Waikato’s thriving Māori economy The wider Waikato region is experiencing growth in Māori business enterprise, according to local experts.“The Māori economy is growing, and it’s growing fast,” says Kahurangi Taylor, a Waikato Innovation Park business growth advisor.Ms Taylor regularly meets with local entrepreneurs and says the number of Māori businesses seeking support has grown across the Waikato and Coromandel regions. “In the past up to five percent of businesses we were supporting were Māori, but over the past year it has increased to 16 percent.” Backing up Ms Taylor are comments from Waikato Tainui.“The Māori economy is definitely growing, all the research will tell you that,” says Karleen Turner Puriri, Whanake Manager – Economic Development at Waikato-Tainui. “Māori businesses make a considerable contribution to the region, however there is so much untapped potential at the moment.”In 2012 Māori businesses generated $1.4 billion in value for the Waikato region (according to a BERL report).A key priority for the Ministry of Business (MBIE) is growing the Māori economy. MBIE’s Business Growth Agenda 2017 Refresh report predicts that by 2040 Māori will form a significant portion of the working-age population. Supporting Māori business growth will benefit the New Zealand economy, regional economies, as well as whānau, hapū and iwi.Supporting Māori into entrepreneurship and encouraging Māori small-to-medium enterprise (SME) growth is part of that, and there are signs this is growing. The number of Māori self-employed and employers increased from 20,000 in 2012 to 29,000 in December 2016, according to MBIE.Engaging Māori through regional growth programmes is vital to growing the Māori economy, which is where an organisation like the one at Waikato Innovation Park comes in.The group is funded by the Regional Business Partner Network (RBPN) which is supported by New Zealand Trade & Enterprise (NZTE) and Callaghan Innovation. Their focus is on supporting businesses with high-growth aspirations that are export focused, technology-driven or have innovative products or services with real commercial merit. Some may be in the early stages of starting a business, while others have new products or services they hope to commercialise.Real world adviceKahurangi Taylor is one of six business advisors in the Waikato Innovation Park team providing free advice and support to businesses across the region.Of Ngāti Te Ata descent, Ms Taylor hails from Waiuku, south of Auckland and has been involved in three start-up organisations. She can offer real-world advice and experience to others starting out in business.“I can add value in the early stages, because I’ve been there,” says Ms Taylor. “There are a lot of things to think about when starting a business, from thinking about GST to writing a business plan.”Although based at Waikato Innovation Park in Hamilton, team members regularly travel to regional Waikato and Coromandel towns for monthly meetings, including Tūākau, Huntly, Thames, Paeroa, Tokoroa, Taupō and Raglan.An initial meeting is followed by an action plan, and in some cases a referral to a business mentor or other experts and networks. With strong connections to Callaghan Innovation, business advisors can help navigate government funding to apply for project grants for research and development.Businesses can also access co-funding through the Capability Development voucher scheme. These vouchers enable people to upskill in areas such as strategic planning, marketing, capital raising, business systems, finance, sustainability, managing resources, governance and exporting – with access to a large number of local coaches and trainers.Like all the business growth advisors at the Park, Ms Taylor works with clients from across the spectrum, both Māori and non-Māori.However, she strongly believes it is important to support Māori business growth and entrepreneurship, not only for national and regional economic growth, but for the benefits to Māori communities and the next generation. “It grows the knowledge base of how to start a business in a family, hapū and iwi,” says Ms Taylor.There are six iwi groups across Waikato and Coromandel regions, and a lot of potential for Māori SME growth regionally.Waikato Tainui’s whanake team works to drive sustainable wealth creation and business development for the tribe and its members, and part of the team’s role is to ensure Māori are using regional business growth services.“Waikato Innovation Park plays a really key role in terms of the Māori economy in the region, to help them connect, collaborate and access funding,” says Ms Turner Puriri. “They sit down with someone and spend the time talking with them about their business or idea, and give them direction and advice, which is invaluable to someone starting out.”‘Huge potential’ in tourism, food and technologyMs Turner Puriri says: “There is huge potential to develop” Māori SMEs in tourism, food and technology. However, financial investment and seed capital for start-ups remains the biggest challenge.Ms Taylor says there is “real diversity” in the types of Māori businesses they support, from ICT and gaming to food and tourism related ventures.Māori businesses are more likely to take a holistic or social enterprise approach to business, says Ms Taylor. “We have many businesses that have thought about the social good they want to do, or how they can give back. The Māori approach to business is broader than an individual and we see people making ‘mokopuna decisions’ – making choices now for the generation ahead, not just making choices for themselves.”From a business point of view, social good needs to be balanced with the need for a business to be sustainable and profitable, says Ms Taylor, and that is why meeting with a business growth advisor can be helpful for someone starting out. “It’s very important to ensure you have market validation, and that your business idea is a good one.”There are other great resources in the Waikato Māori ecosystem including Waikato Tainui, Te Hūmeka (Waikato Māori Business Network), Te Puni Kōkiri (Ministry of Māori Development), Te Wānanga o Aotearoa and others.A new Māori business accelerator programme called Kōkiri is generating a lot of buzz, run by Te Wānanga o Aotearoa and Callaghan Innovation out of Hamilton.Collaboration is increasing. The Park and Waikato Tainui co-host a quarterly Māori Business Panel for Māori business owners and entrepreneurs. The November event focused on business planning and the next one, on marketing and sales, will be held in February.A May panel will be on innovation and technology. Several speakers share their experience on a topic, followed by questions and discussion from attendees.Waikato Innovation Park hosted a Callaghan Innovation Matariki X spin-off event last October.The annual event brought together a group of entrepreneurial and inspiring Māori business leaders to share their experiences of success, failure and the importance of innovation with participants. Look out for the 2018 event later this year.