Lightning Lab Electric has support from some of the most innovation-focused companies in New Zealand and this support is not just limited to the energy sector. Today, we spoke to Grant Fleming and Brent Callaghan from Westpac about why they came to the table. Fleming is the Head of External Relations for Westpac, as well as serving on the board for the Westpac/Massey Fin-Ed Centre which works to improve financial literacy and change NZers monetary habits. Callaghan is the Wellington Area Commercial Manager, with a focus on working with Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs).

Westpac has had a keen focus over the past 10 years on a wide-ranging sustainability strategy – covering social, economic and environmental factors, including how it supports businesses that are driving positive environmental outcomes. Over the past few years, and again this year, Westpac has shown its support for growing companies with its Business Growth Grants which include a $50,000 first prize. Past recipients include Haka Tours (2015) and Method Recycling (2016).

To continue their support of growing businesses in NZ, Westpac became a sponsor of Lightning Lab Electric. As Grant explained: “We think a lot of energy innovation will drive better outcomes for both customers and the environment. We have a lot of relationships with larger companies in the energy sector, but we’re also keen to support startups and for us Lightning Lab Electric is about forming relationships, understanding what’s going on, and actually playing an active role in supporting the startup end of the spectrum.”

When it comes to the energy sector, Westpac has been looking at clean technology as a growth sector: Back in 2012, Westpac – alongside Riverstone Capital and Ernst & Young – started working with SolarCity. Grant said, that at the time, SolarCity had a different business model they wanted to take to market – Solar Zero – but they couldn’t get financing. “Together, we came up with a solution of how to finance their infrastructure to grow what was essentially, a consumer leasing proposition.” With Westpac’s input and institutional intellectual property around securitisation applied to their business, the solution was a success – celebrated by a 2016 win for innovation at the INFINZ awards.

More recently, this sustainability-focus has been highlighted with Westpac’s support of Air New Zealand and Mercury to promote and increase the use of electric vehicles (EVs) in the corporate sector in New Zealand by 75% before 2020, and their CEO David McLean has committed to transitioning 30% of their car fleet to EVs (around 80 cars) by 2020.

In a similar thread to Unison’s Thahirah Jalal, Westpac team expressed their interest in the re-conception of clean-tech, looking beyond hardware solutions and towards the potential of data, AI and cloud to optimise usage.

So when it came to supporting LLE, it was a perfect fit. Grant says that by working with LLE Westpac hopes to “create some value for society, and help the economy transition as climate change becomes a more and more real threat”.

Brent added that “something that’s really underutilised is the huge networks” Westpac has – and that ultimately they’re building an ecosystem of information.“Whenever we talk to growth companies and say ‘what is it that you want?’ a lot of the time they just want outfits like this (LLE), where they can share and bounce ideas off each other.”

What did LLE learn from Grant and Brent?

From the programme, James was happy to hear about the different support Westpac provides startups, with the hope that our ventures can grow their networks and may also be eligible for the grants in future.

From the ventures, Paul, from Polanyio, gained connections with energy users for customer validation surveys thanks to Westpac, and saw how eager Westpac is to learn more – asking for more frequent interactions with the tech & innovation scene in NZ and feedback based on the venture learnings.

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