Covid-19 has created both challenges and opportunities for small businesses – that’s why online business advice platform Manaaki has partnered with Kiwibank to offer mentorship and grants for SMEs.
If there’s one element that has linked every small business across New Zealand (and much of the world) over the past year, it’s the palpable sense of uncertainty during Covid-19 lockdowns. Before March 2020, never had a change been so sudden, severe and universal as to totally derail business plans, wither finances and cast the future of so many businesses into doubt.
However, by the same measure, if there was a single element that provided a near-universal sense of comfort to those businesses, it was the community support that naturally and immediately rallied to help see them through those bizarre times.
Business advisory forum Manaaki epitomised this response. Launched on March 25, days after the level four lockdown started, the idea for Manaaki was simple: muster the knowledge and expertise of New Zealand’s business community and make it available through an online platform to anyone who needed help. Any small business owner and entrepreneur could register and ask questions on the Manaaki forum, such as “how do I move my business online?” and receive an immediate response from some of the 200 seasoned experts and leaders.
Since it launched, Manaaki – which means to uplift someone else’s mana – has assisted 300,000 New Zealanders, helping them meet the challenges and opportunities of owning a business through the unique demands of Covid-19. The goal was to help them feel supported and connected through the pandemic and always have someone to rely on for advice – often someone with vast experience and knowledge.
“What people really valued about our service, apart from the immediacy of the response and the quality of the advice, was that all of a sudden, inspiring business leaders – people you may have read about – became accessible,” says Manaaki co-founder Pat MacFie.
“It’s about trying to provide a guiding light or playbook and show people the pattern that you can use to succeed. I’ve found a big part of my life’s purpose through this mahi. It’s weird to say, but I actually wouldn’t change it for the world because of the difference we’ve been able to make.”
Although the worst of the pandemic appears over for New Zealand, the settling dust is revealing a new landscape of economic opportunities and challenges. To help businesses meet them, Manaaki has partnered with Kiwibank to launch Manaaki U, an initiative that will provide mentorship and $10,000 grants to four small businesses throughout the year, facilitating them to make an impact within their communities.
Applications for Manaaki U will be held in four different stages throughout the year. The first runs from April 8 to 25 and the first business will be selected by a panel on April 30. Manaaki U received over 400 applications for the initiative in one night.
“I think that speaks to the calibre and opportunity of what’s being offered. The cash is good, but I think what people are really looking for is that support to help them achieve those goals. We’re going to be really in depth in the way we engage with these businesses,” says MacFie.
The incredible wealth of knowledge and experience Manaaki has brought together is a testament to the camaraderie of New Zealand’s business community. The Manaaki mentors know what it’s like to face huge challenges and they’re eager to use their time and passion to help small businesses succeed and thrive. The mentors want to understand the business and the challenges it faces at a micro level and truly understand the aspiration of the individual, the family and the community they want to support, says MacFie.
“That’s why we’re called Manaaki – our business leaders are willing to go over and above to really uplift those small businesses, whether that means taking on very large pro bono projects, opening up their personal network, or allowing businesses to use their own private resources to help them to get forward.”
Although much of the discussion around New Zealand business since Covid-19 has been dominated by notions of digital technology, Manaaki U will equally favour traditional businesses along with tech-heavy startups.
“We’re equally up for helping the landscaping company in Whangarei to run their business more effectively,” says Macfie.
“People get into business for a reason that’s very personal to them. So we hope to help them actualise whatever their vision and their version of success is, and give them access to the best people in this country to help them achieve that – and a little cash along the way with the support of Kiwibank, which is awesome.”
The Maanaki U grants are designed to help the recipients foster social and economic impact, not just for one business but for whole communities. It’s about investing in the businesses that sit at the heart of local economies, says Kiwibank’s head of small business, Joanna Greaves.
“Kiwibank’s founding vision was about offering an alternative to Australian-owned banks, and to nurture the growth of New Zealand businesses. When small businesses succeed there’s this flow-on success to our communities and our economy prospers.”
The partnership with Manaaki is about helping these dynamic organisations realise their potential, at the same time as retaining their flexibility and energy that makes them special.
“Small businesses have the complexity of needing to wear multiple hats across marketing, finance, logistics, production, delivery and digitalisation. So to have that connection across Manaaki’s network is pretty incredible. It’s really exciting for us to be able to partner with that expertise.”
The grants aren’t just to help the cutting-edge business developments, but also to allow small business owners to overcome crucial obstacles – ones that they might not have foreseen 12 months ago.
“It might be that there’s businesses that have got really ambitious goals, but equally, it might be that they’ve got some hurdles that they’re needing support with,” Greaves says.
“Hopefully, we’ve come through the really tough period so it’s a neat time to be able to provide that support and help these businesses leapfrog into the future.”
There are four opportunities to apply for Manaaki U this year; 8-25 April, 3-18 June, 4-18 August, and 6-20 October. To enter, small business owners are asked to record a quick video explaining who they are, their dreams and challenges and submit via this form.
June will see the launch of Manaaki’s next phase: a hub where small business owners can get their problems solved and actioned end-to-end. Business owners can bring issues that need solving quickly and experts and advisors will answer their questions for free.
Business owners can go one step further by booking book a call with the same expert for more in-depth work and will also be able to list projects, and have contractors bid for these jobs.
This content was created in paid partnership with Kiwibank. Learn more about our partnerships here.