The story of Nuance Connected Capital first began on an evening in 2019, when Adrien Gheur met Ngaio Merrick for the first time at an angel investors’ summit in Ōtautahi (Christchurch). The two chatted briefly that night, but it was long enough for favourable first impressions to form.
Adrien was impressed by Ngaio’s sharp intellect and direct yet genuine personality. Ngaio was initially struck by Adrien’s quiet intensity, with a laser focus on his ambition to create a venture fund that connected exceptional New Zealand entrepreneurs with smart capital from around the world.
“What continues to impress me with Ngaio is not just her ability to read and understand people and her strong empathy, but also her wicked, sharp intellect. Combine this with her relentless drive and energy, and I knew right off the bat that this was someone I wanted to work with. She doesn’t have a big ego and believes in the mission above herself.”
The seeds of the story had been planted a couple of years earlier in a café in Takapuna, Auckland, when Ngaio met Alvarium co-founder and Chair Andrew Williams. The pair significantly overshot their 20 minute scheduled meeting, spending over an hour together. Andrew worked with an international family office, while Ngaio managed the portfolio and investments of Sir David Levene - a role which she still holds. Like Adrien, Andrew appreciated Ngaio’s forthrightness and sharp wit. Ngaio meanwhile observed that Andrew shared the same passion for people and relationships as herself and Adrien, and had a strong moral fibre with similar values. Over the following years they stayed connected, bumping into each other at investment community events and in some instances even making the same investments.
Fast forward to 2021 and Ngaio decided to make a bold move. She rang Adrien and asked him in her signature blunt manner, “Look, are you hell bent on running your own fund, or are you open to taking on a founding partner who can help you find a cornerstone investor?”
Her work with Sir David Levene had been tailing off and Andrew had recently asked her if she might be interested in helping run a new venture fund for Alvarium. Adrien had previously raised the question with Ngaio of whether she might like to invest in Nuance, and as Ngaio began to put the puzzle pieces together, it turned out that she was exactly the kind of astute and experienced Kiwi partner that Adrien had been looking for.
“Although very different personalities, we think on the same wavelength. We raise each other's game, and when we work side by side on something it's like magic happens. What we do combined is much bigger than the sum of what we do individually, and it's great having that kind of interaction with a partner.”
From there things moved very quickly as Adrien and Ngaio formalised their relationship as founding partners of Nuance. Not long after, Alvarium signed on as the cornerstone investor committing $25m to Nuance. The partners have applied for matching funding from New Zealand’s government-funded Elevate NZ Venture Fund, and are aiming to achieve their target raise of $60m plus by their final close in March 2022.
As a small nation tucked away in the Pacific, New Zealand has always had an outsized impact on the world. It was the first nation to grant women the right to vote in 1893, much of the population took a strong stand against South African Apartheid in 1981, and Aotearoa New Zealand has long been leading many other western nations in indigenous rights.
The pioneering spirit of ingenuity, resourcefulness, and progressive thinking has infiltrated government and entrepreneurs alike. But the entrepreneurial community has a big problem. While remoteness may be the mother of all invention, the flipside is that many start-ups in New Zealand lack the corporate finance infrastructure to grow and still maintain control of their business. Most of the good ones can secure angel investment, but many get stuck when the time comes to seek Seed or Series A and B funding. Many founders face the choice of either moving offshore or taking in capital at a less favourable pre-money valuation within New Zealand. For Andrew, Alvarium’s investment in Nuance is about the mutually beneficial goals of diversifying its portfolio of investments into a relatively new asset class for the fund, while providing the much-needed boost of early stage capital that talented Kiwi founders need to scale globally.
“While many investors have traditionally thought of New Zealand as a holiday destination, some are now recognising the talent, diligence, and inventiveness of the entrepreneurs here. Having on the ground functionality in the venture capital scene will allow us to back early and growth stage companies here in New Zealand, and give them the opportunity to plug and play globally while maintaining control.”
Nuance is a fund that is focused on investing in deep tech, science, and innovation that either supports the environmental health of the planet or improves people’s lives. Targeting industries such as energy, climate, environment, agtech, deep tech, and health and wellbeing, there are fantastic opportunities to work with Kiwi founders who are already leading the world. New Zealand’s strong agricultural roots make intelligent agtech a particularly attractive investment opportunity.
One aspect that sets Nuance apart from other venture capital funds is the partners’ due diligence process, and their outsized focus on founders and teams. They put in the work to build the company alongside the founders, supporting and empowering them to build while nurturing a balance in mentoring them through their professional development. Rather than being “founder first”, which Adrien says is an overused phrase that is often misunderstood to mean handing over the reins to the founder entirely, the fund invests in people over products while serving as an active partner in business development. Ideas are plentiful, but exceptional entrepreneurs and teams are worth investing in.
“Early stage is more about picking the jockey than picking the horse. We are in the business of picking jockeys.” - Ngaio
The other major point of difference for Nuance is the strength of their international networks, which include prominent family offices and business owners across Asia, Europe, Middle East, and North America. Nuance leverages these networks to help Kiwi founders gain access to extensive industry channels in some of the world's largest and fastest growing markets. Whether it be the largest banking, manufacturing, agriculture, telecoms, and infrastructure networks in Southeast Asia, SMEs in Europe, or consumer businesses in the US, the fund’s network runs broad and deep.
These industry channels are not only a source of expertise and due diligence for Nuance to check the viability and applicability of start-up solutions, but also lead to business development, scaling, and exit opportunities for its portfolio companies. In addition, Nuance has access to Alvarium's in-house global tech investment banking team and their who's who rolodex of prominent corporate and tech investors around the world. Their role is to help Nuance's portfolio look for mergers, acquisitions, and expansion opportunities globally.
Going forward each of the two founding partners and Andrew bring diverse yet complementary skill sets. Adrien brings the structured thinking, the experience running a fund, and significant international connections. Ngaio brings wide-reaching New Zealand connections, technical expertise grounded in physics and deep-tech, and an incredible ability to read people. Andrew sees himself as the enabler who can connect entrepreneurs to Alvarium’s global clients, and provide a deep understanding of global themes and trends, both macro and micro, across a number of industries. He spends a lot of time reading the news from around the world, following politics and shifting demographics, and seeking to understand the drivers of change. The three share a background of growing up all over the world, moving between myriad different countries and cultures throughout their childhoods.
Ngaio and Adrien are very clear on how they want to operate within New Zealand’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. In addition to forging connections between New Zealand and international markets, they are aiming to build bridges between the different cities/regions within the country to become a truly national player. The two partners are keen to work closely and collaborate with angel investors, other funds, incubators, accelerators, and entrepreneurial networks across the country. Both firmly believe that New Zealand has the potential to be a much bigger player on the world stage.
By launching Nuance Connected Capital, they are looking forward to helping inject the capital, expert knowledge, international connections, and access to offshore markets that Kiwi entrepreneurs need to achieve their full potential.
“I’m excited to let the world know what amazing things are being built here. It’s so much more than dairy farms and Lord of the Rings - there’s actually some amazing innovation being built here, and we want to put it on the world’s radar.”