Working with businesses that have potential for scale and export, Northland Inc is aiming to boosting the region's start-up eco-system. Christine Allen chats with Jessica Henderson, the newly appointed Early Stage business adviser with Northland's regional economic development agency.

She's run her own start-ups, lectured in retail and now Jessica Henderson is back in her hometown of Whangārei as the Early Stage business adviser with the Tai Tokerau Incubation Programme, supporting Northland businesspeople to achieve their growth goals.

"The leaders need to be capable and coachable. If you want to scale and export offshore, I'm your woman!

"The programme takes on those with potential for scale and export. We accept people into what we call our early stage staircase.

"We create, help to find or to develop an idea; validate, investigate whether there is a market for the idea; accelerate, engage product development, sales, marketing and incubate, polish the business model and strategy, raise capital, export."


Operating from Whangārei's Orchard Business and Event Hub, she said the Orchard's mission was "to seed, nurture, grow".

"This also explains how we work with business clients."

While Northland's start-ups are "diverse and talented", Henderson said they are disconnected and operate in isolation.

Henderson worked for a time in Europe and returned home to Whangārei where she sold wine across the region.

"My background is in sales and marketing of FMCG [Fast Moving Consumer Goods], fashion, wine, a bit of tech, hospitality … Most recently, in Europe, I worked in the packaging sector in sales and marketing roles, working under the CEOs or GMs on sales and marketing strategies for growth."

She also lectured at Nottingham Trent University's fashion school on the future of packaging and retail.

Before moving to the UK, Henderson had three start-ups of her own.

"Two failures and one moderate success … a fashion start-up with my sister, which we shut down when the writing on the wall spelled GFC."


She said working with the start-up community was exciting.

"The founders are inspiring, as are the people in the Northland Inc."


The Tai Tokerau Incubation Programme looks at what experiences, relationships, capabilities and team a founder needs to bring into their business.

There are 15 individuals already signed up, and another 100 or so in the pipeline, said Henderson.

Her ideal client, she said, needed to be "scalable, with potential for high growth and export".

"The leaders need to be capable and coachable. If you want to scale and export offshore, I'm your woman!

"Being Callaghan Innovation funded, we are very interested in tech and innovation – and organically we do have 50 per cent tech/innovation businesses - but we have clients from every sector, from fashion to farming."

She said her clients often faced issues with raising capital.

"We support them to prepare – strategy, pitch decks, introductions, capital planning … The full whack. Another area people won't usually have experience in is overseas markets – exporting, licensing, intellectual property."

She said connecting through the Regional Business Partner Network meant the programme could support the 50 per cent co-funded vouchers for things like capability building for leaders.

"We also have a great – and growing – New Zealand and international network upon which we draw. We bring in other agencies, New Zealand Trade and Enterprise [NZTE] for example, to augment our in-house expertise. Those agencies like NZTE, MFAT, Callaghan Innovation, ecentre – they're all proactive and helpful."

• For more information about the programme, contact