COASTAL CON­FI­DENCE

IN 2018 THERE IS STRONG OP­TI­MISM GROW­ING WITHIN WEST COAST BUSI­NESS CIR­CLES – DRIVEN BY DIG­I­TAL TECH­NOL­OGY, FO­CUSED LEAD­ER­SHIP, AND RE­CENT INI­TIA­TIVES SUCH AS THE POP­U­LAR #BOOST­YOURTOWN WORK­SHOPS. NZBUSI­NESS FLEW TO WEST­PORT TO IN­VES­TI­GATE.

NZ Business - - CONTENTS - BY GLENN BAKER

In 2018 there is strong op­ti­mism grow­ing within West Coast busi­ness cir­cles – driven by dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy, fo­cused lead­er­ship and re­cent ini­tia­tives such as the pop­u­lar #Boost­YourTown work­shops. NZBusi­ness flew to West­port to in­ves­ti­gate this tech­nol­ogy-driven re­nais­sance.

You may think the West Coast of the South Is­land is the last place in New Zealand that would un­dergo a gen­uine tech­nol­ogy-led busi­ness re­vival – af­ter all, the news head­lines around the re­gion’s job losses and eco­nomic re­struc­tur­ing in re­cent years have painted a pic­ture of doom and gloom.

But you’d be wrong, and I’ve seen the ev­i­dence – in­no­va­tive busi­nesses demon­strat­ing their on­line mar­ket­ing skills and min­ing so­cial me­dia tech­nolo­gies to con­nect with cus­tomers world­wide and grow sales.

I’ll be hon­est, I was scep­ti­cal be­fore leav­ing Auck­land. But what a dif­fer­ence 24 lit­tle hours can make!

The pos­i­tive im­pres­sions be­gan as early as the Sounds Air ser­vice from Welling­ton – I’m re­fer­ring to the spec­tac­u­lar views of the snow-capped South­ern Alps.

They con­tin­ued with a mini-tour of some of West­port’s most sur­pris­ing in­no­va­tive com­pa­nies; through con­ver­sa­tions with lo­cal busi­ness de­vel­op­ment of­fi­cials; and through time spent at the town’s very wel­com­ing EPIC West­port in­no­va­tion hub.

The good vi­bra­tions cul­mi­nated in the ex­cel­lent #Boost­YourTown work­shop at the hub in the evening – pow­ered by Face­book, sup­ported by De­vel­op­ment West Coast (DWC) and de­liv­ered by Steve Adams, the en­tre­pre­neur be­hind New Zealand-based dig­i­tal plat­form AboutUs. Such was the turnout it was stand­ing room only. Since May, Adams has con­ducted #Boost­YourTown work­shops in 13 towns across five re­gional prov­inces iden­ti­fied in the govern­ment’s Pro­vin­cial Growth Fund, de­liv­er­ing so­cial mar­ket­ing train­ing and ad­vice to around 800 busi­nesses – with the goal of build­ing new con­nec­tions and reach­ing new cus­tomers. Fol­low­ing hot on the heels of Hok­i­tika and Grey­mouth, the West­port work­shop was the se­ries fi­nale.

In West­port, and through­out the re­gion, so­cial me­dia plat­forms such as Face­book and In­sta­gram are vi­tal for achiev­ing busi­ness growth. The work­shops were aimed at sharp­en­ing the dig­i­tal skills of small busi­ness own­ers on both plat­forms.

Hav­ing com­pleted all 13 Face­book work­shops Adams says he’s been im­pressed by how busi­ness com­mu­ni­ties around re­gional New Zealand are far more re­cep­tive to build­ing their on­line pres­ence than they were three years ago when he first started col­lab­o­rat­ing with Coun­cils. “Al­most ev­ery hand went up when I asked groups who has a Face­book page; so there is a real hunger for knowl­edge on how to build pres­ence,” he says, and par­tic­u­larly by women, who made up around 80 per­cent of work­shop at­ten­dees.

“And when we asked at­ten­dees if they wanted us to come back for more work­shops, 100 per­cent said yes. So the fu­ture is look­ing bright!” Adams was a pop­u­lar per­son af­ter each work­shop, help­ing busi­ness own­ers cre­ate In­sta­gram busi­ness ac­counts on their phones. But his favourite mo­ment came in West­port when a Face­book group was cre­ated on the night by lo­cal busi­nesses to help them share each other’s Face­book page de­tails and con­nect with each other. “Within days that group had more than 50 busi­nesses signed up and it is now a thriv­ing, grow­ing sup­port chan­nel,” he says. Adams was not sur­prised by the turnout and the level of en­gage­ment with dig­i­tal tech­nol­ogy on the West Coast. His the­ory is that the story of the re­gion has al­ways been about pi­o­neers lever­ag­ing the lat­est tech­nol­ogy in order to build a life there, “from the sawmilling days through the min­ing years and now with dig­i­tal tools”. “West Coast­ers are iso­lated so they have to be creative and in­no­va­tive about how they op­er­ate, and we saw that in the al­most 300 busi­nesses that at­tended the #Boost­YourTown work­shops.” He was es­pe­cially grate­ful to DWC for its work in pro­mot­ing the events and get­ting word out on the street. “That’s real com­mu­nity lead­er­ship in ac­tion.”

WEST­PORT IN­NO­VA­TORS

DWC chief ex­ec­u­tive Chris Macken­zie and project ad­min­is­tra­tor Aaron Rees took NZBusi­ness on a whis­tle-stop tour of dig­i­tal busi­nesses – start­ing with Nuz­zle Baby’s Tessa Lind­say, who has been mar­ket­ing her home-sewn and hand-painted or­ganic toys for ba­bies since 2015 purely us­ing Face­book, In­sta­gram and

her web­site – although nowa­days most busi­ness is con­ducted through email and nuz­zle­baby.co.nz.

Orig­i­nally from Queen­stown, Lind­say and her plumber hus­band moved north for a change of scenery six years ago. A trained child­care teacher, Lind­say’s self-taught on web­site de­vel­op­ment, un­der­stands the ba­sics of search en­gine op­ti­mi­sa­tion, and has signed up to Google An­a­lyt­ics.

The mother-of-three sees no dis­ad­van­tages in be­ing on the Coast – quite the op­po­site.

“There are a lot of on­line busi­nesses here so we can net­work [face-to-face] or just open up a group chat on Face­book.”

She’s of­ten faced with early starts or late nights to meet sales de­mand – but ex­pects that will ease when she em­ploys a lo­cal sewer. She’s also adamant that small busi­nesses need to be vis­i­ble on­line so cus­tomers can find them, and Face­book makes an ex­cel­lent first step.

An­other ex­am­ple of how busi­ness-friendly the West Coast has be­come thanks to on­line tech­nol­ogy is Dai­mon Sch­wal­ger’s Nomad Au­dio and Video. In his well-equipped stu­dio, the cel­e­brated DJ, mu­si­cian and pro­ducer ex­plained how he has also worked on large-scale mul­ti­me­dia video pro­jec­tion projects (aka video map­ping) and TVCs, but made the tran­si­tion to high­qual­ity pro­fes­sional video and au­dio pro­duc­tion af­ter hav­ing “the crazy idea” of mov­ing to West­port in 2016. How­ever, he hasn’t given away his mu­si­cal ca­reer en­tirely, and still per­forms as ‘The Nomad’ four times a year around the coun­try.

Sch­wal­ger and his fi­ancé love the stress-free Coast life­style. He also loves the fact that he has min­i­mal lo­cal busi­ness com­pe­ti­tion, and the cost of liv­ing is rel­a­tively cheap.

Through his web­site, Face­book and word of mouth Sch­wal­ger ac­cesses client from all over New Zealand and the world.

“It’s taken two years, but we’re now at a point where busi­ness is boom­ing.”

He’s ver­sa­tile – pro­mot­ing lo­cal shows, video­ing lo­cal busi­nesses, cov­er­ing events such as the Buller Marathon and Hok­i­tika Wild Foods Fes­ti­val, all which to­tally suit his drone cam­era – and he’s busy, so busy that he’s look­ing for some­one to do his prep-edit­ing.

A self-con­fessed per­fec­tion­ist and worka­holic, Sch­wal­ger also has

ad­vice for busi­nesses util­is­ing Face­book. “Be con­sis­tent with it, and al­ways check your gram­mar and photo qual­ity,” he says. “Con­sider the use of video ban­ners, get in­volved with tag­ging busi­nesses and or­gan­i­sa­tions, spon­sored posts, and run com­pe­ti­tions.”

Our next stop was a re­stored rail­way shed, home to desk­top CNC ma­chine man­u­fac­turer Ver­tigo Tech­nolo­gies. It’s owner Brett Cot­tle – ex-truck driver, sound and light­ing pro­ducer and mecha­tron­ics en­gi­neer­ing stu­dent – showed me around his spot­less op­er­a­tion, which is based on lean man­u­fac­tur­ing pro­cesses.

The busi­ness was set up orig­i­nally to man­u­fac­ture drones, but his quest to find a suitable desk­top CNC ma­chine to man­u­fac­ture them re­vealed a gap in the mar­ket for the lat­ter prod­uct. It made sense to pivot the busi­ness.

Cot­tle was orig­i­nally keen to set up in Christchurch, but a ‘meet and greet’ held for the open­ing of the EPIC West­port busi­ness hub, and a chat with its co-founder Ben Del­laca con­vinced him to stay in West­port and be the hub’s first tenant.

To ini­tially fund the busi­ness, Cot­tle re­mem­bers driv­ing trucks from 5am to 6pm, then work­ing at EPIC un­til mid­night.

Ver­tigo sold its first CNC ma­chine in June 2016, and af­ter a num­ber of re­fine­ments and re­designs, they are cur­rently sell­ing up to 16 ma­chines per month. Again, the bulk of sales and en­quiries are gen­er­ated on­line – through their Face­book page and web­site.

Rais­ing cap­i­tal and se­cur­ing skilled staff have been chal­lenges, ad­mits Cot­tle, but there has been more in­ter­est in West Coast busi­nesses lately from an­gel in­vestors.

Ver­tigo’s strength lies in its agility and abil­ity to solve any cus­tomer is­sues. He at­tributes their on­line mar­ket­ing suc­cess to the cre­ation of user groups. “Cre­at­ing an ac­tive fo­rum in a pub­lic zone where peo­ple can voice their likes and dis­likes.” It ul­ti­mately leads to cus­tomers do­ing your mar­ket­ing for you, he says.

“Look af­ter your user group and they’ll get pas­sion­ate about your prod­uct.”

Over­seas sales in­ter­est has come from Aus­tralia and Ver­tigo is in the process of ap­point­ing a re­seller in Canada, while seek­ing fund­ing to “pre-emp­tively scale up” the busi­ness.

Cot­tle says if the CNC mar­ket slowed for any rea­son, his com­pany is ag­ile enough to pivot to new prod­ucts be­fore there’s any squeeze on cash­flow.

He’s par­tic­u­larly ex­cited about the desk­top or IoT (In­ter­net of Things) mar­ket.

“We have this in­grained mind­set that we can do any­thing!”

EPIC IM­PACT

That ‘can-do’ at­ti­tude per­vades right through the new gen­er­a­tion of dig­i­tal-savvy en­trepreneurs NZBusi­ness met on the West Coast. It’s cer­tainly ev­i­dent at EPIC West­port, which is lo­cated a just a cou­ple of doors along from the iconic clock tower.

Emily Mi­azga has ‘can-do’ in spades – which is why the self­con­fessed “moun­tain girl” won the un­for­giv­ing 242-kilo­me­tre Coast to Coast en­durance race three times be­fore re­tir­ing in 2011.

The ex­pat Cana­dian and for­mer clin­i­cal di­eti­tian is now the ‘Pow­er­girl’ be­hind Em’s Power Cook­ies and a tenant at EPIC. She pro­duces hand-crafted en­ergy snacks for the New Zealand and Aus­tralian mar­kets, in­spired by the cook­ies she made as a kid, and de­scribes the in­no­va­tion hub as in­spir­ing and mo­ti­va­tional – “a place where you get a lot more done”.

Mi­azga iden­ti­fies strongly with Pic Pi­cot, from Pic’s Peanut But­ter in Nel­son – a man who built a brand around his pas­sion and per­son­al­ity – a style she em­u­lates nicely with her in­fec­tious, out­go­ing per­son­al­ity and racy Pow­er­girl out­fit “which my hus­band thinks I should stop wear­ing!”

Mi­azga of­ten gets asked why she chose West­port as her busi­ness base in 2006. “We orig­i­nally came here for the life­style, the sheer beauty of the Buller, and my en­durance train­ing.”

While it might make sense to be based closer to the main mar­kets, Mi­azga says that’s not go­ing to hap­pen, be­cause she and her hus­band made the con­scious de­ci­sion to stay out of the ‘rat race’.

EPIC has proved to be the con­duit for lo­cal busi­ness sup­port, Mi­azga ex­plains. Ad­vice on so­cial me­dia mar­ket­ing through the sup­port net­work has proved in­valu­able.

“On the Coast we have to think out­side the box, to sup­port each other and re­fer cus­tom to each other’s busi­nesses – some­times even if they’re a com­peti­tor.” A com­peti­tor can build a mar­ket niche for you, Mi­azga ex­plains, where there’s room for ev­ery­one.

Sim­i­larly in her en­durance rac­ing days, she wanted to win but she also wanted her com­peti­tors to do well. “Be­cause then if I beat them it makes vic­tory that much sweeter, and the event much stronger.”

Other ten­ants in EPIC West­port’s co-work­ing space are fur­ther proof that the West Coast is still about lever­ag­ing cut­ting edge tech­nolo­gies just, as Steve Adams pointed out, like it was many decades ago in its sawmilling and coal-min­ing hey­days.

Jeremy Cadil­lac’s Lootwin­ner pro­duces con­tent for the global real money gam­bling mar­ket.

Ben Del­laca is co-owner of Lootwin­ner and his Cere­bral Fix com­pany pro­vides soft­ware for games to global en­ter­tain­ment com­pa­nies such as Dis­ney.

Ben and Tash Del­laca also set up EPIC West­port in 2016, which is mod­elled on EPIC Christchurch. The build­ing, owned by Ben's un­cle Richard and run by his fa­ther, was once part of the fam­ily's Postie Plus cloth­ing em­pire which orig­i­nated in West­port.

The Del­la­cas are proud of the re­sults com­ing out of the well-de­signed co-work­ing fa­cil­ity, and they know it fires up other busi­nesses.

Tash says when they first opened the hub there wasn’t a cul­ture of in­no­va­tion in the com­mu­nity, but with the gains they’ve made more re­cently there has been a shift to a more com­mer­cial fo­cus; to ce­ment­ing re­la­tion­ships and build­ing value.

“We’ve been floored by how open peo­ple are to what we’re do­ing here,” adds Ben. “Ev­ery­one’s so sup­port­ive, and that’s across a strato­sphere of de­mo­graph­ics.”

Ben has a pas­sion for blockchain – EPIC West­port is host­ing New Zealand’s NEM Blockchain Hub (NEM is a high-per­form­ing plug and play blockchain plat­form) – and with Cere­bralFix at the fore­front of gam­ing, there’s been li­ai­son with lo­cal ed­u­ca­tion providers. A sup­port part­ner­ship’s been es­tab­lished with highly pop­u­lar cod­ing and ro­bot­ics clubs at West­port High School.

“The ro­bot­ics club is now the big­gest on cam­pus,” re­ports Tash. “Four of the stu­dents are go­ing to Mex­ico to rep­re­sent New Zealand, and that’s ex­cit­ing.”

Both Ben and Tash agree that it’s dif­fi­cult for peo­ple to shake off the long-stand­ing stigma as­so­ci­ated with the West Coast – but they’re ex­cited by the re­gion’s up­grade “in terms of its nar­ra­tive and brand ap­peal” – for­get dusty coal-towns off the beaten path. Now read ‘Un­tamed Nat­u­ral Wilder­ness’ – and thanks to the many dig­i­tal busi­ness ini­tia­tives, it’s be­com­ing an epi-cen­tre for in­no­va­tion.

“Tal­ent at­trac­tion is di­rectly linked to this trans­for­ma­tion,” says Ben. He be­lieves bright kids grad­u­at­ing from the likes of Auck­land Univer­sity can now be re­ally ex­cited by the prospect of re­lo­cat­ing to West­port for the op­por­tu­nity of work­ing “on some re­ally amaz­ing blockchain tech­nol­ogy”, or in the gam­ing space per­haps.

“That’s just not some­thing that was re­al­is­tic two years ago. And at­tract­ing tal­ent in­ter­na­tion­ally here is even eas­ier.”

Ben jok­ingly con­fesses that the size and scope of his vi­sion for EPIC West­port and the re­gion may have landed him in the ‘crazy mad­man’ cat­e­gory for many peo­ple; nev­er­the­less he sees a big fu­ture go­ing for­ward. “I see no rea­son why we can’t have a vi­brant, healthy ecosys­tem of new tech­nol­ogy-based busi­nesses tight here on the Coast that are solv­ing real prob­lems for ru­ral New Zealand, as part of a pro­gramme to ex­port that ex­cel­lence glob­ally, and solve the world’s prob­lems.

“On the 25-year hori­zon I don’t see why we can’t gen­er­ate 1000, 2000 or 3000 jobs do­ing this kind of thing.”

TESSA LIND­SAY, NUZ­ZLE BABY.

DAI­MON SCH­WAL­GER, NOMAD AU­DIO AND VIDEO.

EMILY MI­AZGA, BEN AND TASH DEL­LACA.

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