Once a month we have a group of "friendly dragons" (aka Team Soda) that come together to hear pitches from startups and review the progress being made of those in a Soda startup programme. Over the next few months we'll be introducing you to this panel of knowledgeable business legends. This one's all about Vanessa Williams.

Vanessa leads the team at Hamilton Central Business Association. Working with local businesses everyday gives Vanessa a good handle on many industries and the commitment it takes to run a successful business so we appreciate her insight at our monthly meetups. Learn more about her below.

What are you most passionate about?

My family - creating and enjoying our adventures together. Combined with this is my love of music, books, sun, sea, surf and the great outdoors!

What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?

My husband and I quitting our jobs, packing up our two children and moving to Brunei to live for 5 years. Looking back it was crazy how little research we did about the country and with the very basic ‘she’ll be right’ attitude we went with. It was a fantastic experience which we absolutely loved, but seems a little crazy to do in hindsight.

Chose a movie title that best describes the story of your life?

So many cool movie titles I would love to claim as my life but I’m thinking I am going to go with “Little Miss Sunshine” for happiness and positivity!

What is the professional achievement you are most proud of?

Receiving a letter from the Queen recognising the Hamilton Central Business Association and its members at our annual CBD Celebration Awards. Receiving that in the mail with the royal seal on the envelope was a special moment!

Where are you looking to head in the future?

At the moment I feel this is tied in really closely with the central city and how it develops over the next couple of years. Hamilton is going from strength to strength, particularly looking at the CBD and I want to see where it goes. I want more people, development and investment to see the potential of this place to be fully realised. Longer term is retirement, bingo and pina coladas at the beach!

What, or who are you a “closet” fan of?

Definitely a closet fan of pop stars, even more so than my 13 year old daughter. I love singing along to Taylor Swift and Harry Styles. I am also a big fan of rock, so equally happy listening to Guns & Roses or AC/DC with my 11 year old son.

Who has inspired you most or influenced where you have ended up now?

I find it very hard to identify with just one person as there has been so many influencers in my life. I had great role models in both my grandmothers who were both incredibly smart and didn’t conform to the more traditional woman role of their time, both being outspoken and financially savvy. My mother, who also didn’t conform to the more traditional female role of her era by going overseas at a young age, marrying a foreigner and not cooking the family meals. To my father who did cook the family meals but also successfully ran a business in Hamilton.

Which four people, living or dead, would you most like to eat dinner with? What kind of dinner party would it be?

I love a good dinner party but what would really make it for me beyond good food and wine, is laughter. For this reason I would choose four of the cast of either Oceans 11 or any of the recent Marvel movies as they look like they have such a laugh making these movies!

A piece of advice you would give your younger self.

Don’t sweat the small stuff! There are so many things you worry about when you are younger that really have no consequence in your life, you only live once, make it the best life you can have!

If you have an epic idea for a startup and want to pitch to our friendly dragon’s den, click here to find out how.