Whanganui & Partners encourages new business ideas
By Paul Brooks
Innovate is an initiative from Whanganui & Partners designed to give a financial and supportive boost to business innovators and creative thinkers.
The economic development agency is facilitating the Dragons' Den-style programme to support local entrepreneurs, and, in his new role as Strategic Lead: Business, Tim Easton is promoting and running the programme.
"We know there are entrepreneurs and people with exciting ideas in Whanganui. There are people locally doing amazing stuff, nationally and internationally, and we want to start building a community around those people. One way to do that is to set up a pathway for people with those ideas, to take them through to fruition and give them some wrap-around support. And also have a bit of fun.
"We're running two workshops on Wednesday [April 21] to let people know a bit about it and a little bit around what is a good business idea and how to pitch it. Then on April 28 we'll open up entries for six weeks, and people can come through us and get more information. We want to set people up to succeed.
"As many as want to register for that can: we'll do a pre-screen of that down to 20, and we've got some mentors lined up to help us with that."
Those 20 will receive more training on presentation and pitch, and they will do live pitches to the mentors in groups. Another screen will reduce the numbers to five winners who will each receive $3000 in direct support for their business.
"They will get access to co-working space and will do a 10-week incubation where they take their ideas through a 10-week process – market testing, concept design … everything they need to go through to get their business idea ready to go."
There will be an event – probably a dinner – with a lot of invited guests, and those five people will go on stage with three or four 'dragons' [as in Dragons Den], and do a live pitch.
"On that night we'll pick a winner who will get $10,000 towards their business idea."
Tim says Whanganui & Partners is looking at making it an annual event.
In his job as Strategic Lead: Business, Tim can keep an eye out for likely candidates each year, as well as his job of working with Whanganui businesses.
"There are three things we do," says Tim. "We help businesses grow through the Regional Business Partners programme that we run … we hold the sub-contract for that for Whanganui, Ruapehu, and Marton. If business needs support to grow, they register through this nationwide programme. That comes through this office and we can help them with that."
A chat helps decide where the focus needs to be to assist with growth.
"We can facilitate a link with people who can help them. Being part of a nationwide network, we plug into a lot of resources."
The next component is "attract".
"In the 'Strategic Lead: Business' area, it's trying to attract businesses in to Whanganui: that's businesses that would add to what we have here. It's always good to have complimentary businesses forming sector specific hubs. With Mill Road … a huge opportunity to bring industry to town and set it up there, particularly leveraging off the port."
Once the port comes on, Tim says there will be industry and commerce using the opportunity, and it's his job to find those businesses.
"The last one is 'retain', which was really important during Covid – how do we help businesses in Whanganui already? During Covid there was a lot of direct support into them.
"Around Christmas there was a real positive mind-set, but still a bit of uncertainty after the Auckland lockdown." He says things look a lot better now, particularly with vaccine roll-out plans.
This type of work suits Tim. He graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce degree from Victoria University, is working towards his MBA through Massey, specialising in Digital Transformation in business, and he has dabbled in businesses along the way, as far back as Whanganui High School.
The school had banned soft drink sales from the canteen, promoting water as a healthy alternative.
"My first venture was taking 18 boxes of Coca-Cola to school and selling them on the black market. Michael Young [Deputy Principal] had a bit of a conversation with me."
Tim set up an IT company at university and managed a couple of clients.
"Then I ran a boot camp formation fitness company in Wellington … we'd do early morning fitness sessions."
Such ventures gave him experience in the processes of registering companies, tax returns, marketing etc.
While he was university he joined the NZ Army Reserves, just to do something different.
"It's one of the best university jobs you can have. Everyone else is working 'hospo', with crazy hours and low pay, and we were going away for a training weekend once a month, with no food costs for the weekend, you get paid, and there's also the opportunity costs – you didn't do anything [social] that weekend. It worked out really well and you developed a really good network of friends. Over the university break you could go to Waiouru for the whole holidays on full-time employment. Again, no accommodation or food costs and you get paid for it.
"It gives you opportunities. I would have been commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in my early 20s, and you get given a platoon, so you walk out the door with 30 or 32 soldiers under your command."
Tim says it helped him learn a lot about human relationships, army hierarchy dynamics and getting on with people.
"I went overseas twice, to Afghanistan and Egypt."
But it's not all about overseas deployment.
"We've got the biggest NZ military operation since Vietnam with MIQ facilities. That is enormous in terms of the effort that's going into that."
Over Christmas Tim worked as MIQ manager, running one of the hotels and the wide range of personnel involved.
Tim is now inactive and a Stand-by Reserve, his next uniformed event will be Anzac Day.
Whanganui & Partners tracks all Whanganui economic indicators, keeping its finger on the pulse of the local economy, as well as looking for ways to maintain and increase momentum.
Tim loves it.
"We are the source of this information for Whanganui."