Refocusing a support system for Kiwi founders as they launch their ideas to the world.

Based on the TechStars mentor-driven accelerator model, Lightning Lab was established in 2013 as New Zealand’s first member of the Global Accelerator Network (GAN) to become a key part in developing the startup ecosystem across Aotearoa.

After almost a decade of catering to 250+ ventures through over a dozen accelerators and its incubation programme, Lightning Lab needed to reassess its values (in line with the overarching organisation – Creative HQ) as well as to clarify its offerings in relation to the different audiences.

The insight

Lightning Lab was created as a sub-brand of the organisation Creative HQ but was publicly firmly established in its own right as a startup support brand. Since its inaugural programme in 2013, the startup ecosystem in New Zealand and Australasia and the team behind Lightning Lab – the people supporting the startups/founders – had changed.

While based in New Zealand’s ‘creative capital’ Wellington, Lightning Lab was looking at how to expand its impact and continue to grow the New Zealand startup scene, but in a more efficient and collaborative way.

Lightning Lab Manufacturing – demo day

The idea

After a series of changes over 18 months – in both leadership and the support offered to startups and founders – I worked alongside the Lightning Lab team, using the Academy tools, to review where the brand and its offerings fit in the wider ecosystem 

We began by developing a blueprint of ‘where we are’:

This blueprint started with an analysis of the existing Lightning Lab brand to gain an understanding all of the services that the team offered – and who these were offered to.

Our next stage of developing the blueprint was focused on understanding the market and what other support is available to startups/founders, both in New Zealand/Aotearoa and beyond.

Through a combination of audience and stakeholder interviews, covering founders in the wider ecosystem, programme – and organisational – alumni, the local investment community and more, we gathered insights about how the Lightning Lab brand was perceived in its current state. These perceptions were wide-ranging, with insights around everything from the vision of Lightning Lab to the values that the team have displayed when working or interacting with any member of the audience.

Lightning Lab audiences

‘Where we are’ versus ‘where we want to be’:

I worked directly with the Lightning Lab team to delve deeper and understand not only what they do but also why they do it – to develop their why, or their vision statement.

From all of the insights gathered, the blueprint developed into a strategy map, displaying the key areas where these services and perceptions were both aligned and misaligned.

I developed a strategy for the brand with a series of recommendations backed by the quantitative and qualitative insights gathered during the process. To support this, were:

  • audience personas, alongside how the offerings align with the audience needs
  • competitor and collaborator mapping in the sector
  • perception maps – in relation to both the services and the brand
  • drafted brand manifesto (to pull on the values identified by the team and their vision)
  • moodboards for potential brand refresh directions
  • a timeline and action plan to refresh the brand look and feel to realign it with the vision and create greater clarity for the audiences.
Lightning Lab perceptions 01
Lightning Lab perceptions 02
Lightning Lab perceptions 03


Lightning Lab


Lead designer and strategy

Branding and brand strategy, graphic design, customer research, presentation support, copywriting.

Michelle McCarthy (Startup Partnerships Manager)

Lightning Lab - where we are
Lightning Lab - where we want to be

Left: Lightning Lab brand – where we are | Right: Lightning Lab brand – where we are going
These canvases are © Anne Miltenburg for

In action

After presenting the strategy to the team, a co-design session was run with direct involvements from founders and stakeholders (mentors, local investors and government support agencies) to help to redefine what the Lightning Lab services would look like.
This session focused on how Lightning Lab could continue to support in areas that tie in more closely with the wider Creative HQ mission; building capability, confidence and connections.

  • Building the capability of founders within Aotearoa New Zealand
  • Building the confidence of founders, alongside the confidence of investors and other stakeholders (for their return on investment)
  • Building connections between the different parts of the ecosystem (founders, investors, supporting government agencies) as well as between support services available across Aotearoa New Zealand.

In early 2021, the Lightning Lab brand was disestablished while the team was reintegrated with the umbrella organisation.
The startup team’s work has continued but under the banner of the master brand, Creative HQ.

While the brand has been disestablished, the insights found and highlighted in the brand strategy have allowed for:

A consolidated vision

to collectively work towards and inform decisions.

Greater alignment

between the team, their work, and the impact they're working to create.

Better communication

across the team and with their audiences.


Michelle McCarthy
Startup Partnerships Manager
Creative HQ

Working with Kelcey on developing the Lightning Lab brand during NZ’s lockdown in 2020 was often the highlight of my week. I loved that the process was very collaborative and was informed by brand perception data we collected from a range of stakeholders. 

It really allowed us to better identify our audience and what a typical startup founder in our programmes looks like. This fed directly into our outbound deal-flow strategy and helped us to be targeted rather than reactive. 

The brand development process also allowed us to step back and understand our brand values and the outcomes we provide, as opposed to getting too tunnel-visioned on what we do activity-wise from a programming perspective. Even though the Lightning Lab brand may not continue, the learnings from the process have certainly helped the startup team to better communicate and consolidate their vision, their brand and the overall impact and purpose of their work.

Lightning Lab - moodboard 1
Lightning Lab - moodboard 2
Lightning Lab - moodboard 3

Let's talk

I'm always keen to collaborate when I have the time. Give me a shout about an upcoming project, email:
hello [at] kelceybraine [dot] com

© Copyright 2017–2023 | Kelcey Braine

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