As Amy Fowler and Kelvin Gilbert walked down George St early last year, they realised their dream of opening their own boutique design agency could become a reality in Palmerston North.

The creative duo, both digital artists, met while studying design at Ucol before working for a string of companies and then for themselves, based from home.

"We walked past the vacant shop and said to each other, 'why don't we take the plunge and see what it costs'?" Amy said.

After a phone call to the real estate agent and a flexible landlord allowing a one-year lease compared to an initial three-year lease, which they were hesitant to commit to, they signed on the dotted line and the space became theirs.


Today, the Origin 8 sign stands out against the cherry blossom trees that line the street. They have been operating for 16 months and are a prominent addition to the collection of owner-operated boutiques that call the quaint George St home. Origin 8 is one of 11,700 businesses in the Manawatu region, and one of 51 new businesses that have started since March 2016, according to MBIE.

"For a long time we have wanted to open our own agency and have a creative hub. We had discussed setting up in Wellington, but the costs and overheads would not have been feasible," Kelvin said. They couple say they love the creative culture within Palmerston North and at times you just need to scratch the surface to find it.

Starting a business came with its challenges. The couple knew their creative strengths, but as their client base grew they needed assistance with growing their business skills.

"Starting a business was nerve-wracking," said Kelvin, with Amy adding, "There's a lot to think about all the time and we didn't imagine it being like that when we jumped into it.

"We thought we were just going to do fun creative stuff all the time, but you must be everything: the account manager, the creative, the sales person, the coffee maker," she said.

They began exploring mentoring and consultancy services that were "mind-boggling expensive".

They connected with CEDA business growth adviser Brian Sami who helped identify ways they could develop their skills.

CEDA's business mentoring service appealed and they were soon matched with local accountant and business coach Hector Bassett. The couple wanted someone to bounce ideas with, give guidance and help them to take calculated risks.

Working with Hector led them to prepare a money management system and better client processes. He also helped them to develop ways to deliver their ideas to clients and be more confident when presenting and discussing costs.

"We feel like Hector's not just challenging the things we are saying, he is vouching for us, too. Knowing you can rely on that support gives us peace of mind," said Amy.

Today, most of Origin 8's work is local, but they have plans to expand into neighbouring regions and grow their team. The continued development of highways linking Palmerston North with Wellington and the opportunities that closer connection to the capital will bring, is exciting for them.

Business mentor Hector Bassett says seeing the couple's understanding of business growth develop is extremely rewarding.

"I've been able to help in two ways and that's driven by their willingness to ask for help. So many people don't ask for help and they were courageous enough to know they needed it."

The biggest difference now, he said, is their financial awareness and their ability to learn and apply basic business principles which have resulted in financial benefits.

"They have realised their numbers aren't just a great big hole, they were able to manage things themselves with a little bit of help."

Hector says mentoring is as much about learning as it is teaching.

"It is very satisfying to pass on my knowledge and wisdom and see others benefit from it. It is contributes to my ongoing training and development; teaching others helps me understand what I can do better."

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