Caitlin Sykes

Your Business editor of the NZ Herald

Small business: Pacific entrepreneurs

Peter Cordtz, chief executive of the Pacific Business Trust.
Peter Cordtz, chief executive of the Pacific Business Trust.

When Pacific Island Affairs Minister Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga was sworn into his role earlier this year, he expressed the desire to see more Pacific people tap into their entrepreneurial spirits.

Many people started their own businesses, often in fishing and farming, in the Pacific Islands, but Pacific people were less likely to do so in New Zealand, he said. Rekindling that entrepreneurial spirit could help raise the fortunes of Pacific communities here.

This week I've interviewed a handful of Pacific small business owners, asking them about the sparks that lit their entrepreneurial fires, and the challenges and opportunities they've encountered along the journey of owning their own businesses.

I also asked what they thought could be done to encourage more people from Pacific communities to take on the Minister's challenge and start their own businesses.

Peter Cordtz is chief executive of the Pacific Business Trust, which offers a central resource, as well as relevant training and assistance for Pacific people in business and those wanting to start one up.

Cordtz says the two main barriers for Pacific entrepreneurs are capital and capability. The trust used to have a loans portfolio to help on the capital side, but it closed it down in 2007 when repaying of the loans became a problem, he says.

"We realised that raising the business capabilities of Pacific people through education and training was a priority," he says. "In addition to training, hands-on assessment and planning support is how our team assist Pacific people to start, sustain and grow successful businesses."

Paul Hala, founder and creative director of central Auckland-based hair salon Hala Hair who is originally from the Tongan island of Vava'u, says culturally sensitive microfinance and relationship-based banking services could help.

Community is also important for many Pacific people, he says, and creating structured support around this concept could be beneficial.

"Business incubators are common in some industries now, but I see this idea working very well by setting up mentored communities of Pacific small business owners sharing knowledge and supporting each other with their experiences and successes," he says.

Entrepreneur Agnes Loheni and her sisters grew up in a home where their mum worked from home sewing dresses for fashion stores around New Zealand - an influence in their decision to start their own Pacific-focused fashion brand, MENA, 10 years ago.
Loheni says offering Pacific people starting a business access to high level expertise and mentoring could help more businesses survive. Celebrating the success of those doing well is also important, she says.

"Definitely we have to promote our Pacific entrepreneurs who are making inroads in their fields. Having spent a number of years living and travelling around the Pacific Islands, our entrepreneurial spirit is very evident in agriculture, fishing, retail and commerce; the reality is that in the Pacific Islands where access to social welfare is limited, the drive to create your own opportunities is vital," she says.

Pacific entrepreneurs - Peter Cordtz, Pacific Business Trust


Peter Cordtz is the chief executive of the Pacific Business Trust, which has offices in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. After four years with the trust, Cordtz is moving on from his role later this month.

What is the mandate of the Pacific Business Trust and how does it support Pacific entrepreneurs?

The trust offers a central business resource, as well as relevant training and assistance, provided by our team of experienced business facilitators, to Pacific people in business and those wanting to start a business.

The Minister of Pacific Island Affairs, Peseta Sam Lotu-Iiga, has stated that more Pacific people need to embrace the entrepreneur within. What are some of the barriers for Pacific people when it comes to starting businesses?

I would say capital and capability. Access to capital is a significant barrier and the trust had a loans portfolio to assist. But repaying the loans became a significant problem and the trust closed it down in 2007.

We realised that raising the business capabilities of Pacific people through education and training was a priority. New Zealand in general has a high level of entrepreneurship, but we're a small nation and that leads to high failure rates. We set a target that we wanted at least 80% of the startup clients we assist to last in business for more than a year and 50% to last more than two. In addition to training, hands-on assessment and planning support is how our team assist Pacific people to start, sustain and grow successful businesses.

What about social entrepreneurship? Is that a concept that's gaining traction among Pacific entrepreneurs?

Pacific people feature strongly in the field of social entrepreneurship, predominantly through our workforce, but increasingly through Pacific-led organisations. One example is Pacific Homecare, which is led by CEO Hamish Crooks - a long-serving board member and former chairman of the trust. His organisation employs close to 300 predominantly Pacific people serving the aged and disability communities. Social entrepreneurship is a natural fit for the Pacific community and is growing.

What would be your top piece of advice for Pacific people considering taking the leap into entrepreneurship?

Education and training is the key. Inga Tuigamala spoke about this very issue pretty bluntly in a recent television interview when he talked about his struggles in business due to his lack of education and training in the field of business.

Coming up in Small Business: What are some of the cool Kiwi scientific innovations that are being turned into companies? If you've got a good story to tell about this, drop me a note: nzhsmallbusiness@gmail.com

- NZ Herald

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