Incubate then accelerate — that is the aim of Soda Inc, a new incubator programme to partner with Activate Tairawhiti.

Soda is a wraparound service that takes businesses through a 12-week intensive, specifically-tailored programme, with handpicked mentors from around New Zealand.

Businesses or individuals pitch their opportunity, then are taken in to the Soda ranks. In exchange, 2.5 percent of the company’s equity goes to Soda and another 2.5 percent to regional economic development agency Activate Tairawhiti (AT).

Activate general manager economic development Steve Breen says the new initiative will significantly benefit the region’s start-up businesses and entrepreneurs.

“We are excited to partner with Soda, as they provide an opportunity for locals to fast-track their businesses with world class support here and around the country.”

Activate signed a memorandum of understanding with Soda earlier this year.

“They are a missing link in a really strong business growth chain we are creating,” says Mr Breen.

For example, start-ups can access the Economic Investigation and Research Fund with AT, which grants up to $30,000 per applicant for viability and feasibility testing.

AT is establishing a local Enterprise Angels group — a national angel investment group — following an information evening this month for potential investors.

Once operational, the Tairawhiti Enterprise Angels group will be geared towards businesses that are at a to-market stage but pre-revenue. Businesses who are at this stage and require investment will soon be able to apply.

Soda has the potential to work as a ‘‘chain’’ link between a business at an EIR Fund level and a business at an Enterprise Angels level.

The same AT panel that assesses EIR grants will also assess Tairawhiti Soda candidates, supported by the likes of AT business growth advisers Tui Babbington and David Pardy, as well as Mr Breen.

Soda head of operations Rachel Adams says they have spent the past eight years shaping, testing and perfecting a support model for entrepreneurs that is founder-friendly, with their best interests at heart.

“This programme is primarily about educating business founders. We attract and match successful entrepreneurs who have been there and done it to work with start-ups needing support.”

The programme is no walk in the park. Soda means business.

“You will need to be prepared to have your thinking tested and want to be challenged and supported.

“We want participants to leave the programme with a powerful network and the knowledge of what to do beyond the life of Soda.

“We know there are sharp, talented, innovative thinkers in Tairawhiti and we cannot wait to help people realise their project or business dream.”

Soda has supported and been behind many growing start-ups in New Zealand — beekeeping hive management software MyApiary and Hop Revolution, which recently secured a $3 million investment through the MyFarm Hop Garden Investment initiative.

Soda chief executive Erin Wansbrough says they want to break the trend of regions missing out on larger support systems found in main centres.

“We encourage ambitious people who are working on opportunities that have potential for scale to get in touch with the team at Activate Tairawhiti and see if this programme is right for you.”

“We don’t limit our intake of start-ups to just one profession or level of experience,” says Ms Wansbrough.