Waikato business incubator and coworking space Soda Inc. is celebrating 10 years in business this month.
Chief Executive Erin Wansbrough said the anniversary came as Soda was executing its own growth strategy to enable its business growth support to be assessable by a much greater number of New Zealand entrepreneurs and businesses.
"We are proud to have assisted over 650 startup businesses from all over New Zealand over the past 10 years and have worked intensively with over 50 startups through our incubation programmes. Over this time, Soda has had three successful share exits and the startups we have intensively supported have created over 300 jobs and have raised over $15 million of investment.
“We are also proud to have housed over 250 people and nearly 100 companies in our coworking space over the same timeframe. The networks and collaboration just wouldn’t have happened if this community wasn’t created.”
Wansbrough said everything Soda had achieved would not have been possible without the continued and unwavering support of its owner, Wintec. They have backed Soda since day one.
Wintec Acting Chief Executive, David Christiansen said Soda Inc. was an integral part of the Wintec ecosystem.
“Soda is generating innovation and entrepreneurship and it’s exciting to have this on our campus. There’s an education aspect here too. Soda brings influence, inspiration and opportunity for our Wintec students through its proximity, programmes and events like the NZ Startup Bootcamp.”
Soda opened for business in 2009 after research by Wintec found that behind the talent exodus in Waikato 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 one way to enable this was to set up a business incubator to support and encourage entrepreneurship in the region.
Among the highlights since its inception was winning the Westpac Waikato Business Not-For-Profit Award in 2018. Soda also won the 2019 Coworker Members’ Choice Award for Hamilton.
“We pride ourselves on being able to deliver our support services with a Net Promoter Score above 60, which is considered excellent,” Erin said.
Soda has also been running an entrepreneurial bootcamp for eight of its 10 years. The NZ Startup Bootcamp is a 48-hour hands-on bootcamp where entrepreneurs from all over New Zealand come together to develop and stress test business concepts, and ultimately pitch for the top prize of $20,000.
Over 520 participants have taken part in this bootcamp since its inception in 2012 and 180 mentors have volunteered over 7,000 hours of their time – sharing their networks and knowledge.
Earlier this month, Soda launched its CO.STARTERS programme, a nine-week programme which teaches the fundamentals of business.
Wansbrough said Soda was aiming to bridge the gap between entrepreneurs who are just starting out and those who had started but still needed a boost.
“The programme is pragmatic and highly focused on testing every aspect of the business model in market. This results in a transition from business idea to a viable business model and proven product market fit.
"Soda is focused on helping the Kiwi entrepreneur, whether they are new to the game or need help in a commercial area they are not yet familiar with. The same tools and business growth fundamentals apply. The advantage of the Soda process is in the focus and speed in which a business gains confidence, adapts and creates a unique position in the market. Our programmes are not theory-based classroom exercises, they are hands on, learn as you go with a A-team wrap around.
"Looking out to what the future holds for Soda, it looks bold, bright and a little bit scary with an expansion in its strategic direction. In response to market demand, we will soon be able to extend Soda’s growth support expertise and networks to the broader business community.
“That means Soda wants to help all businesses with the ambition to grow to the next level, not just startups. They will soon also be able to access Soda’s expertise to position their business to scale.
“We can’t wait to be a part of these business growth journeys and are excited to see what the next 10 years will bring,” Wansbrough said.
She said the entrepreneurial spirit lives at the heart of the Soda team, but also in the region, as Soda’s backstory explains.
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 100 years later her bottling factory would become the centre for supporting a whole family of ambitious entrepreneurs.
Proudly donning the name inspired by Mary Jane, Soda Inc. opened for business in 2009. In 2015, Soda relocated into Wintec House due to rapid expansion. Soda's core purpose is to raise the entrepreneurial IQ of New Zealanders.