Published: 23 JUN 2022

GD1 from left: Chintaka Ranatunga, Gary Wong, Conal Parker, Sinead Burns, John Kells, Heather Gadonniex, Catherine Young, Vignesh Kumar, Erin Anderson Scott.

In our fifth profile of Auckland VC funds, we talk with Vignesh Kumar from Global From Day 1 (GD1) about helping Aotearoa New Zealand’s ambitious tech founders find global success 

Established in 2012, GD1 is a Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland-based venture capital fund raising its third fund. Targeting $160–170 million, it is GD1’s largest fund to date. A solid team, deep global expertise and strong investor confidence have enabled GD1 to become a significant player in New Zealand and beyond.

The fund’s investment remit spans health tech, hardware-enabled software, Web3, enterprise software and deep tech. “We look for investments that are anchored by strong products or deep science, primarily through the lens of business-to-business interactions,” notes Vignesh Kumar, GD1’s Co-Managing Partner.

“There’s been a massive expansion  of ambitious founders who want to build world-leading companies from New Zealand,” says Kumar. “Our primary goal is to help our portfolio clients achieve that 'outsized’ global success from here.”

After a decade in the venture capital market, GD1 has established a leadership position in New Zealand’s early-stage ecosystem. “This is precisely what institutional and other investors want to see – Angel-stage investing supported by Seed, Series A and B, so these companies can get lift-off globally for the benefit of the founders, investors and New Zealand’s global reputation. Investing in the New Zealand technology ecosystem also enables us to diversify our economy,” says Kumar.

GD1’s primary target audience is both onshore and offshore investors and co-investors who are increasingly looking to fund New Zealand companies with a reputation for building efficient, category-  leading organisations.   

Incorporating ESG values

Over the past five years, Kumar has observed a growing global interest in investment in the  deep tech, clean tech and health tech sectors. Seeing this as a natural fit that reflects its own commitment to environmental, social and governance (ESG) values, GD1 has invested in several companies in these sectors. 

One such company is Junofem, which produces a medical device that enables women to proactively manage their pelvic floor health. Junofem’s solution was based on technology from the Auckland Bioengineering Institute at The University of Auckland and is supported by international clinical studies. 

This tie-up with university-derived science and engineering is another hallmark of the GD1 investment programme. GD1 supports Return on Science, a unique programme that  identifies and validates venture-grade teams and technology that receive public research funding in New Zealand.

“We want to work with companies that leave a tangible imprint on how we can live our lives more mindfully and set the foundations for future generations,” says Kumar.

GD1 is a signatory of Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI), a member of the Responsible Investment Association Australasia (RIAA), and is going through the Toitū Envirocare and B Corporation certification processes.

GD1’s team also brings skills and experience gained in Silicon Valley to help portfolio companies navigate the opportunities of ESG-focussed investment on a global market. GD1’s Chief Marketing Officer Heather Gadonniex was leading brand and go-to-market teams for Silicon Valley startups and helped build customised ESG and impact programmes for companies around the world. Heather says that GD1 supports companies to “meaningfully adapt policies through a pragmatic, rather than overzealous, approach to ESG.”

Committing to a lifecycle of investment

Kumar describes GD1 as a ‘life cycle investor’, encouraging a symbiotic relationship between the company, founders and investors. He likens the business arrangement to a marriage, whose success depends on like-minded values. This alignment in core values enables the GD1 team to work with portfolio companies to drive growth and ultimately increase returns for investors. 

“It’s a long-term journey for new companies, and ultimately, we want to prove that we’re a worthy partner to help them grow. They look for those value markers beyond capital input, including the ability to advise on growth, product or operations strategy and, in many cases, to be an empathetic ear that helps solve the big challenges founders face.”

As a biomedical engineer himself and an Apple alumni, Kumar has the background to identify and validate credible founders. Many are emerging from knowledge institutions, such as the Auckland Bioengineering Institute and Crown Research Institutes. 

Biomedical case study: Formus Labs  

Formus Labs is an orthopaedic software development company that has created the world’s first automated 3D planner for joint replacement surgeries, providing surgeons with unprecedented insight into the pre-operative planning process. Spun out of the University of Auckland, Formus Labs positions itself as the “future of orthopaedic planning”. GD1 tracked the company’s progress from its earliest days and was especially impressed with the integrity and drive of its Founder and CEO Ju Zhang and the world-class research of Co-Founder and Chief Scientific Officer Professor Thor Besier.

“They are leaders in the field of orthopaedics, specifically musculoskeletal orthopaedics, and have deep credibility from decades of research,” says Kumar. “Formus wanted to build something that would make a real difference for patients.”

In February 2022, the company announced it had raised US$5 million towards the public launch of its orthopaedic surgery planning solution. The investment was led by GD1and the company will use the funds to accelerate product development and its expansion into the United States. At the same time, Formus Labs formalised its partnership with Zimmer Biomet, a global medical technology leader. Zimmer Biomet committed to the co-development and commercialisation of the Formus Hip software in Australia and New Zealand, as well as to the pursuit of global expansion.

“Over the last decade or so, we’ve seen pioneers – folks like wireless power company PowerbyProxi, with tech spun out from the University of Auckland (and acquired by Apple) who’ve proven that deep tech isn’t only a labour of engineering love from the Bay Area,” says Kumar.

“We’re seeing explosive growth and ambition in our science and engineering-based technology” notes Kumar. "That ambition has expanded to meet global market opportunities, and GD1 provides its limited partners with exposure to a portfolio of New Zealand’s world-class deep tech companies.”

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DISCLAIMER: This article provides general information on potential investment opportunities in Auckland and is not intended to be used as a substitute for financial advice. The views and opinions expressed are those of the relevant author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Tātaki Auckland Unlimited. Tātaki Auckland Unlimited disclaims all liability in connection with any action that may be taken in reliance of this article, and for any error, deficiency, flaw or omission contained in it.