Byron van Vugt, Senior Investment Analyst at NZ Growth Capital Partners
Dreams of becoming a Navel Architect expanded to an interest in Finance after observing KiwiRail being sold for $1. Byron van Vugt, Senior Investment Analyst at NZ Growth Capital Partners (NZGCP), has had a very interesting career journey into working in venture capital.
After studying and working as an engineer, Byron began to develop a deeper understanding of how businesses grow, which led him to a role with NZGCP. He shares some deeper insight into what NZGCP typically look for when investing in kiwi startups, his connection to how his work contributes to the wider New Zealand economy as well as highlighting the plethora of interesting startups across multiple sectors for anyone interested in working for one. Thanks for sharing your story, Byron.
“I ask young companies lots of questions about what they want to be when they grow up...”
How would you explain to a five-year-old what you do?
I ask young companies lots of questions about what they want to be when they grow up, and what they’re going to do to try get there.
And for the adults, what does that translate to in terms of your day-to-day?
The day-to-day of my role is rather varied. Typical activities include talking to founders and other investors about potential future investment opportunities, undertaking due diligence into current investment opportunities, portfolio company relationship management and being of assistance to our Aspire portfolio companies wherever I can.
What did you dream of doing when you were younger and how did you end up at NZ Growth Capital Partners (NZGCP)?
When I was young, I dreamed of being a Naval Architect. But I was then exposed to the idea of distressed debt investing around the same time as KiwiRail was sold for $1 and the corporate/financial world suddenly became interesting.
Unable to shake the desire to grow my technical knowledge I studied Mechanical Engineering alongside Finance and Marketing.
Graduate options in the Engineering world looked far more appealing than Finance, and I took a role in domestic refrigeration systems design.
After a few years, and with a greater understanding of how young companies grow, I started exploring options to join a venture capital fund. NZGCP was looking for someone with a technical background and took me on as an Analyst.
“We partner with other investors to support companies with aspirations of achieving great things, giving Kiwi innovators the leg up that they need to succeed.”
Can you tell us a little bit about NZGCP and what you love about working there?
NZGCP was established in 2002 by the New Zealand Government to stimulate investment into early-stage Kiwi companies with high-growth potential.
We partner with other investors to support companies with aspirations of achieving great things, giving Kiwi innovators the leg up that they need to succeed.
Our Aspire fund invests directly into early-stage NZ tech start-ups at the Seed and Angel investment stage. Our Elevate fund is a $300m venture capital fund of funds, investing directly into venture capital firms, and is aimed at filling the Series A and B capital gap for high growth NZ tech companies.
What I love most about working at NZGCP is that the results of my efforts in conducting thorough due diligence of Kiwi companies to enable good investments, will ultimately be shared with, and benefit, the wider New Zealand.
What gets you excited about the New Zealand tech ecosystem and why should more people be considering it as a career path?
The New Zealand tech ecosystem is as diverse as New Zealand itself, and it is rapidly expanding.
There’s no end to the interesting and novel ideas that are being developed by entrepreneurs in Aotearoa, and it's exciting to see the amount of research being taken down a commercialisation pathway.
That for me is enough to make it an exciting career path, but for those needing more convincing there’s also; a shortage of skills in the sector, increasing amounts of funding and opportunities to be a part of a mission led organisation where you can be a real influence on the company’s growth trajectory.
What are the key things you look for when investing in a company and how can that apply to people deciding where they might like to work?
No matter what stage a company is at, the strength of its leadership is critical to ensuring its long-term success. Both when assessing a company as an investment or an employer, the leadership team are key.
What motivates them to see the company succeed, are they capable of achieving this, are you aligned with their way of working and do you also want to be a part of the company achieving its goals?
“It’s important to look at your future self and envision how you feel about the impact you’ll have in any role you consider”
Lastly, why should our brightest talent be looking towards our start-up ecosystem instead of the tried-and-true corporate path?
From my perspective it’s important to look at your future self and envision how you feel about the impact you’ll have in any role you consider.
For every corporate there are 10’s if not 100’s of start-ups, each doing something wildly different and far more likely to be aligned with exactly what you want to do with your career. This leads to more engaging, purposeful, and rewarding work.
It’s also important to recognise that good talent doesn’t need to choose between a career in one or the other. There are plenty of options to either merge the two worlds, or to step in and out of each.