WHILE waiting to tee off at Hastings Golf Club, Laser Electrical Napier owner Paul Manaena said joining business incubator The Icehouse's course for owner operators is "easily the best thing" he has done for his business.
"I have turned it right around," he said.
"My profits have gone right up because I am doing things more efficiently and working on the business more. The other thing is my own personal self. I used to work 60 to 70 hours a week but now I probably wouldn't even do 45 hours - I get time to have a bit more balance in my life."
Regional economic development agency Business Hawke's Bay persuaded The Icehouse to move its first office outside Auckland in 2012, making its programmes, resources, funding and networks available to Hawke's Bay businesses.
It already had strong Hawke's Bay links, with nearly 40 Hawke's Bay alumni, and its founder was former Heinz-Wattie's chief executive David Irving.
In December he told a Mission Estate Winery audience that small to medium-sized businesses owners put their money on the line whereas corporate managers only risked their reputation.
"A corporate guy gets six weeks at Stanford. Where is their Stanford?" he said.
"Aren't they entitled to a Stanford?"
So he started New Zealand's own Stanford, The Icehouse, which Forbes Magazine recognised as one of the world's top 10 business incubators.
Hawke's Bay manager Michaela Vodanovich said there were four Icehouse staff based in Hawke's Bay.
Many programmes were funded through New Zealand Trade and Enterprise's voucher scheme but Icehouse was a very affordable option for business owners "especially when you look at the value they receive in terms of growth in their business and the results they want in a pretty quick timeframe".
Icehouse was a "tight ship" locally.
"We don't have offices. All of us are independent contractors but we are very fortunate because we have access to the BNZ Partners' resources. We also have access to a number of our alumni's boardrooms. "
Uptake in the 16 months Icehouse has been operational in Hawke's Bay has been strong.
"We did our own market validation process so we knew there was a need," she said.
"What we probably didn't foresee was the the different types of businesses that are tapping into us - that is what has really surprised me.
"Even though I was involved in Business Hawke's Bay I am astounded, probably at least once a week when I go and talk to a business owner and I actually understand the scale of a business, how well they have been doing during really, really tough times and the opportunity that really exists for those business owners now and in the future."
She said for many businesses their main problem was not survival or growth strategy, but deciding options.
"They say they have an opportunity, or there are multiple opportunities, and want us to help them decide which path they should take to get to the goals and the business vision that they have.
"Quite often the multiple option just leads to confusion and our role is to help them wade their way through and test all the options to find the ones that match their core competency."
She said the Hawke's Bay office would continue to grow.
"Businesses are starting to understand if they want to capture some of the market opportunities there is probably a place for them to think about market validation and where they need to be re-investing in the business.
"A lot of work is customer specific but also we are looking at ways in which we can also address capabilities gaps in the business - what is the kind of talent and skills that we have locally in Hawke's Bay that is potentially been untapped. We are always being asked if we know of someone who would fit a particular position.
She said tapping into The Icehouse's pool of expertise and investor network would increase.
"We have always understood there is an underlying interest in Hawke's Bay from different people who would like to understand what investment opportunities there are."
Ms Vodanovich said she supports the Business Hawke's Bay concept of a one-stop-shop business hub.
"One thing we hear time and time again from business owners is that they know that help is available but they are not sure where to get it.
"To have a hub, one 'go-to' place where business owners can get the support, the answers, and the guidance they need, as well as being shown a pathway to the support that is available in the region, that - I think - would be a fantastic result."
Mr Manaena learned about The Icehouse training through other Laser franchisees.
"Quite a few had done The Icehouse training course for owner operators. We meet quite a bit and they said it was good for the business side of stuff. "Being an electrician I have had to learn how to do the business side of things - working on the business."
He meets with eight other business owners every two weeks where goals are discussed and set. Less regularly they take part in a topic-specific workshops.
He is enjoying the program and said he was looking at putting his son through it as well.
"I probably have got another 10 months to go to finish the whole thing - you always have things you can work on - and the benefits are I can play more golf."