Aliete Uelese

Hawke’s Bay is home to around 18,000 businesses, a fair few of them owned or managed by women. Meet four incredible women entrepreneurs all with a tale to tell, and hard-won, practical experience to share. For inspiration, read on. 

Skills for life – Alieta Uelese, Learning Innovations 

What market and customers do you serve? 

We are a private training tertiary provider offering training in literacy, numeracy and English as a second language to adults in Hawke’s Bay and Central Hawke’s Bay areas. 

We have helped hundreds of people gain skills to achieve their training, employment or life goals. Our students range from school leavers as young as 14 years to 80+ year-old grandparents learning how to use computers and phone devices. In January 2022 we will have been going for 22 years. 

What’s unique about it? 

Training and learning for adults is not unique, so for us it’s the students who are unique with their own dreams, goals, skills, and challenges. Our tagline is ‘Linking You to Your Future’ and we see ourselves as being a link to help people get from where they are to where they want to be. Each person has an individual learning plan based on their own goals – eg complete NCEA levels, literacy/numeracy skills, driver licences, job skills or just to build confidence. We provide open, friendly learning spaces and tutors who listen, respond and value learning. That’s kind of unique. 

What impact has the Covid-19 period had on your business? 

It was a hard two years for us. We struggled then, and are still dealing with the impact now. Our delivery relies on face-to-face contact. It’s the connection that helps build trust between student and tutor and for learners to gain confidence in themselves. It is hard to build a rapport, listen to and respond to their needs through an online medium; hard, but not impossible. 

In 2020 we closed one of our three community sites in Flaxmere and this month will see the closure of another in Maraenui. I am looking at this as an opportunity to consolidate our services, develop our provision for 2022 and then expand back out into the communities in the future. We may have shrunk in size temporarily, but we have grown a lot through these Covid-19 experiences and the prospects are exciting. 

If you could offer one piece of advice to a woman entrepreneur what would it be? 

I know there’s probably some profound, motivational, business advice 

that could be shared. But in all honesty, if I could give advice to my own self 22 years ago it would be: “Look after your health and against all business advice, go with your gut feeling.” 

Who or what inspires you? 

In my life, my family. In my business, my fantastic team of co-workers and each student who passes through our doors with hopes and dreams … and leaves well on the way to achieving them. 

How do you balance business and personal life? 

Easy – the first 20 years was all business and these next 20 years are devoted to my personal life. It’s important to have a life ‘outside’ the business and for me it is my family, church, and music. 

One of the best decisions I ever made for me and my business was joining The Alternative Board (TAB) four years ago and getting my own business coach and board group. TAB philosophy is all about helping small businesses owners to succeed through supporting a good business/personal life balance. I wouldn’t be kidding when I say, “I might not still be here without them” … well, that’s my ‘gut’ observation anyway. 

Just do it – Sharon Chapman, ABC Software 

What market and customers do you serve? 

We have software products for the horticulture industry, namely packhouses and orchards. We have clients in NZ, Australia, US and Denmark. In the last four years, we have transitioned from a custom software development company to a company with software products for sale. We still do tailor-made software, but our primary focus is on our product sales. 

What’s unique about it? 

Our software goal is to make the hard, easy; the complex, simple; the time-consuming, fast. Obviously, this is not always possible but when we get even halfway to that goal, it can be a game changer for our clients. And we back all that up with outstanding customer support! 

What impact has the Covid-19 period had on your business? 

Initially COVID had little to no impact. We easily worked from home and all our clients were essential services (growers and packers) so work continued uninterrupted. Now, 20 months on, not being able to travel to Australia is having an effect on new sales. I also get the feeling of general jadedness in the markets that is slowing adoption of change and innovation. 

Sharon Chapman

If you could offer one piece of advice to a woman entrepreneur what would it be? 

Nike say it best: ‘Just do it’. It is understandable to be afraid, to think of all the things that can go wrong. But when you move from thinking about it, to talking about it, to action, all those doubts take a back seat because now you are in action. What you think about regarding your business, is what you will get. So, bring joy, delight, adventure, ‘she’ll be right’ attitude, and it will be. And if it isn’t, don’t worry (it’s bad for your health), just adjust, segue, reinvent, U-turn. Life is meant to be fun. If it isn’t, change your thinking. 

Who or what inspires you? 

People who get out of their comfort zone, shake up the tree. People who are passionate and inspire others with their words and actions (as opposed to browbeat or intimidate). Greta Thunberg and the innumerable climate warriors making a difference, like the HB-grown Project Do Less (www.projectdoless.nz) and ActionStation Aotearoa. 

How do you balance business and personal life? 

I’m at the point where I am working around 40 hours a week. That gives me time for family, friends, fitness and personal space. Because I am single and no children at home, I have the privilege of really being at no one’s behest. Personal time is mine and for me to use or squander. I ditched TV long ago, which is a great giver-back of time. I would like to work less hours but with our product development we are really a start-up company (which cracks me up) and it needs all the nurturing and attention any toddler would require. Personal and work life kind of blend. I’ve got it pretty sweet. And I’m having fun. 

BHAG: to be as big as Xero – Lisa Metcalfe, Gecco Software 

What market and customers do you serve? 

Membership organisations, mainly in the not-for-profit sector. Which is large, and pretty underserved by technology. 

What’s unique about it? 

At the heart of Gecco is a focus on member engagement. We know that this is the key to success of any membership organisation, as it directly impacts on member retention and growth. We want to see all organisations using Gecco grow and flourish. Our BHAG (big hairy audacious goal) is to be as big as Xero in our sector. 

Gecco has smart tools to make the administration work smoother and faster, freeing up staff to focus on their members and their needs. Its features range from automated subscriptions and invoicing to complex conference management. Automated membership application processes and smart notification systems clear space for administrators to complete their work. 

Gecco also has many engagement tools for members. It encourages them to log in and connect with their association and each other. Importantly for those who have to meet ongoing professional development requirements, Gecco effortlessly manages CPD. 

Our product also supports at the governance level, providing Boards with discussion and file storage areas, as well as a Decisions Register for capturing important decisions and the information surrounding them. 

While Gecco can be used “off the shelf”, we’ve designed it to be very adaptable; it can be customised to meet any specific needs of an organisation. 

What impact has the Covid-19 period had on your business? 

It has been up and down. We struggled with managing workloads during lockdown as some of our staff were impacted by their home environments. The main area of challenge is the impact on our client-base and market, a large proportion of which is located in Auckland. That said, we do still seem to be consistently busy. 

Lisa Metcalfe

If you could offer one piece of advice to a woman entrepreneur what would it be? 

Surround yourself with the right people and be sure that they have the same set of values and aspirations as you do. This is important! 

Who or what inspires you? 

I am inspired by the highly talented people I work with. I love to watch their creativity, skills and passion at work, and see their confidence grow. 

How do you balance business and personal life? 

Not very well! I have found this very challenging since Covid, as work is part of my home life, too. I used to escape by going away on a trip – leaving everything behind – but have been unable to do this now for a few years. 

Queens of the pivot – Tinaka and Lyn Stewart, Archie’s Bunker Accommodation and Enigma Escape Rooms 

What market and customers do you serve? 

Archie’s Bunker is a backpackers/ affordable accommodation business and The Enigma Escape Rooms are exactly that, an escape room experience incorporating mysteries, puzzles, safe-cracking, team building, and magic tricks in an innovative, narrative driven way. 

The success of our escape rooms has supported our accommodation business as we navigate the many challenges thrown at tourism businesses by the pandemic. 

What’s unique about it? 

The way we incorporate narrative, stories and interactivity into the experience, as well as elements of Te Reo. We’ve been told by customers who have been through our rooms that this is quite different from other escape rooms. We also don’t lock people in; often with customers you can see them exhale with relief, when they find out they can leave the room at any time! We currently have two rooms, and we have developed a third experience for corporate groups, all themed around Mission Impossible. It is a progressive team-building game with the fundamentals of escape rooms but not an escape room per se. And not to rest on our laurels, we are also trying to develop an outdoors escape/problem solving experience that takes in Napier CBD. There’s still a bit to go on that. 

What impact has the Covid-19 period had on your business? 

As you might expect, Covid-19 has had a pretty devastating impact on our accommodation business since March of last year. Necessity being the mother of invention, Mum and I had to find a way to keep our business going, and started looking at alternative sources of revenue. 

We both love puzzles and problem solving, and that’s where the idea for an escape room came in. We opened our first escape room in October 2020 and our second followed soon after. Since then, we’ve welcomed more than 5,000 people through our two rooms, which we are very pleased about and proud of. 

While the escape rooms were a solution to a problem, they’ve proven so successful that they will be a permanent part of our business offshoots into the future. 

Tinaka and Lyn Stewart

If you could offer one piece of advice to a woman entrepreneur what would it be? 

Do your best to be in a position to do what you love to put the food on the table, and always hope for the best, but plan for the worst. 

Who or what inspires you? 

We love meeting people from different countries and cultures and incorporating manaakitanga (hospitality) into everything that we do. Throughout the pandemic in particular we are inspired by people’s resilience. 

How do you balance business and personal life? 

This is a tough one for anyone in a SME I would say but recognising that a balance of work and play are the key to giving the best of yourself, and not the rest of yourself. 

Stewart Financial Group is proud to sponsor BayBuzz regional economy coverage.

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