From Little Things, BIG Things Come…

Karamea Co.Starters Graduate with BIG Plans for Business Success

Off the Top of My Head

By Paul Murray

In the small rural enclave of Karamea in a community ravaged by COVID, seven local entrepreneurial ladies graduated from a 10-week Co.Starters business course on May 11, 2022.


About 20 people gathered for the occasion at Vinnie’s Cafe in Karamea to hear business pitch presentations from the respective participants. Heath Milne, CEO of Development West Coast (DWC), which sponsored the programme, attended the event. The participants, facilitators and people of Karamea thoroughly appreciated his effort to come to Karamea from his home near Greymouth for the celebration.

Liz Kerslake from WeatherTop Permaculture Retreat Presents her Business Pitch to Fellow Co.Starters Participants, DWC CEO Heath Milne and Members of the Public.

The Co.Starters programme takes a business idea and walks it through a logical series of steps over the course of 10 weeks to prepare the concept for market success. Co.Starters began in an economically challenged community in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The region faced high unemployment and the social issues associated with little hope, penury and lack of life purpose and meaningfulness. The programme was initially run in Karamea in 2016 when the region was facing significant economic challenges. Several new businesses became established, including a Vinnie’s Cafe and a Nature aHead hairdressing salon.

Co-Facilitator Jessie Creedmore Delivers a Speech in Italian at Celebration Night.

The 2022 course was conducted via ZOOM due to meeting restriction protocols relating to the COVID pandemic. Despite initial concerns, it worked out very well for all participants who could join from the comfort of their own homes. The online forum also permitted guest speakers to access the sessions from afar. Guest speakers zoomed-in from Nelson, Hokitika, Mexico and Japan and shared their knowledge and experience about specific facets of business. Participants could also ask questions and interact with the guest speakers.

DWC CEO Heath Milne Enables Guest Speakers, Award Donators, DWC Staff, Buller Mayor Jamie Cleine and COVID Afflicted Co.Starters to Join Celebration Night via ZOOM

The decision to host the programme by ZOOM turned out to have been prudent as halfway throgh the course, many participants, including the facilitators, succumbed to the lurgy and were required to home isolate. However, throughout the course, those who were able got together to discuss the challenges participants were facing and help each other out. The programme’s strength results from the synergies that evolve between the participants and the “better together” concept whereby everyone helps each other out for mutual benefit.

The business ideas were as diverse as the participants themselves, from a night sky star gazing activity (DUSK Dark Unique Skies Karamea) to a peaceful alternative to the Military-Industrial Complex (Peace Inc.). Also, a branch-mulching service (Chip-Chop (We Chip, What You Chop)), Permaculture Retreat (WeatherTop), Hikoia traditional Maori Flax-Weaving, a vegan food cart and artisan cheesemaker Dianne Anderson, who is already winning national awards for cheeses made from her own grass-fed dairy herd.

Ange Cronin Dressed as an Astronaut, Presents her Pitch for DUSK: Dark Unique Skies Karamea.

Seven of the nine starters graduated from the course. It was a great satisfaction for the facilitators to hear the business pitches on “Celebration Night” and recognise how much progress the participants had made in sharpening and consolidating their business ideas into a polished presentation and the confidence they had in sharing their business concepts publicly. Two Co.Starters graduates joined the Celebration Night by ZOOM and did their pitches online.


Liz Kerslake scooped two additional awards for Best Presentation and the Customer Count Award for discussing her business idea with more prospective customers to elicit their feedback. Dianne Anderson won the “People’s Choice Award,” which was voted on by the participants for the best business idea.

Liz Kerslake Presents her Business: WeatherTop Permaculture Retreat
Cheesemaker Dianne Anderson.
Raramai Adcock pitches “Hikoia,” her traditional Maori flax-weaving business.
Colleen O’Sullivan Presents her “Chip-Chop” (We Chip What You Chop) Business Idea.

Co.Starters Graduate Dunford Speaks to Graduates About his Experience Starting and Operating his Business “Vinnie’s Cafe” in Karamea and Presenting all Graduates with a Coffee Voucher.
Celebration Night Feast by Co.Starters Alumni Vinnie Dunford of “Vinnie’s Cafe.”

Many thanks to DWC for financially supporting the Co.Starters programme and to Amy McLaughlin of Tinker Creative for the $400 branding package (won by Liz Kerslake), Business Mentors NZ for a 12-month subscription (won by Dianne Anderson) and Daimon Schwalger of Nomad Audio and Video for a 45-second promotional video worth over $2,000 (won by Liz Kerslake).

Very special thanks also to Rachel Doolan from DWC for her enthusiastic and professional support and the superb guest speakers who freely offered their time, wisdom and experience to the course participants.

Guest Speakers:
• Don Grant, Penati
• Frank Witowski, Hybrid Bike
• Nadine Hickman, Peptalk Media
• Dave Barrett, Thorvald Cheese, Little River Cheese, Kahurangi Wine, The Junction
• Ali Boswijk, Nelson Tasman Chamber of Commerce
• Miguel Varella-Cid – New Era Imports
• Tash Dellaca – EPIC Westport
• Cindy Hopper, West Coast Scenic Waterways
• Rochelle Crossman – Karamea Village Hotel

About LivinginPeaceProject

Paul Murray is the founder of the LivinginPeace Project. www.livinginpeace.com Paul originally from Australia, but have been living in New Zealand for 14 years. Before that he was in Japan for a decade working as a journalist. He met his wife Sanae in Japan and they married in 2008.
This entry was posted in Business, Cheese, Co.Starters, Community, Economics, Education, Food, Karamea, Money, New Zealand, Paul Murray, Permaculture, Photography, Social Enterprise, Sustainability, Tourism, Uncategorized, West Coast and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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