The Icehouse Group

Annual Letter - 2020

The Icehouse group’s annual letter where we take the opportunity to look back on the last 12 months and give you a heads up on what 2021 holds in store.

Gavin Lennox - Group CEO


Hi to the community of supporters of Kiwi businesses and startups!

Welcome to The Icehouse group’s Annual Letter where we take the opportunity to look back on the last 12 months and give you a heads up on what 2021 holds in store.

It has been one year and a day since I took up the opportunity as Group CEO for The Icehouse and what a year it has been! COVID-19 dominated 2020 for everyone, globally. A few weeks after I joined in February the country went into Level 4 lockdown and we, together with our customers, scrambled to respond.


Andy and Gavin

Passing of the torch - Gavin Lennox with former CEO Andy Hamilton (left)


2020 was a particularly challenging time for all of us as we navigated the uncertainty of a COVID-impacted world. Many of us are glad to be moving forward; however, I’ve been privileged to witness the grit and bravery of our customers, all of whom have adapted in some way. Fortunately, some have thrived, though some have certainly struggled. 

I joined The Icehouse group because of its purpose - to help unleash the extraordinary potential of Kiwi business owners and startup founders through knowledge, investment and connections. This purpose provided a guiding light to how we responded to COVID – focusing quickly on helping Kiwi business owners and startup founders through the tough times.

Like many organisations, we had to make some hard decisions in 2020 including letting some people go. We’re proud that those affected have since found great roles in related industries.

Early in the COVID crisis The Icehouse shored up its balance sheet and more aggressively invested in projects that would allow us to continue supporting our over 4,000 Kiwi business alumni. We allocated resources including new hires in the areas of digital technology, online community building and online content creation. The launch of Icehouse Central, our community platform, our first fully online programme, Taking Your Business Forward; and a doubling of coaching and advisory engagements were among the investments made to support Kiwi businesses. In addition, we celebrated two significant milestones – our 50th Owner Manager Programme and our 1000th OMPer.

For startups and investors, Icehouse Ventures doubled-down on seizing this once in a lifetime opportunity as the world’s economy is reshaped by the pandemic. Ventures invested over $35m in 2020 and made their 200th startup investment – a major milestone.

2021 will be another big year when we celebrate the 20th anniversary of The Icehouse and keep building momentum so that The Icehouse and Icehouse Ventures remain lasting, iconic and sustainable organisations.

Thank you for your continued support of The Icehouse group – we look forward to the journey toward the next 20 year anniversary!

What were the highlights for The Icehouse group in 2020?

The Icehouse group has two entities: The Icehouse serving Kiwi business owners and supporting ecosystem, and Icehouse Ventures serving startups and the investor community.



  • 327 owners and leaders attended workshops, programmes, and 266 were engaged in coaching and advisory
  • Served over 700 Kiwi Business Owners (300 new, 400 repeat)
  • Over 50 webinars with more than 5,000 views during lockdown
  • New global partnership with Youth Business International and Google
  • Delivered our first fully online programme, Taking Your Business Forward targeted at Kiwi businesses with $1-3M turnover 38 Kiwi business owners and leaders received scholarships to attend Icehouse programmes funded by alumni donors and partners of The Icehouse including Xero, BNZ and CAANZ.
  • Launched Icehouse Central, our alumni community platform
  • The Icehouse co-working space occupancy bounced back to 81% after dipping to <50% during lockdowns


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  • Launched the new online Investor Portal to provide portfolio reporting and analysis
  • Invested in our 200th startup (now over 230)
  • >100 new fund investors and 50 new angel members added to our community
  • Invested >$33m (a record and up by 25% from 2019) across 85 companies (34 new, 51 follow on)
  • Launched and oversubscribed ArcAngels Fund which will invest in 20 female-led startups.
  • Led the capitalisation of Level Two (the deep tech lab space that served as home of Rocket Lab, Mint, Lanzatech, and others) and raised $10m for a deep tech fund.
  • Hosted both our 10th Annual Angel Investment Showcase and 5th Demo Day, held virtually in 2020 attended by over 700 investors.



Impact Report

As a purpose-driven organisation, each year we measure our impact by our customers’ growth and success. Our annual Impact Report gives an insight into key metrics – jobs, revenue and export growth. We have tracked the impact The Icehouse group have had on our alumni and startups over the last 19 years.

The key take aways from this year’s report are:

  • $22.3B revenue and 45K new jobs created by Icehouse alumni or startups since 2001
  • Revenue increased by $2.8B in 2020 (an increase of 14.5%)
  • Export earnings grew by $889M in 2020 (an increase of 14.9%)
  • 3,687 new jobs added in 2020 (an increase of 8.8%)
  • Our network of alumni businesses contributes 6.1% of all New Zealand's enterprise earnings and employs 5.66% of all people employed in New Zealand when comparing to Stats NZ survey data.



View Report Here


In addition to the ‘hard’ metrics, we asked our Icehouse alumni about their challenges and opportunities in 2020 and how they were doing personally. People or staff-related issues were cited as the number one challenge highlighted by a third of respondents. Top of the list were finding, recruiting, then retaining the right people. Almost a quarter of respondents specified finding ‘skilled’ staff was a challenge.

Unsurprisingly, Covid-19 is seen as a major challenge for almost a third of respondents particularly the ongoing uncertainty affecting staff, clients, markets and supply chain. There was a general fear of a virus resurgence and subsequent lockdowns. While Covid was a challenge for many it was also identified as an opportunity for 8% of the group providing an opportunity to streamline resources and become more efficient.

Financial challenges such as rising costs and cashflow management were highlighted by 12% of respondents.



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On the flipside, it has been a year of significant growth for 20% of respondents, through acquisitions and increased market share. They shared comments like “our best year ever by a huge margin“, and “Amazing year. Now in Boom. Haven’t seen this for forty years.”

This growth has enabled some companies to attract and hire new staff and returning talent to the local market (business and staff) is enabling more opportunities. “I think we’ve hired more staff this year than any other so far.”



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Lockdowns took a toll on Kiwi business owners’ personal well-being, but on the whole our alumni rated themselves positively for resilience. Some of the more poignant comments were:

“We have never stopped and felt sorry for ourselves however this has been a far more challenging time for us than the Christchurch earthquakes ever were. We have made 50 people redundant which is a big loss but we are working really hard to keep our team positive.”

“Reluctant to share feelings of isolation and logistical difficulties of business during Covid measures, however possibility of enhanced business is real.”


Finally, we’re grateful that our alumni let us know we made a difference:

“Great communication from Icehouse all through, thank you. Thankful that I had attended the Owner Manager Programme and made changes prior to this happening.”

Icehouse Ventures asked their startup founders what one thing could help Kiwi startups achieve more. 21% said access to capital and talent were key. They also valued peer support and knowledge and connections to go off-shore.

Finally we asked which startups they admired and why. Xero was most frequently mentioned, followed by Rocket Lab, Sharesies, Aroa and Mint Innovation. Interestingly what was most admired was social impact, innovation and passion. Going global was also a common theme.


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Clarifying our positioning

With the spin-out of Icehouse Ventures in 2019 it was time to better clarify the brand positioning of both The Icehouse and Icehouse Ventures. Our teams spent time with an external agency, their respective customers and stakeholders to distil the essence of who we serve and what we stand for. We came up with two manifestos – take a look below.

The Icehouse – “Grit Goes Further Together”

We studied success. Not flash-in-the-pan, easy come easy go, overnight success.   The real kind. People who achieved meaningful things. And kept achieving them.​

We asked what made them so successful. And you know what we found? It wasn’t brains. Or beauty. Or luck. Or God-given gifts. It was grit. A funny little word for a great big important idea. That passion and perseverance are more valuable than anything when it comes to making it. ​

And you know what Kiwi Business Owner-managers all have in common? Yeah, grit. They’re determined, they’re street smart, they’re resourceful, they’re resilient. Where others say ‘we can’t’, they say ‘we can’. Where others just talk, they get out and do. ​

And grit pays off. That grit gets them further than any amount of IQ or luck. Often all by themselves. Then eventually, that grit asks ‘what’s next?’ How can we go further? ​

As the saying goes, if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. The Icehouse is the place to go together. To experience the confidence found in a community of others that have that same abundance of grit. To learn from the best, and from each other. ​

As we’ve seen from the more than 4,000 Kiwi Business Owner Managers who’ve experienced The Icehouse since 2001, when they come together in this way, they go on to grow at a rate that’s two and a half times the average business. Grit arrives alone, leaves together, and goes far, far further. ​


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Marlborough Icehouse alumni



Icehouse Ventures – “Backing Brave”

Setting out to change the world from New Zealand is the bravest thing a startup founder can do. ​

That kind of bravery is exactly what’s required to challenge, disrupt, inspire, persist, build the biggest companies and make the biggest contribution back to New Zealand. ​

We’re a country of brave. Brave firsts. Brave yeses. Brave noes. Now, more than ever, the challenges we face need brave solutions.​

As they say, fortune favours the brave. So if it's fortune we want, it's brave we need.​

Icehouse Ventures exists to back the world’s bravest Kiwi founders, launching global companies from New Zealand. One startup can define a generation. Our mission is to back them.​


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Dawn Aerospace

What's Next?

2021 will be a year of recovery and growth for many businesses. Let’s hope for a rapid vaccine roll-out and a permanent return to face-to-face gatherings in 2021 – Zoom and Teams are great, but nothing beats meeting in person.

We’ve got a lot planned. Look out for: 

  • The Icehouse’s 20th anniversary will be mid-year – stay tuned for what we have planned to mark this huge milestone
  • We’ve increased the number of Owner Manager Programmes from three to four to accommodate demand
  • We’re running four of our new online programmes for SMEs between $1-3m, Taking Your Business Forward
  • The Icehouse will expand to the South Island creating a permanent footprint in Christchurch
  • After the temporary halt during the lockdowns, the final refurbishment and expansion of The Icehouse co-working space in Parnell will be completed in the first quarter. Come and visit our new and improved space where startups and SMEs connect!


For your calendar:

  • April – final refurbishment of our central Auckland co-working space opens
  • May 27th – The Icehouse Conference, Auckland with guest speakers including Frances Valintine, John Kirwan and Annah Stretton
  • June 17-18 – OMX 16 (Owner Manager Exchange) in Queenstown
  • June – Demo Day with hand-picked startups pitching
  • August – The Icehouse group 20th Anniversary celebration & Angel Investment Showcase
  • October 21-23 – OMX 17


And finally…

For the entire team, from our board members, coaches and advisors, to our investors, Kiwi business owners, founders, presenters, partners, facilitators and leaders – all of this could not have happened without you. Thank you.

Thanks for taking the time to read The Icehouse group Annual Letter for 2020. We hoped you enjoyed your break and are refreshed for the new year.


All the best for 2021.


Gavin Lennox
Icehouse Group CEO


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The Icehouse Team Christmas Party