Digital sign language, cannabis and te reo as Kiwi startups take flight

Published on the 12/07/2018 | Written by Heather Wright

Maori business entrepreneurs

Māori entrepreneur accelerator program helps redefine business success...

Ten Kiwi startups have accelerated their paths to success after completing New Zealand’s first business accelerator programme for Māori entrepreneurs – with more than half the startups attracting investment.

The four month long Kōkiri programme aims to get ventures market ready by providing business insights from partners MYOB, Air New Zealand and Spark, and provide teams with initial funding and connections to potential investors.

Adele Hauwai, founder and CEO of social enterprise SeeCom, which offers signing expertise, classes and resources that merge sign language and technology, says the programme gave SeeCom insights into scaling the business and projects more quickly, along with learning the correct channels and legalities of dealing with IP.

“We see Kōkiri improving the breadth of our country’s start-up sector.”

Hamilton-based SeeCom is prototyping the world’s first digital interactive sign language game, a virtual game-based experience of learning sign language through means of interaction and movements in front of digital screens.

Mentoring assistance on the nuts and bolts of business operation, staff management and dealing with investors was also invaluable, Hauwai says.

“This Kōkiri accelerator programme taught us a lot in a short time,” Hauwai says. “But we always need to ensure we take what information is relevant to our business and execute those ideas and teachings.”

Other ventures in the government-funded start-up incubator programme which was launched by Te Wānanga o Aotearoa in partnership with Callaghan Innovation, included a digital tool for learning te reo Māori, a process that turns environmentally damaging didymo into fabric and New Zealand-grown medicinal cannabis.

Kōkiri programme director Ian Musson says the accelerator is redefining how entrepreneurs traditionally view success.

“Kōkiri is not just about attracting investment or growing a business to a point where it can be sold for a profit.

“For our Māori founders, success can also mean nurturing a sustainable business, solving social problems, bringing income into a community or employing local people,” says Musson.

Hauwai says the networking and collaboration with other like-minded entrepreneurs, all supporting each other, was a key benefit of the programme, along with hearing other business owners on their journey to success.

“They shared some insights of realistic experiences of what to avoid doing and what to put your time and energy towards,” she says.

The networking also lead to new leads and collaboration, with Hauwai noting participants were able to utilise a mix of different education and work experience backgrounds to assist each others projects.

“We are all assets to each other’s business when we can drive each other’s projects to success.”

Workshops on valuing staff, health and wellbeing and the chance to hone presentation skills and hear from investors also proved invaluable, she says.

MYOB New Zealand general manager Carolyn Luey says there is an opportunity to introduce more Māori worldview into start up communities and give Māori-based businesses the tools they need to succeed.

Luey says while it is difficult to measure the total economic contribution of start-ups to New Zealand, the opportunities they provide in terms of diversification, employment and long-term global potential make them a vital part of our local economy.

“Our nation has no shortage of ideas – and entrepreneurial people with the potential to make them really successful.

“We see Kōkiri improving the breadth of our country’s start-up sector at the same time as supporting Maori-based businesses and entrepreneurs to scale up,” Luey adds.

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