Environment & Engineering

New Zealand innovators and investors leading the charge on sustainable energy

Published May 17, 2023

As global temperatures rise, so does the pressure to develop new clean energy technologies. New Zealand is home to a growing number of businesses disrupting bottlenecks in energy innovation, and venture capitalists backing their vision of a sustainable future.

Key players in New Zealand’s emerging clean technology sector were brought together this Tech Week through a panel discussion on the future of energy hosted by Wellington UniVentures, WNT Ventures and Pacific Channel.

Held at Victoria University of Wellington’s Kelburn campus, the packed event connected members of the investor, research and business communities.

The first of the two-part panel featured founders creating the cleantech companies of tomorrow. The founders shared their start-up journeys to date and the ongoing challenges of bringing their deeply disruptive technologies to market:

Paul Geraghty, CEO of Liquium: “The technical and commercial development are equally challenging. In order to land a commercial contract, you have to de-risk your technology to a point and be able to communicate that and show value and benefit to an investor group. The technical challenge is that you don’t always know the outcome, and you don’t even know the innovation that you’re going to have to discover.”


Perzaan Mehta, CEO of Vortex Power Systems: “With something as frontier as what we’re trying to do, there is a chasm that needs to be crossed. The key is to find good partners and good investors who can see where you are and where you’re trying to go, and can back you until you can overcome that perception barrier.”


Jérôme Leveneur, co-founder & CTO of Bspkl: “I have always wanted my research to have a real tangible and positive impact in the “real-world”. With bspkl we are poised to do just that by bringing innovative manufacturing solutions to support clean hydrogen deployment especially in industry sectors that are hard to decarbonise.”


The founders’ panel was followed by a session with some of the local investors backing these companies. Investors discussed the role of venture capital investment in shaping a sustainable future and shared advice for innovators aiming to disrupt the energy sector.

Ashwath Sundaresan, Investment Manager of Pacific Channel: “The future of our environment is all-encompassing. If we want to enable a future where that ensures the next generations can live sustainably, where we’re not polluting the environment and we’re not wasting resources, then we need a whole-of-society approach. Venture capital has a critical role in this change, simply put our role is to find, fund, support, and grow companies that are creating compelling breakthrough technologies that look at how we sustainably produce and use energies that minimise emissions, reduce energy poverty, and maximise how much bang for buck we get from the energy we have.”


Maria Jose Alvarez, Managing Partner at WNT Ventures: “Developing deeptech solutions focusing on energy and climate requires rigor and long-term commitment. As the theme of our evening suggests, there are no silver bullets, and as investors, we are interested in finding teams with early-stage opportunities that are solving global issues. These solutions are usually capital intensive and require patient capital to grow alongside it, so I encourage founders to seek investors that align with their vision and can provide pathways for commercialisation and growth.”


Melissa Yiannoutsos, Innovation Fund Manager at Booster: “As a country, we have a growing global reputation for smart, relevant, clean energy and climate change solutions. Getting behind homegrown solutions is critical and provides the opportunity to change the fabric of our economy, with high value job creation, retaining IP and shared knowledge, ultimately improving Kiwis’ standard of living – whilst generating returns for our investors. Down the road, all of this contributes to a stronger future for New Zealand.”


Jane Evans, Wellington UniVentures’ head of Environment and Engineering, moderated the investors' panel. Jane says technology transfer offices like Wellington UniVentures are linchpins in the sustainable energy transition, helping nurture new inventions into successful businesses that will operate on the global stage.

New Zealand is already a success story when it comes to renewable electricity, with over 80% of our electricity coming from hydro, geothermal and wind. But clean electricity makes up less than half of all the energy consumed in New Zealand, so the next challenge is reducing our reliance on oil and gas.

“We are at a pivotal moment in the energy transition, and New Zealand has the chance to once again lead the world. Step one on that journey is nurturing deep tech research, and much of that research happens at universities,” says Jane.

“From green steel to electric aeroplane engines, the clean energy technologies being developed at Victoria University of Wellington are not just impressive, they are world-class.

“The problems we are solving are global, so the solutions need to hold their own on the world stage too. It’s a challenge but it’s also an incredible opportunity. Together with innovators and investors, we are building a sustainable future of energy.”

A recording of the panel discussions is available online: https://vstream.au.panopto.com/Panopto/Pages/Viewer.aspx?id=eb97a05b-cece-452f-ab1a-afff0048267e