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Māori innovators and entrepreneurs: ‘our time is now’

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This article was published on 27 July 2020

Aotearoa’s most successful and inspiring minds gathered at the Rotorua Energy Events Centre yesterday for sold out Matariki X, a key event for the Māori economy. Their message this year was positive and clear: ‘our time is now’.

The Callaghan Innovation-led hui was attended by over 250 businesses leaders, iwi, the community sector, trusts and rangatahi. Headline speakers included leaders of large exporting business and start-up entrepreneurs, from food and beverage to digital sectors. Masterclasses addressed some common struggles for entrepreneurs including capital raising strategies, environmental innovation, innovative and agile business models, social impact enterprise and how to take a business global. 

Vincent Campbell, Manager of Callaghan Innovation’s Māori Economy Group, says “the resounding message of the day was that there’s never been a better time to be Māori. Māori have always been very innovative, although our unique framework hasn’t always aligned to corporate success frameworks. But we are seeing that our unique Māori world-view - our generational approach to people and the environment - is becoming a competitive advantage here and globally,” says Mr Campbell.

Bailey Mackey, CEO of Māori-owned television production company Pango Productions, echoed this sentiment saying “it’s our time on the world stage. I’m incredibly optimistic about our future, both in a storytelling context here in Aotearoa, but also internationally.”

Rachel Taulelei, CEO of Food & Beverage company Kono which employs over 400 staff, believes “Te Ao Māori is a real strength, a real grounding. It’s really liberating to be surrounded by people who are of the same mindset. For me, what that drives home, is the privilege of having a position of collective thought.”

Nikora Ngaropo, Founder of the Young Animators platform for digital literacy among rangatahi, says “being Māori is awesome and it’s a great way to see the world. People don’t realise just how important having culture is. So, when we’re connecting with other people, it’s all of those little things we have intrinsically as Māori that hold us in very good stead. Whether that’s in Asia, or over in Europe, it’s amazing to be Māori because you find places where you can align values.”

Panel of Inspiration
Panel of Inspiration

Lifting Māori business competency

As New Zealand’s innovation agency, Callaghan Innovation has a remit of working with highly innovative, technologically complex and commercially savvy businesses. It now works with over 115 Māori businesses that have met these standards, with more coming in the pipeline. Many are moving into its ‘high-growth’ portfolio with global reach, but Mr Campbell says there is much greater potential to tap into.

“After two huge Matariki X events over the last three years, we knew this time around we had to do more than just inspire,” Mr Campbell says. “We had to be more focused and provide masterclasses that actually help bridge the most common practical gaps in business competency. Knowing the basics of things like raising capital, or how to start exporting, can make all the difference between business success or giving up.

“By far our most popular masterclasses were environmental innovation and improving iwi investment practices. To me that says we are starting to understand where we want to make an impact and how we need to improve. Iwi in particular play a key role in supporting more Māori tech businesses and preparing rangatahi for the future.”

Sir Ian Taylor rounded off Matariki X this year with a strong message that innovation has always been a part of who Māori are, not least evidenced by ancestors who explored many parts of the world with advanced engineering, physics and navigation.