Budding Ngāti Toa entrepreneurs get ‘world class’ training

Published on Rāpare, 18 Pipiri, 2020

One Māori business is being mentored by two global investors and another is developing a prototype to patent after a successful Ngāti Toa entrepreneurs wānanga that left 25 iwi attendees buzzing.

Sponsored by Te Puni Kōkiri and the iwi, the intensive three-day virtual wānanga was run during lockdown by career entrepreneur Paul Kewene-Hite and wife Natasha (Tainui, Ngāti Kahungunu) from consultancy Mātanga Hāpai.

Harvard Graduate, Paul, is an anchor mentor for Google’s Startups Accelerator, a professor of entrepreneurship at INSEAD and has been teaching his start-up framework in 23 countries to thousands of people.

The workshop aimed to empower attendees with a greater understanding of how to be a start-up entrepreneur and culminated in teams pitching their concepts to two successful international angel investors. 

Te Runanga o Toa Rangatira CEO Helmut Modlik said the wānanga allowed budding entrepreneurs to access world class training, networks, and potential capital.

“It was a great opportunity and if they had some good ideas, it would get them on their way. I was inundated by my relations afterwards saying how awesome it was, so we are running another one in July. All iwi across the country could benefit from the same kōrero,” he says.

Acting Te Tai Hauāuru Regional Manager for Te Puni Kōkiri Jennie Smeaton says she was pleased to support an initiative that is building the capability of Māori entrepreneurs.

“Innovation is going to be key during the country’s recovery phase. We’ve had great feedback from attendees, and some are now developing their business ideas for investment,” she says.

Pursuing Māori entrepreneurial excellence  

Jessie (nee Kenny) Scirkovich’s natural skincare business came first in the business pitches to investor judges by wānanga attendees.

Her and business partner Boyd Scirkovich are busy preparing their niche brand for market launch, while benefiting from ongoing mentorship by the investors and Mātanga Hāpai.

“Presenting in front of the high calibre investors, big wigs from Silicon Valley and Singapore, was one of the highlights. The level of battle-hardened investment feedback they provided us with was extremely valuable.”

“They not only came prepared and willing to make capital contributions, but they had direct access to unique business networks with infrastructure that can assist a business like ours, with speed to market and scalability.”

Jessie says their business preparations were already underway before the wānanga, but the internationally recognised team helped evolve their business plans in greater detail and depth.

“The Mātanga Hāpai team took our wānanga rōpū on a journey to unchartered waters in pursuit of entrepreneurial excellence - after all, our tūpuna are prime examples of what it means to be entrepreneurs.”

“By the end we could clearly articulate what our business is, and more importantly, what it isn't. We gained clearer visibility on how to position and execute our business model with both our short-term and long-term ambitions in view,” she says.

Jessie says COVID-19 also made them consider risks that weren’t on their radar before, including innovating and diversifying business income streams.

Providing affordable housing to fill a need

Russleigh Parai lives with three generations of his whānau in Porirua. His business, Tāwharautia Ahau (Shelter Me), came from a need to supply kaumātua housing for his mum on their section.

He is importing modular housing units ranging in size from 40m2 – 125m2, that are expandable and don’t’ require a builder. Costing $35 - $45k, they have insulated panels, 1-3 bedrooms, a kitchen, bathroom, and covered deck. For high volume developments (such as 20+ homes for papakāinga) a completed, fully furnished designed apartment is also available.

Russleigh says he wants to be a trusted supplier of high-quality housing and shelter for iwi and our most vulnerable.

“Covid showed up the haves and the have nots, including our homeless, and when I saw the story about a 12-year-old living in a leaky caravan with her parents with no windows, I thought these modular units could fill those sorts of needs.”

“There is a clear double bottom line in this opportunity - helping people and society, while making a good return for investors. My primary goal personally is to change the game by making affordable housing available for whānau who can’t afford homes that cost $400k,” he says.

Entrepreneurship runs in the whānau with Russleigh’s daughter Chloe planning to patent her beauty technology app after her investment pitch came second, and her brother is already registered for the next wānanga.

“The whānau buzz from the workshop was really encouraging and it provided a pathway to success that could be easily adapted by other iwi,” Russleigh says.


Photo caption: Natural skincare business owners Jessie and Boyd Scirkovich are getting mentorship from two global angel investors after impressing them with their pitch at the Ngāti Toa entrepreneurship wānanga.


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