In 1900, Mary Jane Innes launched a Soda-bottling factory on the corner of Victoria and Bridge Streets in Hamilton. She couldn’t have known that 100 years later her bottling factory would become the centre for supporting a whole family of ambitious entrepreneurs; people who share the same passion for business, and who pursue their dreams just as she did in the Waikato.
It all began when a small brewery was established in Ngaruawahia by Scotsman, Charles Innes. In 1874 he married 22 year old Mary Jane Innes who had recently arrived from Wales with her brother and sister following the death of their parents and the subsequent sale of their parents’ farm. Charles was over 20 years her senior. The brewery struggled and with a large mortgage and a small local population, this led to bankruptcy.
Mary Jane assisted Charles in financing a new brewery with money received from the sale of her parents’ farm in Wales. From 1875 onwards, property was registered only in Mary Jane’s name, which proved her creditworthiness.
After the death of Charles in 1899, Mary-Jane arranged a string of loans, paid off her late husband’s debts and became the sole owner of Waikato Breweries.
In 1900, Mary Jane arranged a deed of partnership with her eldest son, Charles Lewis Innes, and the company C L Innes and Co. was established at the newly built bottling factory at 1 Victoria Street. She began to hand over the reigns to Charles and by 1912 she had relinquished all shares in the company, which continued to expand and flourish for several decades.
When Mary Jane Innes, bought Waikato Breweries in 1889 she laid the foundations not only for today’s brewery but also for the soft-drink giant that became Oasis Industries in 1979. Oasis Industries, who after various name and ownership changes, are now the largest bottlers in New Zealand. You might have heard of them… Coca Cola Amatil NZ!
She did all this while having 10 children and living through the loss of her husband.
Under Mary Jane’s guidance these companies were highly successful and the Innes Family can be credited with being a family who helped shape Hamilton and this region.
Historically, if you’d asked any New Zealander to name a city they associate with entrepreneurship, you’d be surprised if they cited Hamilton. Though the city’s growth was steady, most local businesses developed quietly and without much fanfare. And despite students flocking to the city’s internationally recognised tertiary institutions, graduates would leave the region – and often the country – as soon as they finished their studies.
So it was just as Hamilton, and the Waikato, was reaching maturity, it was hemorrhaging new creative talent. In 2004, research by Wintec found that behind the talent exodus lay a lack of job opportunities. Many graduates who had left indicated that they would have much rather stayed here, but they had to go to where the jobs were.
It was clear that jobs needed to be created, and way to do that was to set up a business incubator to support and encourage entrepreneurship.
Hamilton City Council become interested, and offered Wintec vacant space above the Meteor Theatre on Victoria St – space that had been abandoned for decades and had once been Mary Jane’s Soda bottling factory.
The city’s transformation in its fostering of entrepreneurship was beginning. In 2007 the derelict factory was converted into light, airy office space. Founding partners Deloitte and Norris Ward McKinnon came on board to help the fledgling incubator draft a plan and shareholders’ agreement. Dame Cheryll Sotheran became Soda’s founding Chair and Cheryl Reynolds was made the founding CEO.
Proudly donning the organisations name inspired by Mary Jane Innes, Soda Inc. opened for business in 2009 with Wintec and the Hamilton City Council as its founding stakeholders.
Drawing inspiration from Mary Jane Innes again, in 2012 Soda staff and a volunteer group held the inaugural Innes48 Business Startup Competition. Over the years this competition has attracted the brightest and most ambitious people from all over New Zealand to come up with new business ideas over 48 hours. It’s now the largest competition of its kind in this country.
In 2013, the Soda team thought Mary Jane Innes should be a household name. As a female living in the late 19th century, Mary Jane was never publicly acknowledged as a business owner. So after two years of lobbying, we were successful in having Mary Jane officially recognised for her life achievements in the NZ Business Hall of Fame.
In 2015, Soda relocated into Wintec House due to rapid expansion.
Fast-forward to 2018 and Mary Jane Innes is the beating heart that fuels the team at Soda. The tenacity required to achieve what she achieved as a businesswoman in the 1900s underpins our culture, ethos and purpose.
Soda endeavours to continue honouring Mary Jane’s success through supporting and nurturing like-minded entrepreneurs.
So spread the word to your friends and whanau about this remarkable woman.
Read more about Mary Jane Innes: