Does NZ need a Government Institute for Small Business? Not a question that occupies my mind, until I started to review the evidence of need. We all know there are a lot of small businesses here – but did you know that SMEs account for 97% of all enterprises in the country, employ 30.2 % of all employees (582,000 people) and generate around 28.6% of New Zealand’s Gross Domestic Product?

People like you and me, importantly, contribute around 40% of all new jobs created too. We are important to the country, to the economy and, as taxpayers and voters, we should be important to the Government too.

Last Wednesday was a good day for SMEs as the Minister for Small Business, Hon Stuart Nash MP listened to a diverse group of people explaining where Government support for SMEs falls short.

SME LEAP summit convener Tenby Powell.

Entrepreneur, investor and small business advocate Tenby Powell convened the SME LEAP (Leading Enterprise Acceleration & Productivity) event in Auckland attracting over 150 delegates and began the day by explaining the need to establish a Government Institute for SMEs.

“It’s an idea whose time has come”, says Powell. “I am advocating for dramatic change. This is not a small step improvement to that which already exists, it’s an entirely different paradigm of thought in respect of our SME (Small & Medium Enterprise) economy.”

His vision is for a Government entity governed by a Board of Directors from the private sector, working closely with Government Officials, who would be charged with developing and implementing throughout New Zealand’s region, well-researched policy advice to enhance the ecosystem and environment in which SMEs operate.

Specifically, facilitating the development of education for owner-managers, easing access to digital platforms, and working with banks to develop ways to fund SMEs without mortgaging the family home.

The SME LEAP event was a model of diversity with attendees representing a spectrum of ethnicities including Maori, Pasifika, Chinese, Indian, Vietnamese, Japanese and European Pakeha.

As one of the participants I can confirm that the afternoon workshops were particularly valuable – ten multi-ethnic groups were tasked with listing “big ideas” to create a step-change.

Top ideas included:

  • Economic Special Zones
  • A help desk for advice and how to navigate Government services for business
  • Business checklists for new startups and growing firms
  • Tax breaks for funding
  • Improved access to finance for larger sums than Angel Investment can provide
  • Open-source wiki portal for discussion and discovery
  • Focus on technology as an enabler for productivity gains
  • The need for a unified voice from SMEs back to Government
  • A “tinder-for-business” app to connect people

And my own idea – a Q&A forum like clarity.fm where you can ask questions and get expert answers in a public forum and you can hire the experts by the minute (phone) to get more detailed advice if you choose.

And what would success look like?

If business owners are to get involved in supporting a Small Business Institute, we need to know what it could do for us. Enabling us to run better business is not the only measure of success. Every one of us runs a firm which helps in the local value chain, many of us are employers, are exporters, and we all pay tax!

Rebecca Caroe (R) with Vaughan Winiata at the #SMELEAP summit.

Consider the big picture – if we all grew our businesses by one percentage point this adds around $2.1 billion to national GDP.

That’s huge.

The energy and enthusiasm to contribute at the event were real. The challenge of how to progress the ideas starts now – who will lead the change and how can rapid implementation happen?

Tenby summed up his hopes for the event outcomes saying, “When entrepreneurs gather, things happen. Optimism and the entrepreneurial spirit go hand-in-hand. At its most fundamental this about nurturing an ecosystem – a critically important one that is in need of greater strategic support and resourcing by Government.”

So get started yourself, follow the conversation by joining the New Zealand SME Business Network on LinkedIn and Facebook and keep reading NZ Entrepreneur for further updates.


Rebecca Caroe is the founder and CEO of marketing agency Creative Agency Secrets.

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