Four students from the Whanganui and Ruapehu areas have won $30,000 in e-commerce scholarships.
In a programme run by social enterprise Te Whare Hukakuka, the scholarships worth $7500 each have been awarded to four indigenous applicants from the region who will take part in a 12-week bootcamp in e-commerce and digital marketing.
Te Whare Hukahuka partnered with Shopify and Te Puni Kokiri to offer 65 scholarships worth over $450,000 for the online learning programme, with New Zealand Trade and Enterprise also contributing towards scholarships for iwi and Māori businesses.
Te Whare Hukahuka chief executive Travis O'Keefe said well over half the available scholarships had been awarded to applicants in smaller towns and rural New Zealand.
"We put more than $250,000 in scholarships where we know it will have the greatest impact – at home, in our smaller, harder-to-reach communities," O'Keefe said.
Whanganui East's Moana Ellis was a member of the test cohort of 20 Māori in New Zealand and Australia who completed a pilot programme earlier in the year.
"Participants in the pilot fed back to Te Whare Hukahuka as part of the research for building the programme, and the events of this year also required a response, so there was a lot of thinking around the skills and knowledge priorities for indigenous business right now," Ellis said.
"It's great that Travis and the team have been able to be responsive to the economic situation and the urgent needs of indigenous enterprise. The result is a programme to aid business recovery and growth – one that is relevant for our times and teaches people what they need right now to run successful business online."
Ellis, together with another pilot programme graduate, is co-founder of 5000 TRIBES, an initiative aimed at getting all Māori, Pasifika and indigenous businesses online.
"5000 Tribes is a virtual mainstreet or CBD – an online shopping complex of stores owned by tangata whenua and indigenous businesses. This creates a unique collaboration that becomes highly visible to the growing community of conscious shoppers around the world who want to spend their dollar in areas and with people they care about."
Candidates were put through a challenging application process, included five video and social media tasks designed to test candidates' commitment to succeeding in e-commerce, O'Keefe said.
The programme had over 250 applicants across New Zealand and Australia, with winners ranging from ages 18 to 61.
"Our aim is to enable anyone anywhere to become a digital entrepreneur and build economic prosperity for their families and communities."
Aroha Greenhalgh, from Taumarunui, first heard of the scholarship via social media, and was encouraged by Ellis to check it out.
"It was definitely something that worked for me and I had been wanting to find an opportunity out there like this," Greenhalgh said.
After studying digital marketing in Auckland for two years in the past, she said working with other Maori with similar ideas and goals was a great experience.
"It was something that I started years ago but never continued because I wasn't around the type of people that I thought I'd work best with which is my own heritage. Being Maori myself, I needed that niche," Greenhalgh said.
"It has been hard finding that in a university context. I found a place I could relate to."
Greenhalgh said she had tried to start businesses in the past but struggled to get business off the ground after not having the necessary resources and knowledge to take off.
"We are quite isolated and we choose to live at home and not in the cities. This online platform really worked and helped us put our creative ideas out there."
Currently working as a field officer with the Department of Conservation, Greenhalgh wants to put infrastructure in place so people of the land can help with the work involved with land management and care.
"My passion is the ecological restoration. The restoration of streams, rivers and forest life and fauna. There is a lot of work out there and land management by DOC but we are trying to find ways to get the public involved with the work itself."
With the mentorship of Te Whare Hukahuka behind her, Greenhalgh is excited by what the future holds.
"I've found they have the right tools for me to work with. This platform is going to help growth both nationally and internationally and will provide a place for us to connect with others online as well as training up others looking for the same community."
The programme starts on August 17, and will include a series of masterclasses from e-commerce experts around the world.