Turning Problems into Opportunities: Ākina’s Launchpad Pitch Day

Ākina Launchpad Teams

Ākina Launchpad Teams

With promising solutions for freshwater pollution, workplace impairment, surplus medical equipment and pesky wilding pines, the future was looking bright last night!

After six long months of refining, re-defining, iterating, testing and talking, eleven teams emerged yesterday from the Ākina Foundation’s Launchpad pitch event in Wellington.

Launchpad is one of New Zealand’s first social enterprise accelerators, and certainly it’s biggest to date. In February last year, the Government announced $1.27 million in funding to boost the social enterprise sector in New Zealand, to be administered through Ākina Foundation (formerly Hikurangi Foundation). Part of these funds have gone towards their first large-scale accelerator programme.

When the call came out last May for applications for aspiring or existing social entrepreneurs to submit their ideas to the accelerator programme, the response was overwhelmingly positive. With 134 applications received, the message was loud and clear that New Zealanders are ready to throw their dedication and passion behind social enterprise. After carefully assessing all the contenders, the Ākina team chose 65 projects to take through a first round of workshopping, which in October 2014 was whittled down to 11 teams.

Of the 134 applications, Ākina Chief Executive Alex Hannant said,

We never expected there would be so many people willing to sign themselves up for so much pain.

While the Launchpad programme was indeed a baptism for fire for some teams, all acknowledged the deep learning that was gained, and all came leaps and bounds from where they had begun.

An impressive array of ideas was put forth, aiming to solve complex social and environmental problems in both New Zealand and abroad. With financial asks ranging from $30,000 - 545,000, investors were spoiled for choice.

The prize for the biggest relative impact has to go to Take My Hands. Disrupting New Zealand’s medical supply and disposal chain for medical equipment, co-founder Janette Searle explained that over 40,000 boxes of unwanted medical equipment enters New Zealand landfills every year. After taking to Kiwi logistics firms, the team sent an unwanted prosthetic leg to a 12-year old boy in Pakistan for a total of 30 cents. To date, they have now helped 150 amputees in the Middle East, having an impact valued at $1 million in healthcare costs, for just $200 input! Imagine what they could do with serious venture investment...

Wilding & Co were one of more advanced enterprises of the event. Looking to tackle a serious environmental problem in New Zealand, the team is creating high quality essential oils from the wilding pines that are spreading across the South Island high country, choking out natural ecosystems. The company is solving not only an environmental problem, but a social one. The physical strain of the logging industry forces many workers to retire before they are ready to stop working altogether. Wilding & Co are working with the forestry industry to provide less labour-intensive work for retired forestry workers, allowing them to still earn a good wage and retain their identities as forestry workers. With 1.4 million hectares of the New Zealand landscape covered in wilding pines, and $8 million contract already secured, the opportunity for Wilding & Co is as large as the problem.  

Michael Sly and Ray Gazley of Wilding & Co

Michael Sly and Ray Gazley of Wilding & Co

Food, Farms and Freshwater, also known as 3F, are developing an accreditation system for New Zealand beef and lamb. When Waikato Regional Council put in place stringent land use and freshwater limits in 2011 with Regional Plan Variation 5, many questioned if it would be the nail in the coffin for farmers in the Lake Taupo catchment. Instead, 3F have worked with local farmers to capitalise on tougher regulation, developing a system to sell their red meat at premium prices. The blue tick signifies to customers that the meat they are buying came from farms which are meeting environmental bottom-lines for 'swimmable' and 'fishable' freshwater. In a market where consumers are becoming increasingly choosy about health and sustainability, this could be a popular initiative.

Patu Aotearoa won the People’s Choice Award for their community-based exercise programme that targets Māori and Pasifika. In an inspiring introduction, co-founder Levi Armstrong explained that having grown up in a Mongrol Mob family, he was motivated to break out of the cycle of violence and and channel his energy towards positive outcomes. Serving not just as a gym, but as an ‘urban marae’ in Hastings, Patu Aotearoa has embraced a whanau-based (family-based) model where already, 400 members are working out together and encouraging each other to get healthy and spend time with their community. A second facility has recently opened in Wairua with 150 members, with plans to open 10 franchise sites by 2020.

Recognising that tiredness and a distracted mind can be just as dangerous on a job-site as drug and alcohol intoxication, Ora Safety and Health are taking a new approach towards workplace impairment testing. Utilising technology, they are measuring levels of impairment in realtime. With an average of one workplace death per week in New Zealand, and workplace injuries costing the country $3.5 billion each year, portable real-time impairment testing technology will no doubt be welcomed by high-injury-risk industries -  Contact Energy has already signed on as Ora’s first customer. The venture is also seeking to help nurture better employee-employer relationships, moving away from punitive employer-focused drug testing, and paving the way for constructive dialogue around stress and fatigue in the workplace.

The Launchpad programme has certainly been a huge boost New Zealand’s growing social enterprise sector. While some of the teams are more investment ready than others, the quality of the ideas and the well-defined business models holds up some stellar examples for other budding enterprises out there. And with the Ākina Foundation planning to run the Launchpad on a regular basis, there is opportunity for many more Kiwi impact ventures to soar.

Alex Hannant, Chief Executive of Ākina Foundation with Rod Oram 

Alex Hannant, Chief Executive of Ākina Foundation with Rod Oram 

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People of Open Source // Open Society 2015

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