Kate O’Leary is an independent director with more than 15 years’ experience as an entrepreneur in the food and beverage industry. She has been a business mentor for the last five years and has experience as an angel investor.

This year Soda partnered with Venture Taranaki, providing mentors for its PowerUp programme. Kate is mentoring Jenni Matheson and Milli Kumar, co-founders of Kinda Ice-cream, and one of the top five finalists in the PowerUp competition.

We asked Kate a few questions about mentoring.

What is your area of expertise?

Start up and growth strategies.

Tell us about the business you’ve been mentoring?

I have been working with Kinda Ice-cream, founded by Jenni Matheson and Milli Kumar.  Kinda has developed a plant-based ice cream which has a taste and mouth feel the same as, or better than, traditional dairy ice-cream.

What excites you about Kinda Ice-cream?

I love the origins of Kinda's first product. It was a recipe developed by Jenni, who is vegan, as a dairy free, plant-based, solution for her family and friends who wanted to enjoy traditional desserts while being kinder to the planet.  Jenni, Milli and their team came together at a Start Up Weekend and developed the business concept further.  Their ambitions and aspirations are big - driven by a passion not just to create an amazingly good tasting product but to start a brand that encourages, lives, and breathes kindness.

How have you been able to improve their business?

Neither Jenni nor Milli have launched a brand before, whereas I have launched three consumer brands successfully.  I was able to bring the lessons I have learnt during my 15 plus years as an entrepreneur and use this to guide their decisions and choices.  

What have you enjoyed most about this mentorship?

I've enjoyed the connection with Jenni and Milli and their openness to learning!  They are wonderful women and I have no doubt this business will be successful because of their ability to work together as a team.

What is your favourite part of being a business mentor?

Being able to relive the excitement of a start-up situation - and to know that the lessons I have learnt through my mistakes and failures are of use to others.