Tech & Innovation Briefing Gives Tourism Leaders Insight to Pipeline of Activity

On 20 February, representatives from Startup Queenstown Lakes and Creative HQ's Lightning Lab Accelerator gave an update to leaders of the tourism, hospitality, and adventure operator community at briefings in Queenstown, Cromwell, and Wanaka.

The briefings were intended to bring attendees a download of upcoming initiatives and programmes that they could leverage for their business. "There is a groundswell of activity happening locally and nationally that can have a tremendous impact on your industry and business," said James Burnes, CEO of Startup Queenstown Lakes. "This session is so you know what's going on in advance, so you can plot how you want to leverage these opportunities.

Across the 3 programmes, more than 40 district businesses, the regional tourism organizations, and numerous tech startup founders were in attendance.

James Burnes shares why now is the time to take action for a tourism, hospitality and adventure tech initiative.
James Burnes shares why now is the time to take action for a tourism, hospitality and adventure tech initiative.

Burnes was joined by Laura Reitel, Head of Acceleration for Creative HQ in Wellington. Reitel oversees numerous investment funds in early stage companies and is also a team member of the Angel Association of New Zealand.

The one-hour briefing was fast-paced and addressed numerous programmes including:

Tourism Challenges Forum - A collaborate working discussion among tourism leaders on 7 March to identify solvable problems facing the tourism industry that could have commercial or social-impact outcomes in the 6/12/24 months.

Lightning Lab Tourism Accelerator - A three-month programme with mentors, advisors, and project management framework to help startups and project teams launch and scale a solution 10x faster than can be achieved on their own.

Startup Weekend Dunedin Road Trip - A 54 hour weekend experience that gives professionals an opportunity learn how to use lean startup methodology, quick idea validation skills, and innovating thinking to test and launch an idea in less than 3 days.

Queenstown Collaboration Space - A new landing pad to bring together developers, entrepreneurs, investors, innovators, and big thinkers together into a collaborative, co-working space in the heart of Queenstown's CBD and support new and emerging ventures.

Venture Up! - A two-week programme for aspiring entrepreneurs ages 16-22 to learn how to approach problem solving and launch a new idea. Ideal for young people who are the future talent of the local tourism and business community.

Tourism Tech Seed Capital Fund - A seed investment fund raised and managed by local investors and executives to invest in new and emerging technologies and companies serving the tourism, hospitality and adventure space in the district and around NZ.

Tourism Tech Expo & Showcase - A new technology and innovation event highlighting technology providers serving the tourism, hospitality, and adventure industry from throughout NZ to connect with investors and operators.

Startup Weekend Queenstown Lakes - A second opporutnity, locally, for local tourism and hospitality operators to send their best and brightest talent to learn new skills and build skills around innovation and rapid idea testing and improvement.

Tourism Innovation Hub - A national effort that has been proposed to Central government to address New Zealand's biggest tourism problems through a dedicated research and development team and partnership serving the entire country.

More information about each of the programmes above is available further in this article.

A video of the presentation was not recorded, but Burnes and Reitel have made a copy of their slides available below:

Scheduled to attend and present at the briefing was Peter Harris, economic development manager for Queenstown Lakes District Council. Harris could not attend because he was meeting in Wellington with Central government about the Tourism Innovation Hub. Burnes covered the topic on Harris' behalf.

Tourism Challenges Forum focuses on problems, not solutions

One of the principal problems within innovation and new technology development is that the kickoff for teams is an idea for a problem in search of a solution.

"Many big-picture problems have been presented to the industry that are too grand or complex for most hackers and founders to tackle," said Burnes. The 1 day program, which includes a bus trip from Queenstown to Glenorchy's Camp Glenorchy and back, will give 45 attendees representing a wide variety of businesses a chance to discuss and document problems that face their businesses that could, and should, have a viable solution launched in 12 months or less.


"When we get back off the bus in Queenstown, the participants will have helped us document 10-15 real problems that we can package up and present to innovators, developers, R&D teams, and startups in New Zealand and the world to solve."

Burnes emphasized the problems the forum would seek to identify would be outside of sales and marketing including supply chain, logistics, staff training and retention, finances and operations, waste management, etc. "This session is not just about how to attract more guests - we need to be looking much more broadly into the operational challenges facing hospitality, tourism, and adventure businesses," said Burnes.

When: Thursday, 7 March. Bus departs "The Station" at Duke Street in Queenstown at 10 a.m. and will return promptly by 3:30 p.m.

Cost: Free. Participation in the event is by selection to ensure broad experiences and perspectives in the industry. 45 seats available.

Who should attend? Individuals who are critical thinkers and capable of seeing problems from different angles. Ideal participants work in team discussion well and are working "in the field" on a regular basis.

To request a spot:


Lightning Lab Tourism Accelerator is first of its kind for the industry

Since 2013, startup and innovation brains at Creative HQ in Wellington have been operating business accelerator programs to help startup teams launch 10x faster than they could on their own.

The accelerator has evolved into a 3-month intensive programme that brings up to 10 teams from around the country together to work in a structured programme accompanies by mentors, business advisors, and project managers who understand how to rapidly iterate, test, and evolve a business model.

"The outcomes of accelerators are really amazing," said Reitel, who has administered more than a dozen programmes. "Teams have raised more than $30M NZD and of those teams that raised capital, nearly 72% are still operating today - far above the norm for new startups," she said.

This year is the first accelerator for tourism-focused businesses. 4 key themes have been identified:

  1. Informing the tourism industry with better data and insights
  2. Achieving visitor dispersal
  3. Achieving value over volume
  4. Understanding New Zealand’s visitors

Programme participants will also have access to a combined tourism database, that will be administered by Qrious to help develop their solutions. Teams will work directly with tourism industry partners and practice market validation and product development methods used by companies like Google, IDEO, and Tesla. At the end of the three months, each venture will have the opportunity to pitch for investment at Demo Day, in front of some of the top angel investors and early-stage venture funds in the country.

Reitel was in Dunedin the following day to share more about the programme. Startup Dunedin live streamed the entire session hosted by Innov8HQ, which you can watch via their Facebook page.

Applications for the programme are open now. The deadline to apply is 1 April. Learn more on their website at

Investment: Startup teams can receive a $20,000 NZD investment for up to 6% equity. taking investment is not required.

Location: The Accelerator will be based out of the Christchurch International Airport in a dedicated space. Participants are expected to work onsite Mon-Fri during the three-month programme.

Cost: There is no cost to apply and teams who are selected are not required to take investment from the accelerator's fund.

Questions? Send questions to Lauren Reitel at or reach her via phone at +64 22 386 6830.


2 Startup Weekends are on the horizon to build an entrepreneurial skillset

Startup Weekend is an international programme for individuals to learn what it takes to conceptualize, test, and validate a new business idea in just 54 hours. Often promoted as a way to 'launch a business in a weekend' the event really isn't about starting a company, but rather learning the processes any startup team uses to fail fast, pivot, and get an idea to market in the fastest, most efficient way possible.

"Startup Weekend is an incredible opportunity for you or your team to learn the critical skills needed in today's economy," said Burnes. "Testing ideas, getting prospective customer feedback, iterating a concept quickly are skills that any savvy business owner or leadership team should possess."

Burnes and Reitel both emphasized the life-changing experience it can be. Both have been involved as participants and mentors, and Reitel is a certified facilitator for the programme which takes place around New Zealand.

There are two locally organized events currently scheduled in which your organization can participate. Individuals may also participate who are not affiliated with the tourism, hospitality, or adventure industry.

Dunedin: 5-7 April

Startup Queenstown Lakes is organizing vans from Wanaka and Queenstown to bring participants to the Otago Capital. It is recommended to send 1 person from your team to learn the process and bring back those skills to the team.

Queenstown: 18-20 October

For the first time in 5 years, a Startup Weekend will be hosted in the Queenstown Lakes District. Only 60 spots are available It is recommended to send 2-3 members who you believe are future leaders or high-influence members of your team.


Burnes emphasized that this experience is not about launching a new business, but rather about learning the skills and frameworks used by successful high-growth companies.

"Most people won't come with an idea they'd like to pursue, and that's OK," said Burnes. On Friday night, any one who wants to pitch an idea can do so. Once all the ideas are heard, all the participants self-form teams around the individuals and ideas they are most interested in pursuing over the remaining hours in the programme.

From Friday night until late Sunday afternoon, teams of 5-6 people will work vigoursly to mature their business model, get a proof concept created, talk to customers, and validate their idea so that on pitch night, in front of 3 judges, they can give a 5-minute presentation showcasing their progress.

"It's very competitive, but always fun," said Reitel. Burnes agreed, "Working on an idea that is outside of your normal professional life, oftentimes somone else's, is extremely challenging but also rewarding. On Monday morning you got back to your 'normal' job and it's all you talk about for the next week."

Cost: $99 per participant includes all meals during the event. Transportation to Dunedin (via organized van) is provided by Startup Queenstown Lakes.

Accommodation costs are on your own and Startup Queenstown Lakes will help attendees arrange split rooms if requested.

Book A Ticket: Tickets are first come, first served.

  • Dunedin: Buy now.
  • Queenstown: Not available until after 1 April

You may request up to two tickets be held for your company via email:


Venture Up will inspire youth to launch new enterprise

Another program taking place in the district is Venture Up!, organized by Creative HQ. Taking place during the Easter school holiday for two weeks, Venture Up! is designed to give youth 16-22 years old an opportunity to explore entrepreneurship by using the same principles explored in Startup Weekend, only with a longer duration.


While not a program specific for tourism, hospitality, and adventure operators, it's about investing in future talent noted Reitel. "These young people are brilliant and when you give them the tools to evaluate good ideas and how to act on them, they will be inspired for a lifetime," said Reitel.

If you know a young person who could benefit by participating in this free experience, applications are now open at


Collaboration Space Will Give Innovators & Teams A Place to Land

One of the most important components of a thriving startup ecosystem is having a place for individuals to come together and connect and collaborate. While Wanaka has two dedicated coworking environments, The Cell and The Engine Room, there is no dedicated space in Queenstown. (Fluid offers their ShareSpace working area and the Hangar remains open until the new owner starts a new construction development on the land)

"Having an easy-to-access space for innovators, developers, investors, and creatives to come and interact is important to sparking big ideas," said Burnes.

Startup Queenstown Lakes is currently looking for an ideal space to operate a 90-day pop-up in the Queenstown area to see if and how the community will use it. "Like any good experiment, we want to test the idea before we make a major commitment," said Burnes.

The space is expected to launch as early as May 2019. Burnes indicated at the briefing that a few business partners had raised their hand to help out and that announcements regarding the space would be coming soon.

"We want the space to be a catalyst for action and to get work done," Burnes noted. Expected users include small scale startup teams already underway, solo entrepreneurs working on the early stages of their idea, and collaborative teams coming together to launch an idea.

Burnes hopes that some of the ideas that come from the Tourism Challenges Forum will spark the creation of teams who can use the space to begin creating solutions. He speculates that some teams that apply to the Lightning Lab Tourism Accelerator may also find the space a good place to work from if they can't make the jump to work in Christchurch.

The space will also serve as a welcome door to visitors coming into the district looking for ways to participate in the economy in a more meaningful and longterm way. Burnes noted the countless developers, investors, creators, and executives who pass through the district's streets on holiday who aren't able to easily discover ways to find a business connection that keeps them contributing to the economy after their holiday is gone.

"The collaboration space is just one more way we can help diversify the economy and leverage our destination status to attract and return high-impact individuals and changemakers who fall in love with our communities," said Burnes.

Individuals interested in a membership or contributing to the launch of the space should contact Burnes directly at


Expo to put region on the map the has global hub for tourism and adventure tech

One of the Queenstown Lake's key advantages is its global destination status for adventure and holiday. More than 150 adventure tourism operators along with more than 400 hospitality, accomodation and related businesses are based in this small region.

Numerous national and global success stories exist here already in the space including Wherewolf, First Table, Chomp, Loaded, and many more in some stage of launch.

"We're excited to announce today that we will host a tourism, hospitality, and adventure tech export in Queenstown on 23 August at the Queenstown Memorial Centre," said Burnes.

We expect to have innovative companies from around the country here for the one-day event showcasing their emerging and cutting edge technology and innovations.

The event will be a in two parts with a lunch/afternoon session for investors and teh companies followed by an open pitch night and showcase for tourism, hospitality, and adventure operators to meet demoing companies one-on-one.

Demo Your Product

Tech companies interested in showcasing their product will be able to apply for a booth. Applications open in April.

There is no charge for a booth fee, but a selection process will be used to determine vendors.

Attending the Showcase

Qualified investors and fund representatives will be able to attend the afternoon session.

Tourism, hospitality, and adventure operators, and the public, will be able to attend the evening event, starting at 4 p.m.

The name of the expo has not yet been announced. The showcase will include pitch presentations from the 10 ventures participating in Lightning Lab Tourism Accelerator as well as companies from Queenstown Lakes, New Zealand and overseas.


Seed capital fund to support the regional initiative

With the right people, the right problems, and the right space available for innovators to launch something great, the missing ingredient is having early-stage capital ready to invest in good ideas.

Startup Queenstown Lakes is helping to organize an independently managed seed capital fund targeting tourism, hospitality, and adventure tech business ideas that are focused on generated high-growth income without requiring an increase in visitors.

The fund, which is in early stage development and being led by Burnes and members outside of Startup Queenstown Lakes, will be managed by a professional fund and due diligence entity and utilize a tourism executive investment board to assist in the due diligence process.

The initial funding sources will include a combination of corporate and private investors from within the district. Investments will include companies locally-based as well as throughout NZ.

Individuals interested in the fund, which will formally be announced this winter in time for investment at the expo in August, should contact Burnes at


Looking for additional detail? Or just want to stay in the loop about the initiatives detailed in this summary. Email Startup Queenstown Lakes at and let us know how we can keep you in the loop.