The fire starter

Callaghan Innovation GM of Maori Economy Hemi Rolleston is on a mission to ignite the latent spark in Maori business innovation.

Rolleston, of Te Arawa, Ngati Ranginui, and Ngai te Rangi descent, is a fan of analogies. He describes the Maori Economy team at Callaghan Innovation as a pipeline, and a whanau, but one analogy especially sums up the approach taken to supporting more Maori business to use technology to grow.

“The analogy I use is that the Maori economy is the playground, and our research and technical services are the toys.

“It’s no good having great toys but no playground to use them in, and you can’t do much in a playground without toys.

“My team’s job is to connect the two.”

Hemi Rolleston

Hemi Rolleston

Rolleston explains the Maori Economy team is a hybrid of Callaghan Innovation’s product development and accelerator services.

“The Maori economy is part and parcel of mainstream New Zealand business, but there are other parts that are uniquely Maori.”

“Maori are big players in the primary sectors, health sector, tourism and ICT. They also have a number of indigenous opportunities.

“The size and scope of the Maori economy is building organically through investment of Treaty settlements and continued growth of private ventures.

“At Callaghan Innovation, our challenge is to figure out how we unlock that potential.”

Rolleston has experienced that growth first-hand, as CEO of Te Awanui Huka Pak Limited, a 100 per cent Māori-owned kiwifruit business with $30m in assets and over $300m in shareholder value, as well as governance roles with Te Awanui Huka Pak Co-operative, Priority One, Community Growth Limited, Bay of Connections and Grow Rotorua, and a number of Maori Trusts.

“It’s no good having great toys but no playground to use them in, and you can’t do much in a playground without toys.”

Callaghan Innovation wants to “ignite the flames of innovation” among all New Zealand businesses, and is taking an approach with Maori business that acknowledges Maori tikanga and unique perspective on the world.

“We second people from larger Maori businesses which have a laser focus on R&D.

“We encourage that focus by secondment – it’s a form of the Maori practice of whangai, or adoption to another family.

“This opens doors to Maori business. It provides transparency and direct access to people and services.

“This in turn enables us to tailor our services to the needs of the business, and form direct relationships between Callaghan Innovation staff and those driving innovation in Maori businesses.

Two of the entities that have secondees at Callaghan Innovation are Wakatu Inc, which is heavily invested in primary industries such as wine, horticulture and seafood, and East coast iwi Ngati Porou.

The secondments allow the businesses to understand Callaghan Innovation’s suite of services, from programmes to grants and accelerator services.

Entities which will benefit from secondment are those with the scale to have someone dedicated to the R&D focus.

“They’ve got to be the right people – with a commercial focus – and the organisation has to be one we have a reasonably long relationship with. We manage issues of IP and commercial sensitivity so there’s no conflict with their roles in the business and at Callaghan Innovation.

“They get under the hood with Callaghan Innovation, but there’s a real element of trust which is very positive.

“Trust is very important in the Maori context. It means that while they’re here for their business, they will spread the word about our services to others in the Maori economy and help spread the fire.

“So far, it has been really successful, with more assessment to come.”

There is also more to come in the suite of tools to support Maori business to use technology to succeed.

“From here we’re hoping to develop a Maori Innovation Hub at the Gracefield Innovation Quarter.”

The fire smolders on.


About Callaghan Innovation

Business. Technology. Success.
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