A boost for business

MIKE HOULAHAN IN DUNEDIN
Last updated 14:23 14/02/2013

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If you have ever wanted to start your own business, Dunedin can help you like never before to make it happen. Mike Houlahan reports.

Dunedin already has several institutions in place for start-up businesses, such as the Upstart Business Incubator, Audacious business start-up competition and Otago Innovation.

Now, as part of the Dunedin Economic Strategy, work is under way on a range of initiatives to make sure all those separate parts work together to ensure budding entrepreneurs get the help they need to succeed - and succeed in Dunedin.

"There are a lot of networks and a lot of advice you can get about starting a business. Lots of places can give you information and there are groups and networks for like-minded people," Upstart chief executive Steve Silvey said.

"There is another tier to do with experimenting and giving it a go - we are well-served for that in Dunedin as well - and we wanted to bring them together.

"We are saying there is a whole suite of options depending what stage people are at.

"And there is a coherent network now, thanks to a lot of collaboration between the various support organisations to say let's make this happen, let's make it as seamless as possible for people to get whatever help they need, whatever door they knock on."

Mark Neild, a Business Performance Coach at University of Otago School of Business, said there is a lot of energy going in to helping people to help themselves.

"There is a methodology and a process which is, to a certain extent, not in people's comfort zone. People will naturally not do the right thing, which is why so many start-ups fail.

"What we are trying to do is say ‘look, there is a way of doing this and you are going to massively increase your chances of success'. For example, if there isn't a market, don't bother. If you can find a market, the product follows on from that and it's so much easier than the average start-up, where people labour away in their garages or on their PCs without ever wondering if people will be interested in what they have to offer."

The aspiring business person's year is already under way with SEED, a month-long course run jointly by Upstart, Otago Business School and Otago Polytechnic, which is taking 12 budding entrepreneurs on a concentrated course to learn how to successfully start their own business.

Once they get up and running, attention will turn to Dunedin's first Start-up Weekend on March 22. Based on an international programme where new businesses are set up in just 54 hours, Silvey and Neild have high hopes Dunedin can match international statistics on how many Start Up Weekend companies succeed.

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"It is a great way to get over any mental barriers you may have. You are giving up the weekend and $100, and you get a huge experience," Neild says.

"There is a lot of support on hand, there are a lot of like-minded individuals with high energy levels. The stats are that something like 30-40 per cent of businesses that evolve out of these weekends are still going several months later.

"The concept hasn't been going long enough to know how they are faring five years on, but if we get a result like that then we will be doing jolly well."

The Audacious Student Business Challenge is an annual and popular event, and it continues this year.

New on the business calendar will be the first of what is hoped to be an annual "Angel Summit" for investment fund managers and wealthy individuals who may wish to invest in Dunedin's young businesses.

"This busy calendar demonstrates that Dunedin is a great place to start and grow a business," Chanel O'Brien of Dunedin City Council's Economic Development Unit said.

"An aspiring entrepreneur can find all the resources that he or she needs."

Silvey is adamant Dunedin has its own Bill Gates lurking out there somewhere.

"We have the student base and there is a lot of energy and talent in that group. There is a lot of experienced business talent around as well, and there are plenty of talented people who have come here from overseas, mid-career, so we have all this talent here to harness."

- D Scene

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