Co.Starters celebrate new entrepreneurs
Inspiring business pitches marked the recent graduation night for the participants of Development West Coast’s (DWC) Co.Starters programme.
Delivered in Greymouth by WestREAP, Co.Starters is a nine-week business start-up and development programme that equips aspiring entrepreneurs with the insights and tools needed to turn business ideas into action.
The cohort of 13 participants was facilitated by Layla Dowthwaite and Philip Dittmer, along with weekly guest speakers from the local business community.
DWC event co-ordinator Rachel Doolan said the level of community support for the programme was impressive.
“It’s fantastic to see members of the Greymouth business community giving their time to come and share knowledge and inspiration with these budding entrepreneurs.”
The graduation night saw each participant give a short pitch about their business. At the end of the night the audience were asked to vote for the ‘best pitch’. Jan Fraser took home this award with her business Lomah Felt.
“At Lomah Felt I am in the business of functional, wearable art. I turn raw wool and silk into felted woollen garments, boots and accessories,” Jan said.
“Co-Starters has been an invaluable stepping stone in realising a dream can become a viable business by giving me insights into knowing my customers, the ins and outs of running a business and the confidence to take that next step.”
A cool little town.
It’s a place where a stroll along the beach gives you stunning views of Aoraki/Mt Cook’s snow-capped peaks. This is a town where you can appreciate the rich history of the West Coast, hear stories of ship wrecks, gold miners and pounamu hunters, while also enjoying the conveniences of modern life.
The streets of Hokitika are brimming with cafés and an inspired arts and culture scene. There are probably more galleries and studios per capita in Hokitika than anywhere in New Zealand. If you’re interested in genuine experiences and friendly characters that love to share a story then Hokitika is the place for you.
The Crafty Chook
If you ever needed an example of how you can find work-life balance, look no further than to Andrea Rogers.
This Australian-native has been a firm West Coast convert since moving to Hokitika permanently with her Coaster husband four years ago. She now runs a successful business from the family’s lifestyle block. That means that whenever she needs to take a break from working through shipping orders or making products, she can just step outside and chat to the sheep, ducks, geese, chickens and the occasional weka.
Her business, The Crafty Chook, is a unique soap-making business with a strong online presence. Andrea’s hand-crafted soap is designed, crafted and based around the rustic rugged beauty of life on the Coast and the quirky characters living there.
“Our aim is to flaunt, boast and share with everyone how amazing the West Coast is, with an ounce of humour, a small pinch of political incorrectness and a great bar of soap,” she says.
Andrea says there are many advantages to running her business from semi-rural New Zealand than from an expensive city shop.
“Hokitika is developing new growth in many sectors and the locals get right behind it. Supporting new businesses in their own backyard gives locals a sense of ownership and connection with the businesses,” she says.
And marketing her product is never easier than from her own backyard.
“Location-wise, we have the best naturally photogenic backdrops for any business. Sometimes I feel like such a tourist – everything is just begging to be photographed!”
As a new-ish local, Andrea says she can highly recommend the work-life balance and opportunities Hokitika presents. While her business started with soap made from gorse flower “for a laugh”, she now distributes her product to around 50 shops across the country and has a large social media following, which ensures her business runs smoothly.
Andrea’s success is testament to the West Coast’s appeal as a digitally connected region, allowing people to run successful businesses from where they really want to live.
West Coast Scenic Waterways Retreat
It’s a similar success story for Cindy and Gavin Hopper of West Coast Scenic Waterways. They moved to Hokitika after sampling its adventurous lifestyle and have not looked back.
"Adventure brought us to the Coast, and it hasn't disappointed. We left a textile design and electrical career in Auckland to explore New Zealand. A roast meal and job offer in Hokitika kept us in the South Island for good,” Cindy says.
The couple have since started a successful tourism venture along the historic Mahinapua waterways, offering paddle boat cruises, freedom kayaking and a bed and breakfast, catering to the many tourists who explore the West Coast each year.
“What we love so much about Hokitika is it's an awesome playground! There are not enough days in a year to tackle all the back-country huts and trails, water ski and go fishing on the lakes, and ski the slopes in winter... just an hour away. The list goes on,” Cindy says.
“Hokitika is a tourist town, so we are spoilt to have so many awesome gift shops, coffee shops, places to dine out, or take out, and enjoy a sunset on the beach. It's a lovely community to live in with so much to offer.”
Turning pure West Coast rainwater into gin.
Reefton Distilling Co. recently opened in one of Reefton’s original buildings which has been carefully restored to accommodate their working distillery, tasting bar and retail store.
They are inspired to provide you with a truly unique West Coast experience; as they share the story behind the crafting of their local botanical gins, fruit liqueurs, vodka and whiskies.
Managing director of Reefton Distilling Co. Patsy Bass answers some questions:
Q. Why did you decide to move to Reefton?
I'm from Reefton, although lived most of my life in Christchurch. We’ve had a holiday home on the West Coast for the last 20 years and had got to the stage where we no longer wanted to head back to Christchurch after enjoying increasingly longer stays in Reefton. We started to wonder what it would be like if we lived here, and our Christchurch home became the bach.
We felt a sense of community here beyond anything we’d experienced before, so we began brainstorming ideas that would create jobs and a tourist attraction, and also keep us busy – Reefton Distilling Co. was the result.
Q. What are the advantages of having a business on the West Coast?
The enormous support from the locals who have rallied around us and done anything they can to help us get started. West Coasters are fiercely proud of their region and were thrilled to hear a new business was coming to town.
They’re also hugely resourceful and handy – whatever skillset we need, there’s someone in town that can do it. Stainless steel welder, master potter, water prospector, botanist, cinematographer – got it, got it, got it, got it, got it.
Being so small, direct relationships are easily made. We had tremendous support from the Buller District Mayor Garry Howard, and the Council – they were real enablers.
We have so much fascinating history here, which we drew on to build our product brands – Little Biddy Gin; Moonlight Creek Whisky; Wild Rain Vodka.
The rain, which is some of the purest water on earth is a key part of our premium spirits.
Q. What are the advantages of living on the West Coast?
The people – they’re genuine, friendly, incredibly optimistic and hardworking.
The rain – it’s invigorating and gives us the lush, green rainforest and pristine drinking water.
The geography – this region is spectacularly beautiful, unpopulated and diverse.
Our mountain biking and trout fishing is some of the best in New Zealand - if not the world.
Home ownership is still attainable; you get to know everybody and crime is low (there’s an uproar if a feisty teen tips out a hanging flower basket on a Saturday night).
Did I mention the whitebait.
Lawyer working remotely from Greymouth
By Lisa White
One morning in September 2015, my husband Dan, an audiologist, and I, a Tennessee attorney, both left for work at about 7:15am, and each worked hard all-day skipping lunch. We both arrived back at our house at eight in the evening, hungry, exhausted, and OVER IT. His suggestion: “let’s move to New Zealand.” I agreed.
Dan’s suggestion wasn’t really without a foundation, although we had never discussed it. As an audiologist, he frequently received recruitment letters because of New Zealand’s ongoing need for qualified and experienced audiologists. On the other hand, I am not sure New Zealand ever needs—or wants—American attorneys, but my work is primarily writing and research and is electronically filed. I assumed—correctly—that I would be able to work remotely. All I really needed is high speed internet and a pleasant space to work.
After a number of phone and skype interviews, Dan was asked if he would open an audiology office on the West Coast, in Greymouth. Before committing to the job, we visited and intentionally chose an AirBnB with a multigenerational “Coaster” family. We learned about the Coast from a true local, met other locals and transplants, and began to build a network of people before we even arrived. We also saw that the community is diverse—people from virtually everywhere in the world call Greymouth home.
Greymouth geographically is an interesting place, sandwiched between the Tasman Sea and the Southern Alps, with Punakaiki—the Pancake Rocks—up the Great Coast Road to the North, Hokitika Gorge and the Glaciers—Franz Josef and Fox—to the South. It is the western end of the TranzAlpine Railway, with Lake Brunner and Moana nearby, and Arthur’s Pass and the ski fields to the East.
Since our priorities are tramping, kayaking (the flat kind, not the fast kind!), photography, mountains, traveling, gardening, and other outdoor-related activities, the Coast is perfect for us.
In many ways, Greymouth is generally treated as the crossroads for exploring the South Island’s incredible and diverse landscapes but as a place to live, we’ve found it has all that and so much more.
People are friendly, housing is affordable, and the community has a strongly supportive spirit. The formal and informal groups in the community are the glue that pulls people together. We are now regular participants in a couple of wine tasting groups. I’ve joined a book club. We frequently gather with friends for potluck dinners. We catch concerts at the Barrytown Hall and local theatre opportunities by the Greymouth Operatic Society. And of course, we have fun with the New Coasters—a group supportive of new arrivals, but regularly joined by lifetime locals and long-term transplants. Despite moving from a much larger city, we are far more involved in the Greymouth community than we ever were in the US.
So how has this move worked out for our professional lives? Dan opened an audiology office right in the center of the CBD, somewhat worried about whether any clients would show up. Instead, he has been greeted so warmly in the community that a quick stop at the supermarket is difficult. Meanwhile, my working patterns have changed by working remotely. I have no commute at all, and I practice law—at times—in my pajamas. On a rare occasion I need to wake up for a conference call at odd hours of the night, but my office appreciates the benefits of a near-24 hour workday when they pass me projects to work on as the US group leaves for the day. By their morning, just like magic, I pass the same project back substantially more complete.
Software for global companies, hemp cookies and more.
Ben Dellaca is the founding director of CerebralFix a software development business, making mobile games for global entertainment companies, including Disney and EA.
Together with partner Natasha Barnes-Dellaca, they have been the driving force behind the establishment of an innovation hub in Westport called EPIC Westport. The centre is a spin-off of the original Christchurch EPIC (Enterprise Precinct Innovation Centre) which was set up as a hub for displaced and new businesses after the 2011 earthquakes.
EPIC Westport opened in 2016 in a building, which was once part of the Dellaca family’s Postie Plus clothing empire which originated in Westport.
As a collaborative centre, EPIC offers support for new business ventures as well as space for those who need a base for a day or a week when in Westport. The venture makes mobile working a normal way of doing business.
“EPIC Westport has recently completed stage two of its development and now covers 800 square metres of office, event and coworking space - with 18 tenants so far,” Natasha says. “Space is going quickly.”
Photo: Jules Anderson
Ben says they chose his hometown for the new venture because he could see the many benefits for both lifestyle and economic advantage. As more and more companies embrace the opportunities digital technologies offer, it opens doors to living in less expensive regions and this in particular was what Ben honed in on.
“We have staff who have moved directly from San Francisco and Mexico City to work in our Westport office, as well as guys that have migrated from our main development studios in Christchurch. They all love it here in on the West Coast.”
“Home ownership is now achievable for all of our staff, as well as access to surfing and mountain biking within 15 mins of the office.
Emily Miazga is an expat Canadian and former clinical dietitian who is now the ‘Powergirl’ behind Em’s Power Cookies and a tenant at EPIC.
“We came to Westport in 2006 because we just wanted to get out of the city. It was really important for my husband Mitch and I to have a good lifestyle. It was so beautiful here, and the perfect training ground for the Coast to Coast, and we just fell in love with the Coast and never looked back,” Emily says.
Emily has made a habit of coming first. As an endurance athlete she won the gruelling Coast to Coast three times. Now her business Em’s Power Cookies, has become the first to get commercially produced hemp protein cookies on the market in New Zealand, with supermarket chain Countdown stocking her products nation-wide.
About two years ago, Emily caught wind that hemp food legislation was in the works, so she wasted no time getting into the kitchen and started developing her product in anticipation.
“I always wanted to make a protein cookie but didn’t want to use dairy or soy if possible,” Emily says. She calls hemp “nature’s powerfully nutritious superfood.”
When legislative changes were finally made in November, Emily was ready to hit the ground running, and now distributes her hemp protein cookies across New Zealand and internationally, all while running her business from EPIC Westport.
“Westport is a small town, and we are a little off the beaten track, but that is no barrier to us really thriving and kicking ass economically,” she says.
Photo: Jules Anderson
And if you needed more evidence of how progressive organisations can thrive and ‘kick ass’ in a small town like Westport, look no further than another EPIC tenant, the NEM Blockchain Hub.
While business and industry in other New Zealand centres are still grappling to understand what blockchain even is and how they can use it, this organisation is up and running in Westport, pumping out blockchain-based gaming products alongside virtual reality and augmented reality products.
And what a fascinating progression from the town’s rich history in goldmining to now being a leader in all things blockchain and the cryptocurrency mining that platform supports!
Which just cements the message that Westport offers the perfect balance for those looking to get more out of life. From working in the cutting-edge world of blockchain to the great outdoors, Westport has it all.