“It’s an exciting time to be doing business in the Waikato and the region is buzzing,” says Waikato business growth manager Craig Purcell.
In particular, there is strong growth in technology, food and tourism, says Purcell.
“Food is really important to the region right now, and dairying as a subset of that,” says Purcell, who leads a team of six business growth advisors based at Waikato Innovation Park.
“Tourism is going through the roof, especially up in Thames and Coromandel. The Hauraki Rail Trail is bringing money into the region through local businesses, and the spending and benefits are exceeding the costs of building and maintaining the tracks themselves.”
The Waikato Business Growth team is funded by the Regional Business Partner Network (RBPN) which is supported by New Zealand Trade & Enterprise (NZTE) and Callaghan Innovation.
Its aim is to provide free support Waikato businesses who have high-growth aspirations, are export focused, technology-driven or have innovative products or services with real commercial merit. The team offers advice and referrals for business mentoring and can help businesses access Callaghan Innovation grants for research and development and co-funding for specialist training, business services or coaching.
Currently, advisors meet with around 500 businesses every year, including many start-ups. They travel around the Waikato region to meet with local businesses, and spend one day each month in seven towns: Tuakau, Huntly, Thames, Paeroa, Tokoroa, Taupo and Raglan.
“The level of activity has doubled over the last 12 months, and 60 per cent of our clients are outside Hamilton,” says Purcell.
The Business Growth team began around seven years ago. “It began with one man (Peter Maxwell) and there has been a gradual increase in services,” says Purcell. “Now we have five full-time-equivalents (FTEs) across six people.”
The current team includes business growth advisors Peter Davey, Novell Gopal, Kahurangi Taylor, Hayley Smith and Waikato mentor manager Tony Kane. Food Waikato’s Shane Kells has also been doing good work as a business growth advisor in the food space, says Purcell.
He has noticed that there is more business collaboration across the region, which is vital to developing innovation.
“We have seen an explosion of Waikato businesses getting on with innovation projects, working together using Callaghan Innovation project grants. There are 31 of these projects on the go at the moment and last year there were just four. They are across the region and from a range of industries including big technology to manufacturing to agribusiness to health to food – a real cross section.”
Purcell says there has been a change in thinking, and it’s making a difference. “There is an appreciation for risk and return now that we weren’t seeing two years ago. Increased cash flow gives a sense of confidence to businesses, which leads to collaboration.”
Supporting and growing Maori businesses is also a priority for the region and the country, and is something that the Business Growth team has focused on recently. In November they co-hosted a Maori Business Panel at Waikato Innovation Park with Waikato Tainui. “We are working hard to boost engagement and support to Maori businesses,” says Purcell.
There have been other events hosted at the Park in 2017, designed to encourage business growth in the Waikato region. The first Waikato Technology Show was held at the Park in February, timed to coincide with the launch of CultivateIT, a regional cluster group for ICT professionals.
Next May the team will coordinate Techweek’18 around the region, which aims to foster growth in technology and innovation in New Zealand.
Technology continues to be big for the region. Purcell says Waikato companies are leading growth in the technology sector nationally and are among the top players in the TIN200 group (New Zealand’s top 200 technology companies).
The Business Growth team also runs an invitation-only Innovation Forum each quarter for 30 local businesses, to develop their innovation skills.
Purcell says it is a privilege to help people grow their ideas and businesses, and that people with innovative business ideas or products to get advice early on, as they may be eligible for a Callaghan Innovation ‘getting started’ grant.
Businesses can also access Regional Business Partner co-funding through the NZTE 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 around 60 local coaches and trainers.
Client satisfaction with Waikato Innovation Park’s regional business partner activities and mentor facilitation services is high, and better than the national averages when last measured.
The Business Growth team is well regarded by stakeholders, and works closely with various regional councils and territorial authorities.
Currently, discussions are underway for the establishment of a new regional economic development agency (REDA) based at Waikato Innovation Park next year, which will build on the work the Business Growth team is already doing.
“The business eco-system in the Waikato and Coromandel regions is more connected now than three years ago when I started,” says Purcell. “It’s been a process of getting to know each other and the capabilities we offer. We look forward to building on what we do, but expanding the services provided with the new regional economic development agency.”
Pictured: the Waikato Innovation Park growth team.