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NZ Post-backed Infolink aims to grab a slice of US energy billing

By Aimee McClinchy

Friday 27th October 2000

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BACKERS: From left, Larry Hill, Tom Sager and John O'Hara
A startup backed by industry veterans Larry Hill, Tom Sager and John O'Hara has attracted the interest of the dealbroker behind the multimillion dollar sale of GlobalBrain to TV giant NBC Internet.

Auckland-based Infolink, which has already received a $1.8 million investment from New Zealand Post, is due to raise another tranche of local funding in two weeks' time to help its expansion into the US next year.

Chaired by Voyager founder and ex-Wel Technology chairman Mr O'Hara, Infolink is already talking with US-based venture capitalist and lawyer Rob Ayling, who may invest in it as part of a $US30-40 million fund he is setting up to target New Zealand and Australian start ups.

Infolink is a two-year-old company founded by Mr Hill, former managing director of Continuum and Paxus, and American Mr Sager, former Rothschild venture capitalist and investment manager at Telecom.

Mr Ayling, who left New Zealand 20 years ago, is technology lawyer and deal broker for Gray Cary in California and was counsel for Christchurch-based GlobalBrain's sale to NBCi in June.

That transaction was said to be one of the most significant technology deals to come out of New Zealand.

Also head of an investor group in the US, Mr Ayling is setting up a fund dedicated to backing local startups, as well as working for other venture capitalists and investors.

"I'm continuing to have a dialogue with Infolink about their potential in the US," Mr Ayling said from California. "They are led by a bunch of longstanding entrepreneurs with a business model that should be able to be incubated [in New Zealand]."

Infolink's core system, Infoshare, is a messaging system that works over the internet to link suppliers, staff and interested parties, providing a view of work or orders under way.

Infolink is rolling out a module it says will allow energy retailers hooked up to it to swap customers at the push of a button - unlike the chaos and months-long wait presently.

Infolink marketing manager Phill Dagger said the company had been holding discussions with energy and commerce ministers, had formed partnerships with industry players and planned to announce contracts with major energy retailers around the country by the end of the month.

It already counts Mighty River Power as one of its customers.

Infolink then planned to push into the US with this technology, sidestepping Australia, because of the scale of opportunity in the deregulating energy sector there, Mr Dagger said.

Infolink would set up office in either Boston, Silicon Valley, or Denver by the first quarter next year, he said.

"The greater opportunity for this is in export; we want to use New Zealand as a proving ground."

NZ Post's investment earlier this year accelerated the company's growth.

Wel Technology, which produces a utility billing system, last week announced a contract to supply its software to Iowa-based MidAmerican Energy and counts Lucent Technologies as one of its shareholders.

"There is a lot of potential in deregulating electricity markets over there [in the US] because of our experience here," Mr O'Hara said.

US companies were seeing opportunities to leapfrog their competitors by using technology made by New Zealand companies.

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