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Looking back at the first edition of Kōkiri, the accelerator for Māori start-ups

The first edition of Māori business accelerator Kōkiri has wrapped up. The challenge now for the entrepreneurs who took part: taking that momentum forward – and into the wider community.

Twenty entrepreneurs from across Aotearoa worked alongside each other for four months on 10 different ventures as part of Kōkiri, the first business accelerator programme focused on speeding up the development and representation of Māori founders. The ventures ranged from medicinal cannabis to a digital tool for millennials to learn te reo Māori, and tech that can turn the invasive algae didymo into paper and plastic.

Innovative as the ventures were, even better was this: more than half of the companies in the programme were able to attract investment.

Kōkiri was funded through the Māori Innovation Fund He kai kei aku ringa, and run by Te Wānanga o Aotearoa in partnership with Callaghan Innovation and Creative HQ. It also received support from MYOB, Air New Zealand, Spark, Crowe Horwath, Ernst & Young Tahi, Creative HQ, ColabNZ, and more.

Check out this roundtable podcast about Kōkiri and Māori start-up innovation:

Kōkiri programme director Ian Musson says that so many of the Kōkiri ventures were able to get funding says a lot about both the programme and the entrepreneurs themselves.

“Māori entrepreneurs have long been looking for ways to create socially sustainable businesses – and Kōkiri has helped them do exactly that,” he says. “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.”

Te Wānanga o Aotearoa innovation development group director Aisha Ross says there was an “overwhelming amount” of positive feedback to the various ventures, including at a showcase evening held in June at Air New Zealand’s Auckland headquarters that attracted more than 120 guests from throughout the country.

MYOB New Zealand general manager Carolyn Luey says the next step is to take the momentum from Kōkiri forward – not just for the individual ventures, but for the regional economies from which they came. “With enough guidance and perseverance, New Zealand’s regions could establish themselves as places where great ventures are born,” she explains. “This is sure to attract new and further capital investment to New Zealand. In recent years, New Zealand has made a name for itself as a great place to start a business. However, we think more needs to be done to establish New Zealand as a hub for start-up growth and development, including developing our education system, changing the public’s investment mindset and cultivating talented people who can help businesses to scale up.”

Carolyn Luey

Kōkiri’s Musson says whakawhanaungatanga was a vital part in Kōkiri’s success. He says that whanaungatanga and manaakitanga were emphasised from the outset of the programme, with the entire first week spent forming meaningful connections, sharing aspirations and defining individual success. Musson adds whakawhanaungatanga was carried throughout the programme, with each new speaker/contributor/guest welcomed into the whānau and invited to share their story.

Kōkiri participant Logan Williams the feeling of being welcome was one reason he found the experience of taking part so rewarding.

In 2016, the 22-year-old from Timaru noticed didymo growing in the waters of the Tekapo River in the South Island. Seeking to find a solution, he founded Biome Innovation. “Initially it was just about cleaning up our waterways, but then I realised there was a business opportunity beneath the surface,” he says. “I started experimenting with didymo and, after several years of research and development, found it can be used to create biodegradable plastics and fabrics.”

The innovative idea earned the University of Canterbury student a spot in Kōkiri – making Williams the youngest entrepreneur to have participated in the programme.

MYOB’s Luey says while it is difficult to measure the total economic contribution of start-ups to Aotearoa, the opportunities they provide in terms of diversification, employment and long-term global potential make them a vital part of our local economy. Hence, she says, why programmes such as Kōkiri are so important. “Our nation has no shortage of ideas – and entrepreneurial people with the potential to make them really successful,” she says. “There is an opportunity to introduce more Māori worldviews into our start-up communities and give Māori-based businesses the tools they need to succeed.

“However, we need to keep developing the conditions that nurture and develop the start-ups coming through, and couple those ventures with frameworks, like Kōkiri, that can help turn a good idea into a great business.”

Musson hopes that since the Kōkiri has been so successful, established businesses and organisations will commit to funding a second edition of the programme later this year. “We’ve tried to make that inevitable.”

Seeing how the first edition of Kōkiri has gone, it would appear to be a wise investment indeed.

The first crop of Kōkiri participants:

Akudos (Whangarei, Auckland)

Akudos is a cloud-based awards management system designed to streamline the awards process from beginning to end. It has key pilot customers secured for 2018, and its goals stretch far beyond Aotearoa.

Arataki Systems (Tauranga)

Arataki Systems builds solutions that provide unique cultural, geographical, environmental and historical information for people “in location.” Arataki enables users to receive information about sites of cultural significance using a custom mobile application and proximity technology. It currently has an operational system at Mauao and Mt Maunganui with 350+ platform downloads – and no marketing.

Biome (Christchurch)

Biome turns didymo, the pest algae, into high-end fashion materials. These high-quality materials are produced sustainably and strive to improve the New Zealand environment. They are made in sheets, which creates zero waste in production, whilst also providing customers with a range of colours, textures, and patterns.

Hikurangi Enterprises (Ruatoria)

Hikurangi Enterprises is researching bioactive extracts from plants, shellfish, and fungi to develop new medical and health products. It will be the first to take a New Zealand-grown medical cannabis product to clinical trials.

MovingPros (Tauranga, Auckland)

MovingPros makes it easy to compare multiple moving quotes from one place. They aspire to create a $1 billion business by helping to solve the transport and shipping inefficiencies in the residential moving space within New Zealand and globally. MovingPros has a committed network of 120+ moving companies across New Zealand, and have serviced more than 6,500 moving requests since launching.

MYREO (Huntly)

The goal is to provide Māori millennials with the digital tools and resources they need to learn, practice and grow in Te Reo Māori. MYREO is creating a series of bilingual digital games and software targeted at school-aged students, but accessible to everyone, in a range of subjects including programming, data sorting, artificial intelligence, math, mythology, history and other STEM subjects. Kiwicode is a bilingual programming education game developed for Aotearoa’s education market. MYREO are also working on a tourism and marketing application and sporting registration app for two Māori organisations.

Origins Software – ApiTrak (Whakatāne)

ApiTrak is the first product from Origins Software. It is a cloud-based platform that provides complete visibility of the honey supply chain from land to consumer. Origins have created a digital platform that enhances product data management that is a GS1 compliant “land-to-jar” traceability solution, combining leading-edge technology with user-friendly interfaces. It minimises the opportunity for manipulation of honey data, simplifies disease management and increases food safety compliance.

Papa Taiao Earthcare (Wellington)

Papa Taiao has the vision to become a pan-Iwi youth enterprise enabler. Papa Taiao Earthcare works with rangatahi across Aotearoa and across iwi to guide them into a life focused on social, ecological, economic and cultural regeneration through enterprise in rural and urban communities.

SeeCom (Hamilton)

SeeCom provides sign language education programmes and resources to facilitate multiple communities who benefit from “hands-on” learning. 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. This technology enhancement will track arm, body, hand and finger movements and sense the smallest movements.

The Realness (Auckland)

The Realness is a new way to find owner-operated eateries without having to rely on review sites, advertising platforms, personal option sites, magazines and mainstream media. In a world where money or media can determine who is found first on Google, Demaris is creating a level playing field for owner-operators within the food industry and beyond.

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