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Get ready for Kōkiri, the new accelerator for Māori start-ups

He could be a psychologist, businessperson or environmentalist – but no matter what, 22-year-old Logan Williams hopes to make his mark on Aotearoa’s innovation scene. The Christchurch entrepreneur has been selected to take part in an inaugural start-up accelerator programme, Kōkiri, to help turn his ideas into an innovative start-up business.

Top image: Logan Williams.

Kōkiri is being run by Te Wānanga o Aotearoa in partnership with MYOB, Air New Zealand, Spark and Callaghan Innovation. It aims to get new Māori-based start-up enterprises market-ready through lessons, mentoring, initial funding and connections to potential investors. The four-month programme also has support from Crowe Horwath, Ernst & Young Tahi, Creative HQ, ColabNZ, and more.

Naturally, Williams is pretty excited. “I’m thrilled to be chosen,” he says. “I’ve been looking for ways to create products that solve environmental issues – and Kōkiri will help me to do exactly that.”

In 2016, Williams noticed invasive algae didymo growing in the waters of the Tekapo River in Canterbury, and since then has sought to find a solution. “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 sustainable plastics and fabrics.”

The idea has already earned the University of Canterbury psychology graduate a first-place win and a national merit award at the Eureka Science and Innovation Competition, and Williams believes Kōkiri will further its success.

MYOB New Zealand general manager Carolyn Luey says teaming up with Kōkiri to help entrepreneurs like Williams is just the right thing to do. “New Zealand has shown its ability to grow start-ups that can foot it with the world’s best, but the challenge is ensuring Kiwis can build on that success.”

Luey says there's an opportunity to introduce more Māori worldviews into start-ups and help provide Māori-based businesses tools to achieve greater success. “We see Kōkiri improving the breadth of our country’s start-up sector at the same time as supporting Māori-based businesses and entrepreneurs to scale up,” she explains.

Carolyn Luey.

MYOB will open its technology platforms and provide mentoring to 10 Māori start-ups as part of the four-month programme.

Kōkiri considers business ideas from all sectors, but focuses on the potential value of each venture and the cross-section of skills in each team, with a requirement that at least one member of each start-up identify as Māori. This past November, more than 100 budding entrepreneurs across Aotearoa applied to take part in the inaugural programme.

Kōkiri programme director Ian Musson says the accelerator is designed to speed up the process of getting local business ideas into the hands of customers, while increasing the representation of Māori entrepreneurs in early-stage ventures. “We’ll be providing the teams with the support they need to successfully prove, build and launch their ideas to market.”

Kōkiri will also offer access to business workshops, co-working facilities, investor groups, and opportunities to obtain resources for growing their businesses. “We’re ambitious about Māori start-ups, and the Kōkiri programme is designed to help them realise their potential,” says Musson. “With enough guidance and perseverance, New Zealand’s regions could establish themselves as places where great ventures are born. This is sure to attract new and further capital investment to New Zealand.”

Luey agrees, adding that while the total economic contribution of start-ups to the Land of the Long White Cloud is difficult to measure, the opportunities they provide in terms of diversification, employment and long-term global potential make them a vital part of the local economy. “In New Zealand, we have no shortage of ideas – and entrepreneurial people, like Williams, with the potential to make them really successful,” she explains. “However, we need to keep developing the conditions that nurture and develop the businesses coming through, and couple those start-ups with frameworks that can help turn a good idea to a great execution.”

Kōkiri begins in earnest on February 12, and is co-funded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s Te Pūnaha Hiringa Māori Innovation Fund. A demo day is set to be held on June 14.

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