Co-location agreement leads to long-term relationships for telecommunications startup

FiComms is a startup developing smart technology to revolutionise the global telco installation industry.

FiComms CEO and Founder Sean Rainthorpe alongside a wheel of fibre optic cabling.

FiComms is a startup developing smart technology to revolutionise the global telco installation industry. Until recently, it was co-located at the Newmarket Innovation Precinct (NIP), allowing one of the company’s engineers access to researchers and facilities that could help it develop the next product in its R&D pipeline. Last month the company hit a snag that saw it lose out on follow-on investment, a common occurrence in the turbulent world of technology startups. This forced Founder and CEO Sean Rainthorpe to scale back the company’s activities and put the NIP co-location on pause while he seeks new investments to support the development of a second product.

Despite the challenges, Sean is positive about the future, as there are a number of options he can pursue to ensure FiComms’ next product is ready for market.

“My preferred option is just to get the funding and get the project back on track again, get the company back on track again,” Sean said. “But there's some interesting options if I don't get funding. There are grants we can go for, or maybe it's a decision where – at the moment the IP is all owned by FiComms – maybe we can do a deal where we share that IP or something.”

FiComms’ first project was a maintenance tool called FiSpy that detects faults in microducts used for fibre optic cables. The sales of it are intended to support the research, development and ultimately the production of the company’s second project, Testify. It’s this product that was a collaborative project with researchers based at the Newmarket campus. Its aim is to provide assurance to a network owner – such as a company like Chorus – that its microducts have been tested to the industry standard.

Sean first heard of the potential to co-locate at the Newmarket Campus through the firm that originally invested in FiComms. After talking to NIP Manager Enrico Tronchin, Sean realised that the real opportunity in co-locating could be much more valuable than simply having a physical space at the campus.

I think the main thing for me was not really the co-location space. It was actually the expertise, the equipment, the opportunity to tap into a pool of smart people.

“I'm not an engineer, I'm a telecoms guy. I know what problem I'm going to solve, so having smart people around me is important and that was the draw," Sean said.

The trust Sean built up with the people he worked with at Newmarket meant he felt like he could be honest about the situation that led him to pause FiComms’ co-location. Nonetheless, Sean still has a connection with researchers and other members of staff he met there.

“They've been really good and really fair and once I knew the funding was cut I told them straight away,” Sean said. “Pause is the right word. As soon as I get funding, we will start again.”

Sean’s experience as a co-locating partner at Newmarket Innovation Precinct illustrates the impact a close association with the University of Auckland can have on a business. While Sean and his team are currently without a physical presence at the Newmarket Campus, the relationships they formed have given them a range of options to pursue as they work out what the future holds for FiComms.