In Founder Focus we introduce entrepreneurs and innovators working on our next generation of new business startups, social enterprises and small businesses.

At a glance

Founders: Holly Norton, Poppy Brennan, Sophie Harker, CAMILLE WRIGHTSON, Sophie Clement, CEARA MCAULIFFE BICKERTON + Michelle Kitney (CEO)

Business: Collaborate

Founded: 2018

HQ: Wellington

Can you tell us a bit about your business?

Online volunteer matchmaking platform Collaborate (like Tinder, but for volunteering). It has just been acquired by Volunteering New Zealand. Collaborate transformed the way New Zealanders volunteer by using match-making technology and smart algorithms to connect people to organisations where their skills and interests could make the biggest difference.

The platform has connected thousands of people to hundreds of organisations that need help across New Zealand and internationally. Reflecting on the four years since Collaborate’s launch, the team say that the experience has been ‘life-changing.’ Collaborate has seen young volunteers grow the skills that land them their first jobs. It has shown thousands of people that they have in-demand skills and bring value. It has enabled hundreds of organisations that do good to be able to access, for free, many skills critical to them – for example, everything from social media expertise to front-line mental health support.

What’s the backstory for your business idea?

Holly Norton started working on the idea back in 2015. The charity she was volunteering for couldn’t find enough volunteers for their work supporting refugees in NZ. This seemed crazy to Holly, as the war in Syria had seen huge displacement of people and everyone was talking about wanting to help. She quickly realised most people simply didn’t know how. She set out to solve this disconnect. Partnering with university friends, including her sister (Poppy Brennan, Ceara McAuliffe Bickerton and Sophie Harker) the all young women founding team saw the success of dating app tinder and decided to adapt the concept to match volunteers to organisations who need them. When they founded the platform they were all In their early twenties. They had ‘no idea’ that their idea to make ‘doing good’ as fast, easy and fun as online dating, would today go on to become a part of New Zealand’s national volunteering infrastructure.

What programmes, learning or mentoring have been of assistance so far?

  • The team are quick to point out that the success is the result of many people volunteering their time and skills. Long-time team members Sophie Clement and Camille Wrightson were actually some of the first volunteers to use the platform and volunteered to join the Collaborate team. The team started by using the Creative HQ space after hours and trying to ‘keep up’ with the fintech accelerators they saw around them.
  • They were then accepted into the Te Papa accelerator Mahuki in 2018 for cultural sector innovations and launched during their time there.
  • Following that they incubated at Creative HQ.
  • They received mentoring and volunteer time from many, many people in the social enterprise and entrepreneurship sector.
  • Even the platform itself for examples first version was created as part of three day volunteer hackathon. The story of the platform is one of the power of volunteering and the founders are so grateful to have been able to be tiaki of that community journey.


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