Kiwis are renowned for hard graft and being keen to ‘go it on their own’ in business. But success takes more than enthusiasm and many have found business tough going. However, Business Growth Services, which operates a free advice service throughout Waikato, is providing a guiding hand – Peter Davey is one of a busy advisory team.
What is the Business Growth Services team, who started it and who funds it?
Business Growth Services is a team of experienced business people who act as advisors to new and emerging businesses in the Waikato and Coromandel regions. Callaghan Innovation and New Zealand Trade & Enterprise (NZTE) are the main funders. We connect new businesses to programmes, experts, mentors and co-funding which can improve their capabilities and speed up their growth.
Waikato Innovation Park started the programme nearly 10 years ago. To date we’ve worked with more than 1000 businesses and have helped contribute more than $1.3 million to the regional economy through supporting new businesses and new product launches.
Many clients are outside of Hamilton, and we travel monthly to Raglan, Tokoroa, Paeroa, Thames and Tuakau to meet and talk to people about their businesses.
Where did the idea of free advice and mentoring first come from?
The free advice service has operated in wider Waikato for many years through a range of providers. Our point of difference is the very wide range of programmes, advice and connections, along with the access to funding, that we can provide. There are now six of us in the team, including four business growth advisors.
Do you only offer advice or are there others practicalities you can make available to clients?
We offer funding to subsidise all kinds of training, and research and development. We also offer mentoring and help businesses to make connections.
What is your role, how did you become involved and what qualified you for it?
I am a business growth advisor. I’ve held various senior roles for the last 30 years in New Zealand and internationally. I now use that experience to help other businesses grow. I’ve been with the Business Growth Services team since 2013. Like all the team, I can offer real world advice. We also know what funding and training options are out there, so can work with people to assess their business ideas, identify roadblocks and point them in the right direction.
How do you inform businesses about your service and how keen are North Waikato companies to access it in general?
Waikato businesses are advised through Facebook, LinkedIn, our website and news articles about the support we offer. An often stated comment is, “I wish we had known about this earlier”.
What size and type of businesses are you talking to and working with?
Businesses range from one person with a “gleam-in-the-eye” concept through to established and experienced internationally active companies. We are happy to talk to anyone, big or small. All sectors of business have taken advantage of our services from farming to plumbing, waste treatment to engineering, chemicals to aviation plus many other industries.
Are rurally-based companies keen to access your service any more or less so than town/city businesses?
The problem has been to make rural or small town-based businesses aware that this free support exists, and it’s fantastic to be able to share this with Rural Living readers. We visit Tuakua on the second Tuesday of every month and it’s free. People can book a time with me by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Do you mainly see new start-ups or do established companies also seek advice/assistance from the programme?
We see the full spectrum from concept and start-up businesses to established exporters who have a new idea or product to launch.
As a result of advice, mentoring or assistance, are companies you have worked with showing improved performance and/or profitability?
We find that when the decision-making processes are improved, growth follows. There is a whole list of business successes on our books, and it’s heartening to know that we play a small part in their success.
Have you encountered businesses that appear to be going down the wrong path?
Yes, there have been times that we have had to advise businesses that they need to make a radical change if they wish to survive. In some cases that has resulted in a decision to either close or redesign the business. We have to be honest. Sometimes we may question the value of a proposed business. You have to ask the tough questions: will someone pay for this idea, product or service? You have to do the research and challenge things. That may mean reviewing or modifying the initial concept. Market validation is important and can save a lot of wasted time and money.
How innovative are people in the North Waikato in general?
It is always amazing where the business ideas come from and I love talking to people about their ideas. I often have that “why hasn’t somebody done this already” moment. North Waikato is full of innovative people and the ‘number eight wire’ approach is well represented in the region.
If you could grow any plant or raise any animal (real or imagined) what and why?
The Flame Lily (Gloriosa Superba) is my favourite plant and not easy to grow here. It reminds me of my African heritage and it gives a real sense of satisfaction when it does grow from proper care and attention.
If you could be Small Business Minister for one day only, what would you do first?
Establish a revolving Micro Fund for small businesses (of less than five employees) which is focused on mitigating the cash or capital risk for the business as it starts on a growth path. Risk mitigation and employment growth in smaller centres would be the two targeted outcomes. We are doing some early work in this space and would love to hear from interested others.
If you could invite any three people (living or dead) to dinner, who and why?
David Weber (American science fiction and fantasy author), the late Ian Douglas Smith (a politician from Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, and a man of principle) and my father, Dave, (pragmatic and also principled). It would be an interesting argument about the future.