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The Young Founders

Dennisson Technologies cofounder Anvil Bañez on building a big idea as well as a team who believes in it.


Mary Hurley

Dennisson Technologies cofounders Anvil and Kimberley Bañez

To understand the vision behind Dennisson Technologies, you need only look as far as the company’s name. 

Co-founder, Anvil Bañez, named the company in honour of his father, Dennis. Having contracted polio at a young age, Dennis lost mobility in his left leg, yet went on to become both a prize-winning powerlifter and an entrepreneur, setting up a gym in the Philippines. 

This family history fuels Bañez, whose mission, through his startup, is to build deep tech foundational technology to enhance physical mobility for people in all stages of life, whether that means rehabilitation or helping grandparents stay active with their grandchildren.

“[That story] is my motivator. I put it in the name so the arrow stays straight for us,” he says. 

The entrepreneurial spirit surrounds Bañez. His mother balanced a career in psychiatry with managing her own business. His wife and Dennisson Technologies cofounder, Kimberley, also started a business while studying chemical and biological engineering at university.

While Kimberley hadn’t intended to join Dennisson, in the midst of Covid the startup found itself in need of a materials engineer. With the right background, Kimberley put her business to the side to help build Dennisson’s foundations, and never left. 

The young founders, both 27, are now a few years into their startup journey. In that time, Dennisson Technologies has been through several iterations as it found its company identity, all while holding fast to the north star of Dennis Bañez’s story.

The cofounder and his dad Dennis

Building a vision

As a deep tech material technology startup Dennisson Technologies isn’t creating a specific product for a niche or industry. That meant the team went broad in its early days, visiting industry leaders, robotic conferences and wearable technology conferences to share its concepts and gain valuable feedback.

“It was only through one-to-one upfront discussions, and showing people the prototypes, that they could understand where we were and where we were going,” Bañez says.

From those talks, Bañez realised that, in the short term, the company’s technologies would need to be applied to simple tasks like active compression, rather than the more complex challenge of moving people out of wheelchairs; though that remains a core goal. 

Right now, Dennisson Technologies is developing an artificial muscle platform called Auraflex. 

By harnessing the power of smart material technology (materials designed to move or change shape as a response to external stimuli), the platform contracts when subjected to bright light, pulling several hundred times its weight within seconds. 

Bañez describes the technology as like Gore-Tex, but instead of waterproofing, it provides active elements for movement, in a slim package.

“We are working on something we can put out in the market within the next three years, with the right partners, then we’ll expand from there,” he says. 

Icehouse Ventures investment associate Bex Gidall represents one of those partners, connecting with Dennisson Technologies in 2022 through incubator Outset Ventures

Dennisson Technologies raised $150,000 from Outset Ventures, then a $1.58 million round led by Icehouse Ventures in 2022. It is presently undertaking another US$4 million capital raise.

Icehouse wants to back “founders driven to build a brighter future using unique insights into an interesting market”, Gidall says. As such, it was drawn to Dennisson Technologies, particularly the way the founders spoke about the company's vision.

“Regardless of whether you’re communicating with investors, customers or your team, having a vision and articulating that vision – especially if it’s potentially a wild idea – is one of the most important things a founder needs to learn,” says Gidall. 

Fortunately, the company possessed both Bañez’s communication skills and the technology to back it up.

“They built a real-life prototype super early on, and that was really incredible,” Gidall says.

Icehouse Ventures' Bex Gidall

Finding believers

Michael Blackhurst, now Dennisson Technologies’ consulting chief operating officer, was also intrigued by what Bañez had to say when the two first met in late 2020 and got talking about medical devices. 

“I explained that I’d had 20-plus years in medical device technologies, and that was fairly native territory for me, and he said, ‘Mike, I need you’,” Blackhurst recalls. 

“In my head, I thought, ‘dude, you can’t afford me,’ but I quite liked what he was talking about, so I said, ‘Why don’t we meet up?” 

After a three-hour meeting, bolstered by good coffee made by the young founder, a loose monthly advisory agreement was made that has since grown into today’s working relationship.

Two things sold Dennisson’s big vision to Blackhurst. 

The first was the company’s clear pathway with several bets that could be taken, meaning if the first path doesn’t work, there’s a backup. If that doesn’t, there’s another, Blackhurst says.

“From that perspective, I can see a wide, long lifetime of the technology in multiple industries; this isn’t something that will die quickly.” 

The second selling point was Bañez as a founder.

Leading a team is “a heck of a burden for any manager, but he’s aware of it, and his team knows he’s aware of it,” Blackhurst says. “Even if it’s difficult, he’ll try and put them first.” 

Keeping believers

Taking care of his team and fostering a good culture is a priority for Bañez. 

“It starts with being authentic and unapologetically yourself because no one will take you seriously otherwise,” he says. “People can sniff someone who’s disingenuous from a kilometre away.”  

The next step to building a good team is finding the right people, which Bañez says is easier if the company’s foundation is values-driven. For the Dennisson team, who deal with daily challenges, those values include bravery, honesty and integrity. 

However, hiring people with the right values doesn’t mean they have to fit a certain mould, Bañez says.

“We want everyone to have diversity in every other aspect because it only helps as a company grows, but their values have to be aligned.”

The third step in team-building, according to Bañez, is allowing people to mess up. Based on Bañez’s belief that “some of the best innovations come from mistakes” and “no one comes to work to do a bad job”, the company culture encourages people to experiment without fear of making mistakes “as long as they’re safe, break things quick, acknowledge it, and move forward.” 

As an example, Bañez shares the story of one intern who skipped a few steps on the 3D printer and broke it. 

“It was just an absolute mess,” Bañez says, but instead of making the intern feel worse, he adopted a more nurturing approach by asking how they should go about fixing the mistake. 

The intern responded by taking ownership of the issue, locating replacement parts and writing a best practice procedure to ensure the issue wouldn’t happen again. 

Blackhurst says the “generous working environment” cultivated at Dennisson Technologies “doesn’t just happen by itself” but requires intention and nourishment. 

He hopes the business can sustain that culture-first approach as it scales: “It’s big, it’s scary, but we’ve got the fundamentals in place: the technology, the vision, the team.

Consulting COO Michael Blackhurst

The youth factor

Bañez sees being a young founder as a benefit to the type of business he is trying to build, but can see that the age factor may play out differently for others.

“Speaking for myself, I’m a high-energy individual. As I get older, I may not have that same energy, so, in my perspective, I need to take action now while I’m still filled with excitement and the world hasn’t drowned me in cynicism yet”. Something he hopes will never happen. 

From an investor perspective, Gidall says young founders dream big and with that youth comes unconventional thinking. The Dennisson Technologies founders are no exception. 

"While big companies might be able to afford to throw money at problems and wait three months for it to arrive, the Dennison team thinks outside the box. They have that number eight wire mentality," she says.

For Blackhurst, the self-described “old guy” in the Dennisson Technologies team, age doesn’t matter in a founder. What does matter is the capacity for leadership. 

This, the second story of six in The Young Founder series, was supported by Icehouse Ventures


Mary Hurley

Mary Hurley brings three years experience in the online media industry to the Caffeine team. Having previously specialised in environmental and science communications, she looks forward to connecting with founders and exploring the startup scene in Aotearoa New Zealand.

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