Giving every small business an expert network.
New Zealand is leading the world in entrepreneurship in government, and Wellington is poised to become a world leader in govtech. This is evidenced by the recent R9 Accelerator programme, in which government posed problems for combined public-private sector teams to solve in a 12-week accelerator programme. Demo Day was held last week at the Embassy Theatre in Wellington, and the results were impressive.
One of the teams to come through the programme was Mibiz, sponsored by Inland Revenue to reduce the problem of high failure rates of new businesses, particularly among those formed by recent migrants. The team that rose to the challenge quickly reframed the problem into an opportunity: give every new business an expert network, with an initial focus on migrants.
Why the focus on migrants? They represent a huge missed opportunity for the New Zealand economy. Many highly qualified migrants arrive on our shores and are unable to find traditional employment for a variety of reasons – different qualifications from the NZ standard, lack of networks, and sadly, everyday racism. You’ve probably ridden in a taxi or Uber recently with someone who held a PhD or managerial position in the old country but couldn’t find a job in their industry here. Many of these arrivals have an entrepreneurial bent, international connections, huge resilience, and a drive to succeed, which makes them ideal candidates to start businesses. But they lack the networks and local context to help them succeed.
Mibiz is essentially a curated directory service for organisations providing services to new businesses, including accounting, HR, tax advice, marketing, and the like, some of them free, some of them paid. Mibiz facilitates connections between these entrepreneurs and service providers, and clips the ticket for 5% of the service fee. Everyone wins.
The Mibiz team is made up of Andrew Bailey, Amy Cotton, both from Inland Revenue, and Jonnie Haddon who used to run Rutherford and Bond Toyota’s online sales. And yes, Jonnie was a used car salesman (of sorts, even if not on the showroom floor) at one time and I can tell you that it is fantastic preparation for work in startups where the founders’ lack of ability to sell stuff is usually the number one obstacle to success.
During the programme, Mibiz held a number of meetups with migrant business owners to validate the problem and solution. Through those events and conducted interviews, 40 business owners have signed up for the service as early adopters. The were also able to attract 18 service providers, and have already facilitated seven connections between migrants and service providers in the few weeks since they launched their concierge service.
Mibiz are seeking $220K of seed funding from the government to further develop the service and launch a beta product, and then attract a critical mass of service providers onto the platform, which should take them into 2017. At that time, they’ll be looking for a combination of public and private investment to scale the service within New Zealand and potentially push it out internationally.
Will Mibiz take off? It’s very early days, but I’m super excited by government taking a punt on this team and the other R9 teams. I’ve never seen government employees move so fast, adapt so quickly, engage so fully, break down so many barriers, work so hard, and just get as much sh!t done as I have in the R9 Accelerator. I’m also heartened that New Zealanders, and the New Zealand government, care so much about new migrants that we want to ensure that we can fully utilise their talents and natural entrepreneurship, for the benefit of the whole country.
The bigger question is whether New Zealand Government agencies can walk the innovation talk by backing promising public-private partnership teams with the resources they need to succeed – otherwise, they’re just accelerating people into a brick wall.
If you’re a migrant, a refugee, an NGO or government agency providing services to migrant business owners, Mibiz would love to talk to you – just drop them a line.
Here’s their pitch deck from Demo Day:
Disclosure: I mentored Mibiz and several of the other R9 teams during the programme.