Business is Boring is a weekly podcast series presented by The Spinoff in association with Callaghan Innovation. Host Simon Pound speaks with innovators and commentators focused on the future of New Zealand, with the interview available as both audio and a transcribed excerpt. This week Simon talks to Aroha Armstrong about creating pathways for Māori entrepreneurship.
Recently, you might have seen news of a new and very exciting accelerator called Kōkiri. Aimed at increasing the support and pathways for Māori entrepreneurship. It took 100 applicants to land 10 placements on a rigorous four-month programme.
Over half the class of 2018 attracted investment, and the ideas ranged from medicinal cannabis with Hikurangi Enterprises; The Realness, which is a way to find owner-operated restaurants from some of the Coco’s Cantina crew; and a very cool idea for turning didymo – rock snot – into dollars.
A partnership between Callaghan, Te Wānanga o Aotearoa and Creative HQ it’s involved mentoring, workshops, a hub in Hamilton and a lot of learnings about how to foster Maori entrepreneurship and increase participation and pathways for ideas to become businesses. Aroha Armstrong, the group manager for Māori economy at Callaghan, joins me now to talk Kōkiri, her entrepreneurship journey and fostering great ideas.
What things from your journey as an entrepreneur have been beneficial to you now guiding others?
I guess that’s one of the cool things about Callaghan Innovation, and probably why I gravitated towards it, I didn’t think I’d end up in a government department. We’re there to help New Zealand business to grow. We want to help people out with their ideas. We have scientists and technicians to help people with their ideas, innovation skills, R&D funding, all of that stuff.
What I see is a lot of our customer managers and employees have been on that journey as well so there’s a lot of empathy that I think is quite unique. It means when businesses come to us they feel as though we understand the journey they’re on and how difficult it can be. That’s my passion. I feel like I understand the journey. The risk, the fear, the excitement, doing something no one else is doing and not really knowing the answer is different.
All of us have a sense of purpose that by helping business owners and by helping entrepreneurs and by helping people use technology and investing in R&D and owning some of the solutions to the world that we can really take this country somewhere. I believe we can do that. I believe our businesses are the answer.
As a country we have traditionally under-invested in R&D and we’ve under-invested in professional development and our productivity hasn’t lifted and it’s these kind of things that help it. But if you take those stats and bring them down to the Māori and Pacifica parts of the country it’s even worse.
You think you’ll go into a government department and you’ll have all of these resources and it’ll be easy but I’ve found it’s just like running a business. You never have enough to do what you want to do so you have to be creative and come up with ways that you can shift a whole economy with not a lot.
What I gravitate to is the potential. We might be a little bit behind but we’ve got good stuff. One of the things that I love about the Māori economy – and it’s a little bit conceited but I’ll say it anyway – I feel like the rest of the world has finally caught up to the Māori way of doing business. Social consciousness has always been a part of what we do and how we operate. Sustainability, environmental concerns, and giving back to our people is just how we do business and it’s nice that consumers are demanding what we’ve always known is the way to do business.
There are some really interesting things with iwi becoming larger and larger participants in the economy and having the long-term view and investing here, becoming forces in the economy too.
We are a very significant contributor to New Zealand’s economy. I think the thing we underestimate is the impact that we have on our communities. Not just our Māori communities, but if we are solving our own problems we are giving the whole country a leg up. I think there is more to be done. I think the whole country is a little bit comfortable because we’ve got this great resource, we tend to rely on our primary assets and we do tend to do things the way we’ve always done them.
There is a challenge to step outside and embrace some of our Māoritanga, I suppose, our ability to take risks, think about different ways to do something, solve a problem using new tools and the things that are available to us. Not just for Māori, but New Zealand as a whole needs to start thinking about how much we’re comfortable risking to do something different and transformative and technology is the new tool that’s available to us. We don’t need to understand it, we just have to know that it’s there and it can help solve a problem.
It’s super exciting.