Off the Top of My Head
By Paul Murray
The 16 participants in the inaugural Co.Starters programme from Ross to Karamea on the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand came together with programme sponsors, facilitators and invited guests at EPIC in Westport on June 22, 2016, to celebrate the successful completion of their nine-week business development course.
Co.Starters began in Chattanooga, Tennessee in 2008 in a region that was facing similar economic challenges we are currently experiencing in the Buller region. The Co.Starters programme was instrumental in turning the situation in Chatanooga around and renewing the local economy by supporting small business start-ups, fostering entrepreneurial ideas and helping people take their ideas to market. The region is now considered one of the most economically stable in the United States.
The participants had a five-minute opportunity to pitch their business ideas and present their ventures to a captive audience of around 50 people, who had the opportunity to ask questions of the participants after they had revealed and explained their prospective business ventures.
The Buller REAP initiated programme was backed by a donation from Holcim New Zealand and the Buller District Council with some of the economic stimulus funding it received from Development West Coast. Buller Mayor Garry Howard opened the evening and thanked Peter Howard of Buller REAP for his vision in bringing the course to Buller and his determination and persistence in getting the programme off the ground.
The range of diverse business ideas presented on the night included, an indoor adventure barn to attract visitors to Westport and offer them an all-weather activity, an Internet-based menswear delivery service, a house-swap facility for New Zealand teachers and an online marketing company that seeks to help promote Coast businesses.
The real power of the Co.Starters programme is the synergies that develop between the participants, who are all working on different projects, but share a common focus of working through the course material to ready their business idea for a successful market launch. Empathy among the participants soon develops and they discover mutually beneficial ways they can work together and assist each other.
The award for the best presentation on the night went to Fiona McDonald of Fox River Bath Company, who successfully pitched her range of handmade body and bath products and received a one-year Xero accounting package from First Class Accounting, a six-month business membership from West Coast Rewards and $315 in donations from the audience.
Janis Lennon won the customer count prize of a one-year tailored accounting package from Campbell and Associates for her efforts in talking about her Adventure Barn business idea and getting feedback from more prospective customers than any other participant.
The most accomplished participant award of a weekend retreat for two at Rongo Backpackers & Gallery in Karamea was won by Jye Hawes who started the course with the thought of opening a café, but switched to focus on a polished concrete bench and table-top venture called The Slab.
Another course participant, gourmand Frank Wieczorek and wife Kathrin of K&F Enterprises catered for the event and took the opportunity to display their culinary talents by delivering an incredible array of beautifully presented and very tasty delicacies.
Development West Coast trustee Frank Dooley was among the invited guests and said after the presentations that he thought the financial contribution made by DWC to the Co.Starters programme was possibly the best money the trust had ever spent in terms of return on investment. He suggested DWC would continue to support the programme and the people involved and even urged a number of participants to follow-up with DWC regarding additional support.
On the day that saw the final cement boat leave Westport harbour, it was great to see others ready to fill the economic void left by Holcim’s departure and chart a course for the Buller economy on a raft of new business ideas.
The next Co.Starters course will be offered in Karamea from the first week of August and there will be another starting in Westport in September.
To register for the August Karamea Course, contact Paul Murray:
To register for the September Westport course, contact Peter Howard:
Ph: (03) 789 7659
Cell: 021 029 56 498