an Engineering New Zealand ambassador involved with aiding teachers to enhance the teaching of science, technology, engineering and maths.

Our History

Following work done by the Shaping Our Future Economic Task force in 2012, and advocacy from other organisations, the Queenstown Lakes District Council developed and adopted an Economic Development Strategy (PDF) in 2015.

A key aspiration of the Strategy was to develop a higher value and more diverse economy in order to boost incomes and mitigate the risks of relying on tourism. One of the two key priorities of the Strategy was to facilitate growth in the knowledge-based sector and other innovation-based industry. Facilitating growth in these sectors was identified as a pathway to relieving economic stress and vulnerability within the community.

Our "startup" ecosystem really began when a group of technology, business, and community leaders in Wanaka came together to enter fibre broadband provider Chorus' Gigatown Competition.  The Wanaka business community was united and stood as one throughout the competition and educated the community on the benefits of fibre and how this can benefit economic growth for the district. Over the course of the competition it estimated that local individuals and business invested approximately $300k.

Following the conclusion of the Gigatown Competition members of the Gigatown working group in Wanaka submitted a proposal in April 2015 to the QLDC long term funding plan (LTFP).  This submission included a ‘Plan’ that was designed to be a catalyst for growing economic development in the Upper Clutha region. The Plan was named the Centre of Unique Business Evolution or CUBE for short.  Wanaka business executive Jason Watkins led the organisation.

Building on the work of the CUBE and the input from others, Startup Queenstown Lakes was formed in November 2017.  The initial group was made up of Wanaka and Queenstown based entrepreneurs, changemakers and citizens with a primary goal to establish a productive, well-connected startup ecosystem in the District.  The initial group numbered almost 15 and from that a core group formed a ‘decision making’ subcommittee. This subcommittee was largely responsible for driving SQL and oversaw the generation of a formal proposal to the QLDC 10 Year Plan that unified the CUBE, CLICK (an independent incubator) and new startup ecosystem activities under the Startup Queenstown Lakes name.  

Post confirmation of funding from QLDC, a Trust Deed was generated and a Charitable Trust was formed, called Startup Queenstown Lakes Charitable Trust.  The Trust (2714451) was incorporated on 17 August, 2018 and has three Formation Trustees, who were part of the original SQL decision-making group;

  • A.J. Mason
  • Gemma Zust
  • Trent Yeo

The formation trustees led the organization while an independent committee vetted and appointed our Initial Trustees:

  • Wayne Hudson
  • David Wallace
  • Luke Taylor
  • Alexa Forbes, QLDC Appointee

In November 2018, James Burnes was appointed organisational lead by the Formation trustees and later, made Chief Executive Officer of the Trust by the Initial trustees. Burnes was an original member of the founding group and lead author of the submission to QLDC that garned funding and formalised the Trust's existence.

The First Year

In the initial year of the Trust, under Burnes' leadership the organisation:

  • We established an independent board of trustees providing governance with experience in investment, law, tourism, entrepreneurship, and community development. 
  • We carefully used QLDC funds to deliver programmes and activities that have serviced entrepreneurs and businesses from across the District.
  • We have operated more than 60 events that have built key relationships, upskilled entrepreneurs, connected talents together, and engaged individuals living (and visiting) who otherwise were disconnected from the community.
  • We have participated in numerous collaborations and planning sessions with local, regional, and national entities to find ways to stretch those dollars to maximize impact and value that will pay dividends in the future as the groundswell of activity takes place.
  • We have begun to work with the tourism industry to incubate a national footprint in the tourism tech, hospitality tech, and adventure tech space.
  • We have started  to work more closely with other economic development partners including Film Otago Southland, Study Queenstown, Destination Queenstown in addition to our longer-standing relationships with the Queenstown Chamber of Commerce and Ignite Wanaka Chamber of Commerce to be avoid duplication, leverage resources, and work collectively wherever possible.

Ultimately, we have set in motion the cultivation of fertile ground on which to grow a business, and we have established credibility among stakeholders in the community that will continue to help build a positive environment for entrepreneurs to pursue their big idea.

In June 2019, Queenstown Lakes District Council extended support of Startup Queenstown Lakes through June 2021, enabling the group to build on its momentum.

The organisation celebrated its first birthday on 24 November 2019 (recognised as when the board was established and handed over from the founding trustees and the organisation formalised activity as a trust).

In November the Board of Trustees welcomed Alexa Forbes as a full trustee (shifting from her previous appointment as a QLDC representative) and Michelle Trapski. Councillor Glyn Lewers joined as the new QLDC appointee.


Looking Ahead

In February 2020, Olivia Wensley was appointed the CEO of the Trust. She will help guide many initiatives including:

  • The return of Co.Starters entrepreneur bootcamp, in partnership with Hamilton-based Soda Inc.
  • A refined entrepreneur skill-building series, dubbed Foundations, that will give essential skills to entrepreneurs preparing to launch a new business idea.
  • Increased support for active entrepreneurs by business advisors
  • Continue to increase collaboration with the local Chambers of Commerce, national startup organisations, and private parties who express interest in supporting the local startup ecosystem.