The Icehouse: It’s a Lot Warmer Than It Sounds

Posted by Gareth Bayliss on Oct 25, 2018 3:51:50 PM

“I saw something on Facebook and want to know how I can apply for some investment in my startup”

“Oh, The Icehouse? I heard that you invest in tech startups aye?”

“Icehouse as in the incubator for startups?”

These are a few of the responses I have heard when in conversations with people in the past few months. And this got me thinking: how does New Zealand perceive The Icehouse?

In my role I travel a lot and I often speak to the person next to me. After my last flight where I had to explain that The Icehouse does a lot more “than support startups” I got to thinking about who The Icehouse is and what we do.


From left to right: Gareth Bayliss (Customer Growth Partner), Elena Sevastianova (Delivery Support Executive) and Chris Heard (Owner, Bauhaus and attendee of the Owner Manager Programme) at The Icehouse Conference 2018.

The investment side of The Icehouse does some stellar work with some amazing businesses, but it is a misconception that this is all we do. In fact, this wasn’t where The Icehouse started. Founded 17 years ago with the initiative of a couple of visionary people including the ex-CEO of Heinz Watties Australasia David Irving, The Icehouse was created as a “business growth hub” to support established Kiwi business owners to grow their business or deal with the growth they were having in their businesses. What happens when a business goes from 2 staff to 25 rapidly? Or the turnover of a business goes from a few hundred thousand to a few million? Things can fall through the gaps; poor decisions can be made, and business owners can become overwhelmed. There is no future thinking, just living in the moment and dealing with the day to day issues of running a successful business. Something must give, and this all too often is a drop off in turnover, sleepless nights, strains on the business, the owner and more importantly personal relationships.

SME businesses are the backbone of a strong economy. 17 years ago, when The Icehouse was founded, it was apparent that there was a need to support these business owners to sustain the growth they had and plan to build on it. Their success is New Zealand’s gain, and this remains to this day.

From this “need” the Owner Manager Programme was developed (with the support of long-standing partners the BNZ and The University of Auckland Business School). This programme was a big success. Business owners travelled from all over the country to a “semi-remote” location outside of Auckland to start working ON their businesses rather than working IN it. Being forced to spend time away made them re-focus. For 3 days a month for 5 months they turned up, reluctantly turned off their phones and started to develop a strategic plan for them and their businesses.

Spending time in the classroom (and in the bar) with like-minded owners from different industries helped the attendees to realise that they weren’t alone. Running a business can be lonely and now they had 24 business connections or “mates” who had the same stresses as them.

The success was instant. Good business is good business in any industry, and through “looking from the outside in” these business owners started to make good decisions and grow their business faster than their competitors, think strategically rather than reactively and start to see their business flourish.

After 3 years of success with the Owner Manager Programme it was evident there was room to assist Kiwi business owners in other ways – financially. As described by Operating Partner Icehouse Ventures and Manager at Ice Angels Jack McQuire the Icehouse founded another way to support NZ businesses:

“With the aim to invest in and empower NZ startups. This was done by managing angel networks (Ice Angels, Arc Angels), funds (Tuhua, Eden, & First Cut) and an accelerator (Flux). To do this it was essential to ensure that fundamental to all of these is that we only work with companies in which we invest capital with the intent that we can add value beyond our cash investment. We do so by recycling learnings and resources from our existing investments, introducing relevant investors, directors, industry experts, employees and customers in our network, and any other support entrepreneurs need as they scale from pre-seed to Series A.

Unlike VCs that have a single-fund or strategy to invest in and support startups, we believe our “family” of investing entities allow us to empower more entrepreneurs and with deeper pools of capital and expertise by engaging with a larger community of investors. As a group we invested $20.3m in 59 startups in 2017 and have invested ~$85m since 2004 in ~130 startups.”

Although Icehouse Ventures’ and The Icehouse’s day-to-day focus is different, we are one business with a shared focus: to help Kiwi businesses grow.

If you have an established business and want to invest in yourself or your team then we are your point of call and this is where my passion lies.


Gareth Bayliss (left) with Jeanette Ross-Smith, Senior Relationship Manager - Corporate, Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand.

Over the last 17 years, a huge variety of business owners across NZ have been involved in the Owner Manager Programmes. At The Icehouse we call ourselves “industry agnostic” because we can add value to any business in any industry. We have been lucky enough to work with a huge amount of NZ’s best organisations, from Pic Picot and his quality peanut butter; Janene Draper at Auckland’s Farro Fresh; Mount Riley Wines in Marlborough; Aaron Jay at Hortus who is changing the way vineyards are managed; to manufacturing companies such as MWF in Christchurch or Orange Homes in the construction industry. I’m not finished yet – we’ve also worked with Hamish Whyte’s innovative furniture company Furnware; Overland’s excellent shoes; or Jucy’s revolutionary rental car company. We have helped them all to flourish. These are the more well-known Kiwi businesses that are at the top of my head – We have hundreds (nearly a thousand) of unsung and amazing companies who we have been fortunate to work with.

We haven’t done it for them. We have assisted them on their journey to success. With all these  businesses having gone through the Owner Manager Programme and the next the intake already signing up to our 3 programmes in 2019 there ain’t no stopping us!

“Success breeds Success” and this is evident at The Icehouse. We have more ways to support businesses along with the Owner Manager Programme. Owners who have attended the Owner Manager Programme (Icehouse Alumni) realized that now they were upskilled it was important to invest in their teams. It may have been to improve the functionality, effectiveness of systems, leadership of the managers, or core skills such as finance, sales skills etc the owners know that investing in their teams helps to breed success. Now, 17 years on since the first Owner Manager Programme, The Icehouse now has 5 effective workshops, leadership programmes, ability to work with larger organisations in an internal customised function and a huge network of the best business coaches New Zealand has to offer. If you are looking to grow your business The Icehouse should be your first point of contact.

Don’t just take my word for it…. Ask someone! I feel honored to work with our trusted Icehouse Alumni every day and I am yet to receive poor feedback. Are you a business owner who hasn’t heard of us? Ask your fellow peers and I guarantee we will have worked with one of them.

We are taking bookings on all of our workshops and programmes for 2019 now. Want to know more? Get in touch or flick me a LinkedIn message.

I’ll finish as I started – “The Icehouse: it’s a lot warmer than it sounds” in fact it’s a hotbed of activity helping Kiwi businesses grow!

This blog is written by Gareth Bayliss, Customer Growth Partner at The Icehouse. As a Customer Growth Partner, Gareth enables businesses to grow and succeed through building long term, value-add relationships. From topic specific workshops to transformative business development programmes and customised business coaching, Gareth helps to provide our clients with the skills, clarity and support to achieve their business goals. 

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