Directions: take a long swoop up the east coast from Christchurch hugging the pacific, wave to the whales of Kaikoura. Veer inland at Cook Strait. Wine through the vineyards. Take a sweeping left hander into the Tasman Bay.
Stop at the spectacular juxtaposition of beaches backed by mountains iced with snow and topped off with crackling blue skies.
For decoration throw in a container terminal for some steam punk effect, convert an insurance office to a bar, close the streets for cafes, paint a monster squid on the walls and put up a giant peanut butter jar.
Nelson is the geographic heart of New Zealand, and it celebrates one of the fundamental particles of the New Zealand psyche the “quirk”
Not the full-blown European eccentric nor the divisive American narcissism of small differences, just that good old off-the-beat quirk.
First port of call Sacha MacDonald, as the old sonnet goes “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways”… actually it’s really hard to count the ways Sacha has impacted the region.
Founder of Rezource, founder of Arewa, alumni of the Edmund Hillary Fellowship, facilitator and mentor of first Techstars Startup Weekend in Nelson, the instigator of He Tangata Startup Weekend (New Zealand’s first Start Up weekend specifically designed for Kaupapa Maori), Board member for Nelson Tasman Business Trust, provider of overnight food and lodgings for Troy. The list goes on and on.
She’s the big cheese at Rezource which provides “fractional” work for busy mums and flexible support for busy companies. Founded when she was frustrated as a young mother trying to look after kids, work around school schedules, sports events and still have some part time income.
What I really liked is she doesn’t just talk values she walks them. The business is built on trust and respect, you’re an adult you do the work, no micro-managing, times cards or petty administrative trivia. And guess what, people return the favour in kind with trust and respect.
Arewa is an extension of the same approach and philosophy used in Rezource but specifically tailored to Māori needs and encompasses capability development, business coaching, startup programmes, project and management services.
It’s that trust, respect (and giant welcoming smile) that’s allowed her to do so much in the community. From startup weekends to active support for the broader Maori community while still being a busy mum.
Much thanks Sacha.
The Mahitahi Colab
Sacha deposited me at The Mahitahi Colab, it’s got that well trafficked government office feel. We briefly said hello to Ali Boswijk, CEO of the Nelson Tasman Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber shares the Colab address. They work with businesses of all stripes to happily help people connect the dots in both government and private networks.
In the adjacent space you will find Sarah Fitchett the Mahitahi Colab Community Manager and Growth Adviser with the Nelson Regional Development Agency (NRDA).
Before going further I need to clarify that the Mahitahi Colab co-working space is a partnership between its founders, Nelson Tasman Chamber of Commerce, Nelson Regional Development Agency and Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology. Not to mention it hosts a front desk for the Nelson Angels Inc, a working space for the Nelson AI Institute as well as co-working and hot desk areas. It’s likely that nearly everyone in Nelson passes through it at some point.
Back to Sarah, she is a recent arrival to Nelson from Auckland. A lawyer by training, she had the automotive startup Tootsweet under her belt before the move down south. She caught the role of Kaiwhakahaere (Community Manager) just as the world was catching Covid.
The role is only part time yet she is determined to make changes to the space and gave me that look of the dedicated curator “there’s so much more this can be!” It seemed busy enough already but I have the definite feeling Sarah will get her way and even more will be happening there in future. Keep an eye out.
Update: this is great news Sarah is now full-time, watch out Nelson.
Coincidentally one Mark Houghton-Brown walked by as Sarah and I were wrapping up our chat. Mark is the Chair of Nelson Angels Inc with that wonderful southern ability to be charmingly and disarmingly direct.
He warmed up with something along the lines of… As far as the Nelson Angels are concerned incubators are almost a dirty word, they’re focusing too much on founders and not enough on teams.
There needs to be more “venture” focused incubators to get better outcomes. A startup is much more than its founder and depends heavily on getting the team right if it is to succeed.
I never knew but Nelson is one of New Zealand’s hottest beds for artificial intelligence. Mark is not averse to taking things into his own hands. He’s the Chair of the Nelson AI Institute as well as the director or chair of at least 8 other active companies and organisations.
What are they putting in their coffee in Nelson?
I was supposed to meet Mark the next morning for a bit more of an in-depth discussion but we got our wires crossed on the timing. I did manage to have a chat with Mack Delany and Cris Lovell-Smith two artificial intelligence engineers with the Nelson AI Institute. They’re doing some pretty extraordinary things with computer vision, deep learning and automation.
No hesitation, check out Nelson.
The Mahitahi Colab 322 Hardy St, Nelson, 7010, New Zealand
The Bridge Street Collective
A five minute walk from Mahitahi Colab you end up at The Bridge Street Collective, tucked away behind a cafe. A bright airy space with open beams and a sunny courtyard.
Founded in 2011 by Galen King, it’s a Nelson co-working stalwart. Galen is also the founder of Lucid the award winning Shopify solutions provider.
Keegan Jeffries is their friendly studio manager. He mentioned they were keen to get some events happening again amongst the community now that the warmer weather was arriving.
It would be something to see Sacha, Sarah, Mark and Keegan teaming up for a Summer Nelson Startup Weekend.
The Bridge Street Collective 111 Bridge Street, Nelson, Nelson, 7010, New Zealand
Massively honourable Nelson mentions, that I didn’t have the time to catchup with…
- Pic Picot founder of the hugely successful Pic’s Peanut Butter and instigator of the giant peanut butter jar in front of Peanut Butter World. Pic’s Peanut Butter Check Pic’s blog as well. Really Good Stuff
- Stephanie Fry founder of IdealCup is NZ’s very first, lifetime reusable cup, designed and made in NZ. IdealCup
- Chris Rodley founder of award winning Snap Information Technologies who provide systems, hardware and AI for computer vision applications for the maritime and construction industries. SanpIT
- Chloe Van Dyke founder of Chia Sisters, producers of sustainable juices from a solar powered, carbon zero, climate positive juicery in Nelson. Chia Sisters
- Jonny Hendriksen founder of Shuttlerock which produces video ads for Facebook & Instagram at scale. Shuttlerock is based in Nelson, NZ, with offices in New York, Austin, Chicago, Los Angeles, Tokyo, Singapore, Paris and Berlin. Shuttlerock
- My rule of thumb from past experience is that good managers often have the ability to meet at short notice, they’re always adding people for future reference and are good at quickly communicating what they’re doing. I used this as my excuse to give almost no notice and drop in on people within an hour or two of reaching out. Going by that metric the South Island is chock full of excellent managers.
- From the feedback I sorted names and organisations into regions and then sifted the names according to the number of times they were mentioned and started with the high frequency entries and went from there.
- The people and organisations I met with are by no means close to all of those that are operating in the south. Weekends, national holidays and prior commitments prevented meetings with many, so consider this more of a rough guide. Those with more time and better preparation will discover an even richer startup ecology.
- There are so many people to thank for their feedback on my original post, you know who you are and I hope these notes are a small return on your generosity.
- All mistakes and omissions are mine, I welcome any corrections.