Stephen McPhail plans to help Manawatu start-up companies raise their sights. Tara Creaven wants local medical researchers to chase the commercialisation opportunities. If there’s a common theme between BCC’s two new recruits, it’s the desire to foster ambition and unlock potential.
As Stephen puts it, “Why not go after the bigger stage?” The Gore-raised investment manager has been brought in to coordinate BCC’s angel investor network and to help start-ups find funding. It’s a natural fit for a man whose CV includes stints as an investment banker, financial and investment analyst and company director, plus hands-on entrepreneurial experience founding two companies.
“I’m very interested in early stage companies and the issues around growing them, particularly their capital needs,” says Stephen. “I’ve also been an angel investor myself, so I’ve done both sides.”
Much of his career has played out across the Tasman, where he studied for an MBA and then stayed on, founding two gold exploration companies that eventually went on to list on the Australian stock exchange. One of those ventures, King Solomon Mines, is looking for copper and gold on the fringes of the Gobi Desert in Inner Mongolia. With that company now looking to “transition to the next iteration”, Stephen has decided to do likewise and reinvent himself. With his wife, the artist Olinka Heath, he has built a house at Otaki Beach, within easy striking distance of a 20-acre lifestyle block they own in the Otaki Valley.
The role at BCC has been an eye-opener. Among other things, he’s been “pleasantly surprised” at the cooperation between Kiwi angel investment groups and the level of organisation among local start-ups. “The way they present themselves is very good and I think that’s due to the angel guys working with them, as well as the impact of business accelerators and incubators.”
If he can see any weakness, it’s that aforementioned lack of ambition. “Sometimes you find people are focused only on the New Zealand market. They think that if they can get some domestic sales, earn a couple of million dollars, then that’s good enough. The goal is to get them to lift their eyes to a global target. But my impression is that the presence of angel investors – people who have been there and done that – has already started to make a difference.”
Tara Creaven, who arrives at BCC with more than two decades of experience in the field of medical commercialisation, is also aiming to open eyes. “A lot of medical researchers are very ‘in the data’,” she says. “I’m trying to give them perspective, a new view of where they might envisage their product.”
She certainly has the right background. Raised in Ireland in a family of engineers and scientists, she studied chemistry before deciding to move into the management side. “It was a choice made based on job opportunities. At the time there was over 20 per cent unemployment in Ireland. I headed to the US, to Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay area, which was a hive of activity.”
During the next 20-odd years she forged a career in the medical device sector, as well as in pharmaceuticals, drug and biologics development – often working for innovative start-ups funded by much larger global entities.
“In smaller company environments you get exposed to everything,” she says. “I not only had to manage funding, but also manage investor expectations, regulatory expectations and to be able to deliver on our commitments from a technical perspective. I ended up establishing a consultancy firm, providing those services on a contract basis to start-up enterprises.”
She says she’s always preferred working for herself or in small organisations “where you can get into the data and you don’t have to deal with layers of bureaucracy”.
In that sense, the new part-time role at BCC fits like a glove. She and her radiologist husband Patrizio Capasso moved to New Zealand for lifestyle reasons – “the kids were grown up and we decided to go on a last adventure” – but the work side of the move has proved surprisingly rewarding. “I really wasn’t sure what to expect, but I’ve found my skillset and years of experience can be readily applied here,” she says. “I’m impressed too with the calibre of the individuals I’m working with. I love the intellectual aspect of my job and to get to collaborate with really smart people like these professors at Massey is such a privilege.”
For now, Tara is working one day a week at BCC, focused on a single “very innovative” project in the urology space. But she’s hopeful of expanding the role next year. “I love the team here and what they’re doing,” she says.Posted by