Introducing our first RISE UP 2023 finalist - Candace Kinser, Vester founder. Vester is an employee share plan management system that enables companies to issue and manage employee shares while its user-centric design simultaneously allows employees to easily understand and manage their shares. Before starting Vester, Candace spent most of her career working in technology and on boards as a director with a special focus on technology governance.

How did Vester get started?

My desire to start Vester stems from personal experience as both an employee with share options from a company, and as a board director for listed companies that issue options to staff. I have felt the pain and frustration firsthand from the lack of purpose built, highly efficient platforms to manage this complex area of business. I started working on the business in 2021 during the peak of COVID lockdowns. I was witnessing the stress and struggle of businesses trying to attract and retain great people, as well as many employees missing out on the boom of share price growth (and ultimately their wealth!) because companies found it so painful to manage and run employee share schemes. The existing products in the market were woefully underperforming in terms of capability and useability, so I got together with some expert friends in the industry and we made a COVID business baby!

What do you love most about being a business founder?

I love the energy and vitality of creating something new, building a concept into something tangible and seeing how excited companies get when they see what we are building. Changing the world for the better is a great reason to get up every day!

What has been your biggest challenge so far in your entrepreneurial journey?

Our biggest challenge has been the fact that we started our fund raising right when the investment market came to a screeching halt in late 2022. I can't tell you how many times we've been told that if we had just been six months earlier, it would have been a slam dunk for investment. Many funds and angel investment companies are currently support funding existing investments rather than new ones, particularly at seed stage, so this has been hard. We are committed to keep progressing with our proof of concept, have stayed highly engaged with our pilot customers and not stopped seeking creative ways to fund the progress to date.

What’s a business highlight you’re proud of?

I'm particularly proud of the enthusiasm we have received from our pilot customers as well as other market stakeholders for our idea. I honestly have never had a product where every company we approach says: "Yes! We need this! When can you have it built?" That's an exciting validation of our idea and extremely promising for growth.

What or who inspires you?

I'm constantly inspired by the incredible support that my peers in the industry give me, particularly successful women in the finance and technology industry. I feel like it's my own private cheer squad who check in on me, refer me to contacts and give their support unconditionally.

What is the best advice you’ve been given?

Take daily steps towards progress - send an email, make a call, read, converse, seek opinions or introductions. One step each day means you're moving forward. It's not about taking a hundred steps; being a startup entrepreneur demands stamina, resilience, positivity, and creativity. Some days will be sprint days with thousands of steps, while others will be one or two step days - both count as progress in this long race. Stay committed, and every step will lead you closer to success.

Do you have any advice for female entrepreneurs?

Embrace your business passion with confidence in your right to be here, the determination to succeed, and the support around you. Challenges will arise, and support may seem scarce, but remember that perseverance, creative thinking, and determination can overcome any obstacle. Take time for self-care, reflecting on your progress, and rekindling your energy to keep moving forward. Don't wait for the perfect moment; schedule regular meetings with yourself to regroup and reflect - it's your most crucial appointment. Stay committed, and your journey will lead to success.

How do you unwind from work?

I have a deep love for animals, and caring for their wellbeing brings me immense therapeutic joy. Whether it involves taking my small group of dogs for a run in the woods, playing polo on my beautiful horses, or simply being in the company of animals of any sort, I find it to be a rejuvenating and grounding experience.

What three things can’t you live without?

1. Strong coffee

2. Ocean time

3. My animals

If you won RISE UP, what would you use the money for?

I intend to utilise the funds to cover travel expenses for pitching across New Zealand and into Australia during our seed raise. As Vester aims to be a global company from day one, demonstrating our dedication to potential investors in person would greatly benefit our credibility and readiness for investment. In the current challenging fundraising environment, face-to-face interactions would be more impactful than relying solely on Zoom calls or limiting our reach to the Auckland region.

RISE UP 2023 is proudly sponsored by Callaghan Innovation.

Get your FREE ticket to our RISE UP Pitch Night in Hamilton on 29 August 2023.