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About Soda

It takes courage and
foresight to be an entrepreneur

Tenacity, vision and resilience:  the very name, ethos and purpose of Soda evoke the memory and spirit of a remarkable Waikato entrepreneur

At Soda, we believe that anything is possible. With rigour, structure and process, your viable business idea can become a thriving commercial enterprise. We have the support systems and people in place: you have the determination to succeed. And when the going gets tough, we can all be inspired by the story of a young Welsh migrant who married a Scotsman twice her age, had ten children in rapid succession, coped with her husband’s two bankruptcies, endured personal tragedies, and fought back after the destruction of their brewery and aerated-water factory by fire. It takes courage and foresight to be an entrepreneur. Business incubator Soda exists to help you to succeed. Our whole team has your back.

From humble beginnings...

In 2004, research by Wintec showed that talented young graduates were leaving in droves because of a lack of job opportunities in the city and region. A business incubator was desperately needed. With Hamilton City Council and Wintec as foundation stakeholders, Deloitte and Norris Ward McKinnon as founding partners, Dame Cheryll Sotheran founding Chair and Cheryl Reynolds CEO, fledging incubator Soda Inc. opened for business in 2009. Its location? The site of Mary Jane Innes’s soda bottling factory at 1 Victoria St.

A bubbling business

When Ngāruawāhia brewer Charles Innes was bankrupted shortly after their marriage in 1874, Mary Jane drew on her personal resources to finance a new brewery when the couple shifted to Te Awamutu. Property was registered in her own name from 1875 onwards. After Charles’s second bankruptcy in 1888, Mary Jane gave public notice that she had taken over management of the Te Awamutu Brewery, brewing ale and producing aerated waters. A year later, she also took over management of the Waikato Brewery in Hamilton East. Having acquired tenancy rights over the new venture’s land and buildings, the family moved to Hamilton.

Resolute in success

With their popular products renowned for quality, business flourished – until a disastrous fire in 1897 destroyed all the Waikato Brewery buildings. A resolute Mary Jane organised a replacement – in Hamilton West. By 1898, the new brewery and bottling factory was fully functional. Then, in July 1899, Charles died. Her own creditworthiness intact, the 47-year-old widow arranged loans, paid off her husband’s debts, and became the sole owner of the Waikato Brewery, on the corner of Victoria and Bridge Streets. In 1900, she arranged a deed of partnership with her eldest son, Charles Lewis Innes, by then a trained brewer. He became manager of the new company, C.L. Innes and Company, which flourished for the next 60 years.

Tenacity and courage at the fore

Such an example of tenacity and courage led Soda staff and a volunteer group to inaugurate the Innes 48 Business Start-Up Competition in 2012. Soon the largest national competition of its kind, Innes 48 has attracted ambitious people from all over the country to innovate and create a business from scratch, within 48 hours. In 2013, the Soda team also initiated a move to have Mary Jane Innes officially recognised in the NZ Business Hall of Fame, a proposal that succeeded in 2015, the same year that Soda relocated to Wintec House because of our rapid expansion and success in nurturing like-minded entrepreneurs.

An entreprenerial legacy

About 1907-08, Mary Jane Innes moved to Auckland, leaving the management of the brewery to Charles and her other sons. Her exemplary succession planning saw her relinquish her shares in the company in 1912. Devastated when Charles died in the 1918 influenza epidemic, Mary Jane lived in Auckland to the age of 89. She was buried in November 1941 beside her husband in Hamilton East cemetery. Her business legacy lives on, with the Innes companies that were sold on, operating as Lion Nathan Breweries and Oasis Industries, now Coca-Cola Amatil (NZ) Ltd. A bronze plague and figurine of Mary Jane can be seen on the railings of Hamilton’s Anzac Bridge.

Soda has built strong networks with business communities, mentors and advisors all over the country. We aim to foster and support the can–do/will-do spirit of Mary Jane in today’s aspiring entrepreneurs. We’re here to help you realise your dreams.

Meet the Soda team

Here at Soda, we may be a small team but we have big businesses behind us and even bigger ambitions. We truly believe anything is possible, which is why we know how to seek out the right people to help our start-ups, entrepreneurs, SMEs and business minds get specialist advice. We listen, we understand and then we put the rigorous framework around you to give you the structure, support, processes and encouragement to enable you to grow your business.

Meet our team





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