Waikato business 'thriving' says expert

19 December 2017

Business in the Waikato and Coromandel regions are thriving, according to a local business growth expert.

“It's an exciting time to be doing business in Waikato, and the region is buzzing,” says Waikato business growth manager Craig Purcell.

In particular, there is strong growth in technology, food and tourism, he says.

“Food is really important to the region right now, and dairying as a subset of that.”

“Tourism is going through the roof, especially in Thames and Coromandel. The Hauraki Rail Trail is bringing money into the region through local businesses, and the spending and benefits are exceeding the costs of building and maintaining the tracks themselves.”

There is more business collaboration across the region, which is vital to developing innovation, he says.

“We have seen an explosion of Waikato businesses getting on with innovation projects, working together using Callaghan Innovation project grants. There are 31 of these projects on the go at the moment and last year there were just four. They are across the region and from a range of industries including big technology to manufacturing to agribusiness to health to food – a real cross section.”

Mr Purcell says there has been a change in thinking, and it's making a difference. “There is an appreciation for risk and return now that we weren't seeing two years ago. Increased cash flow gives a sense of confidence to businesses, which leads to collaboration.”

Mr Purcell leads a team of six business growth advisors based at Waikato Innovation Park. They are funded by the Regional Business Partner Network (RBPN) which is supported by New Zealand Trade & Enterprise (NZTE) and Callaghan Innovation.

Their aim is to provide free support to Waikato businesses which have high-growth aspirations, are export focused, technology-driven or have innovative products or services with real commercial merit. They offer advice and referrals for business mentoring, and can help businesses access Callaghan Innovation funding for research and development or expert training or coaching.

“The level of activity has doubled over the last 12 months, and 60 percent of our clients are outside Hamilton,” says Mr Purcell.

Currently, advisors meet with around 500 businesses every year, including many start-ups. They travel around the Waikato region to meet with local businesses, and spend one day each month in seven towns: Tuakau, Huntly, Thames, Paeroa, Tokoroa, Taupo and Raglan.

The current team includes business growth advisors Peter Davey, Novell Gopal, Kahurangi Taylor, Hayley Smith and Waikato mentor manager Tony Kane. Food Waikato's Shane Kells has also been doing good work as a business growth advisor in the food space, says Mr Purcell.

Mr Purcell says supporting and growing Maori business is also a priority for the region, and the country, and the Business Growth team has become more focused on that this year.

In November the Business Growth team co-hosted a Maori Business Panel at the Park with Waikato Tainui. “We are working hard to boost engagement and support to Maori businesses.”

There have been other events throughout the year, hosted at the Park, designed to encourage business growth and collaboration.

Tech is a real focus. The first Waikato Technology Show was held at the Park in February, timed to coincide with the launch of CultivateIT, a regional cluster group for ICT professionals. Next May the team will coordinate Techweek'18 around the region, which aims to foster growth in technology and innovation in New Zealand.

The Business Growth team also runs an invitation-only Innovation Forum each quarter for 30 local businesses, to develop innovation skills. Mr Purcell says Waikato companies are leading growth in the technology sector nationally, and among the top players in the TIN200 group (New Zealand's top 200 technology companies).

He says it is a privilege to help people grow their ideas and businesses, and that people with innovative business ideas or products to get advice early on, as they may be eligible for a Callaghan Innovation 'getting started' grant.

Businesses can also access Regional Business Partner co-funding through the NZTE capability development voucher scheme. These vouchers enable people to upskill in areas such as strategic planning, marketing, capital raising, business systems, finance, sustainability, managing resources, governance and exporting – with access to around 60 local coaches and trainers.

Client satisfaction with Waikato Innovation Park's regional business partner activities and mentor facilitation services is high, and better than the national averages when last measured.

Currently, discussions are underway for the establishment of a new regional economic development agency (REDA) based at Waikato Innovation Park next year, which will build on the work the Business Growth team is already doing.

“The business eco-system in the Waikato and Coromandel regions is more connected now than three years ago when I started,” says Mr Purcell. “It's been a process of getting to know each other and the capabilities we offer. We look forward to building on what we do, but expanding the services provided with the new regional economic development agency.”

For more information on free advice from Waikato Innovation Park's Business Growth Team please contact 07 857 0538 or businessgrowth@wipltd.co.nz

- Waikato Business News

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