New SODA Inc boss sees big potential

JAMIE SMALL
Last updated 13:11 09/04/2014
Graham Smith, SODA Inc
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INTRODUCING: SODA Inc's new chief executive Graham Smith.

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Graham Smith was originally a Melbourne man, but now he's a self-confessed Waikato convert.

He is the new chief executive of SODA Inc, a business incubator that helps hundreds of entrepreneurs and start-up businesses around the Waikato and New Zealand.

Smith's family moved to Hamilton in 2001, when he took a leading management position at AgResearch. Since then he has held three chief executive positions in New Zealand and Australia at ESR, ITEK Pty Ltd and The Katolyst Group.

Now he's "re-engaging in what I believe is a dynamic region in New Zealand".

Smith said he was driven to find a job in the Waikato, where his family lives, and the position at SODA was an opportunity to help the region's strong innovation drive.

His background is in managing companies with a focus on technology and economic development.

"I've always been interested in incubation."

He said it's not just about bringing technology to the market. Innovation is about solving problems to benefit the community.

To do that, innovators need "commercial skills and framework" that can be cultivated by incubators.

Innovation starts with ideas that are driven by the market, according to Smith.

"The fundamental strength [in the Waikato] is underpinned by dairy . . . We're blessed with a lot of high-performing organisations."

Smith said the region succeeds in broader industries like light manufacturing.

He will officially take the reins in late April or early May. He said he needs to spend time getting to know the company before deciding if any changes are necessary.

"My initial research is that SODA has been doing a very good job.

"If I can help to contribute to that, hopefully that's seen as a positive."

SODA supports around 60 new companies each year, and chooses eight high-growth companies to enter its incubation programme.

The company is primarily funded by Hamilton City Council, Wintec and Callaghan Innovation.

Founder and chief executive Cheryl Reynolds resigned late last year to take the lead role at the Momentum Foundation - a fund established for developing Waikato community projects.

SODA chair John Cook said Smith's appointment is part of an exciting phase for SODA.

"The ground work has been laid and the organisation is poised to be taken to the next level.

"Graham's connections, experience and drive will help achieve this."

He said SODA will be looking to collaborate more with other Waikato innovation initiatives and find new funding opportunities for the future.

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- Waikato

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