A lack of education rather than capital is the biggest growth hurdle for New Zealand's small business economy, according to Tenby Powell, founder of the New Zealand SME Network.
One way to address the issue was putting university graduates in direct contact with business owners, he said. "What is lacking is a financial understanding and that is perceived as a need for equity and capital."
Via the SME Network, which comprises 3000 or so owner/managers and their advisers, Powell has contacted vice-chancellors and key senior staff at New Zealand tertiary institutions outlining an initiative to link business owners with academics and their students.
The idea is to have large-scale integrated programmes to boost SME growth and help reduce the national skills shortage.
"There are a number of studies that have clearly shown advanced economies, of which New Zealand is one, will only grow if they apply innovative process and more sophisticated business systems.
"The question is how to we give small business owners access to these resources. The obvious answer is bright graduates," he said.
The initiative aims to match graduates completing research projects as part of their course requirements with business owners wanting access to research resources that will improve their performance.
Waikato University deputy vice-chancellor Alister Jones said although the university's graduates were already finding placements with SMEs, the new initiative presented an exciting opportunity to do things on a larger, more strategic and co-ordinated way.
The key to success of the initiative will be finding examples of where a relationship between graduates and business owners has worked well, and being prepared to build from it, rather than trying for too much, too quickly.