INTERVIEW: ERIN WANSBROUGH
ROLE: CHIEF EXECUTIVE
ORGANISATION: SODA INC
WEB: WWW.SODAINC.COM


Who is Your Organisation? 

Soda is a Hamilton based business growth ecosystem that provides support, programmes and connections for ambitious Kiwi founders, startups and businesses. We help businesses grow through applied rigour, structure and processes.

Soda offers a range of tried and tested programmes to suit founders at all levels of business growth – from ideation through to raising capital – and connects entrepreneurs with experienced mentors who offer quality business advice and guidance which leads to business success. 

Soda has more than 12-years’ experience helping New Zealand entrepreneurs and has helped more than 850 businesses flourish. The businesses that Soda has supported have created more than 400 jobs and raised $20 million worth of investment.

What are the high-level goals of your organisation in relation to supporting entrepreneurship and innovation?

Soda’s mission is to enable entrepreneurs, business owners and the businesses they lead to be successful…on their own terms. We genuinely enjoy hearing aspiring entrepreneurs’ stories and helping entrepreneurs from across a broad range of industries and from all walks of life. We can help people create a successful business venture whatever their goal – from those who simply want to be self-employed or run a local business right through to our more ambitious founders who want to be successful on a global scale. As a not-for-profit company we put founders first and work with entrepreneurs collaboratively to achieve sustainable growth. We are proud to foster growth and innovation in the Waikato region and beyond.

What were some of the key programmes or initiatives run in 2021 in relation to supporting entrepreneurship and innovation? 

This year we have supported 15 business founders through our customised and in-depth LIFT programmes – our 3 or 6-month programme where we match founders with an experienced business mentor to solve current business challenges. We have assisted founders with a wide range of business challenges and support such as providing advice on intellectual property, marketing and sales strategy, HR, commercialisation, governance, investment options, launching and making vital industry connections. 

We created Soda Seed Grants in 2020 in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The grants were a way to support businesses by giving them a cash injection when they needed it most. In the last year we have run five Seed Grants worth $43,000 in total, with 17 businesses across New Zealand benefitting both financially and through receiving immediate feedback and business advice.

Earlier this year Soda partnered with Venture Taranaki on the PowerUp Ideas Competition, providing training, support and mentors, which enabled Venture Taranaki to facilitate a business fundamentals programme with 47 founders followed by a LIFT style programme for the five finalists. This collaboration culminated in the PowerUp Ideas Competition Finals Night with 250 attendees and the winner was awarded $10,000. 

What have been some of the highlight achievements or moments that stand out for you and your team this year?

With support from our gold sponsors Callaghan Innovation, Wintec and Chow:Hill Architects, we launched Rise Up – a Seed Grant for ambitious female founders. Five finalists were selected from nearly 100 applicants and guided through a series of founder-focused workshop series before pitching their business to a panel of high-profile judges with the winner awarded $10,000. We were overwhelmed by the calibre of applicants and our finalists. We created Rise Up to encourage and support New Zealand’s female founders and it’s encouraging to see that the entrepreneurial spirit amongst New Zealand women is strong. 

Earlier this year we undertook market research to identify what additional support startups need. There was one common response from startups and investors – a lack of knowledge around how to plan for a capital raise strategy. After identifying this gap in the market, we created BOOST which gives founders the pragmatic support and ability to develop a capital raise strategy. We launched BOOST in August with three business founders selected to be part of the first cohort. The programme is customised to each founder’s needs and each founder is matched with a mentor who has successfully raised capital previously. The mentor helps guide them through the programme and resources to prepare them to raise capital and take their business to the next level.

Given the renewed challenges and disruptions posed by COVID this year, what effect (if any) has this had on the entrepreneurial spirit and/or output of your local entrepreneurs in relation to innovation?

There’s no denying that Covid-19 has impacted entrepreneurs. The August lockdown occurred just before our Rise Up pitch night meaning we’ve had to adapt and make this a virtual event. This is only one example but there are numerous events, trade shows, expos and markets being cancelled all over the country which directly impact business. Not to mention the shipping delays that affect businesses importing and exporting. 

It’s been a really tough couple of years; however, I’m continually impressed with the resilience and grit that our entrepreneurs continue to demonstrate to overcome or even embrace covid challenges. For some businesses, like Kaffelogic who produce benchtop coffee roasting machines, Covid has increased demand for their product. Other businesses have pivoted to adjust – an example of this is Hey Mama Movement which offered online workouts and has evolved to The Good Day Matrix – a website offering a full range of free health and wellness resources. 

I also think that the uncertainty has encouraged people to reassess and led to the creation of new businesses. A number of our latest CO.STARTERS graduates have created new business during lockdown like Terri and Sandra Hutton, founders of Handle With Love which sells care packages which are carefully crafted with love. 

Are there any local businesses or entrepreneurs that stand out for you in terms of addressing innovation challenges or showing exceptional entrepreneurial spirit in 2021?

I love Donnamaree Ryder’s story. She was raised in state housing but is now the founder and chief executive officer of Tania.ai – a voice activated reporting assistant which connects to Xero and keeps users updated on their finances via a simple conversation using an Alexa device or mobile phone. To have grown up in relative poverty to creating technology to help others better manage their finances is pretty inspirational. Tania.ai is named after Donnamaree’s mother who placed a huge amount of importance of education and giving back which is what Donnamaree is now doing. Donnamaree graduated from Soda’s LIFT programme in 2021 and launched globally in July.

EC8 founder Christopher Staal has developed a time-saving and eco-friendly system to measure and supply pre-cut plasterboard to construction sites so it’s ready to go on the wall, saving two days build time and reducing waste by up to 30%. Chris graduated from our LIFT programme earlier this year and is currently working through our BOOST programme, preparing to raise capital and preparing to launch.


Innovation Nation is a series celebrating stories of innovation and entrepreneurship from around New Zealand.

Innovation Nation proudly supported by: