As part of an emerging network, Whanganui-based Thrive helps strengthen communities by supporting entrepreneurs in building, scaling, and sustaining profit-for-purpose businesses.
Nicola Patrick believes that entrepreneurs in provincial New Zealand are different from their city counterparts, even varying from region to region. To her, this led to a significant gap in economic development. Without resources at the community level, entrepreneurs in these areas are left unsupported – especially when they don’t know where to start.
To help address this capability gap, especially in social enterprise, she founded Thrive, an organisation providing services to help ideas take off, grow, and scale in Whanganui. Thrive also serves the greater ‘Middle New Zealand’ that encompasses Rangitīkei, Ruapehu, and South Taranaki.
With their social enterprise lean, Patrick says that Thrive is for those making a difference in the world. Apart from free workshops, talks, and consulting services, Thrive also helps businesses craft their all-important brand story.
“The difference with social enterprises is that they are driven by passion and values,” explains Patrick. “They often have amazing stories, and we want to help them amplify those stories to reach people so that those things drive their customers.”
Having a local organisation to support entrepreneurs in social enterprise is something that Patrick says is needed, especially with the loneliness that comes from others thinking you’re crazy for choosing social enterprise over money, which is a common misconception.
“It’s just not true. You can do it a different way, but you need to connect with people who understand that and will support you to keep your values and purpose at the heart of it,” Patrick explains.
Patrick says that social enterprise is missing in the innovation space when it comes to economic development in New Zealand. But she’s not the only one who feels this way. In 2018, she met Jo Allum during their work in the Regional Hubs Pilot, a programme led by the Ākina Foundation, which looked at ways to make social enterprises’ capability services more visible and effective across New Zealand.
“[In New Zealand], the support is focused on tech startups. It’s focused on knowledgeable entrepreneurs who have created something, already know the process, and can repeat it with a social bent. Whereas, real grassroots place-based equal access to those tools was missing,” Allum explains.
Both Allum and Patrick believed that a healthy and vibrant social enterprise community would enhance their prospective regions, so after the Regional Hubs Pilot programme finished, they stayed connected and created a network.
In 2014, Allum co-founded Venture Centre, an organisation providing support for entrepreneurs in the Bay of Plenty.
They were the first of an emerging network focusing on innovation infrastructure. Today, 15 hubs around New Zealand are part of this network, some issued from Regional Hubs Pilot. Each of them is doing similar work in enterprise development at the local level. Both Allum and Patrick continue to work alongside each other, and now Thrive is the ‘second farthest along’ in the network.
For this emerging network, sustainable resourcing is a major factor inhibiting their growth and their communities’ growth. The idea of social enterprise for economic development is a relatively new concept. Where funding exists, it’s usually focused on the startup phase.
To Patrick, this is a problem.
“We don’t want people falling over after 1-2 years, especially if they are small scale. We want them to not only be impressive because they’ve started, but because they’ve continued and got to a stage where they can create some additional jobs around them.”
By connecting their networks and leveraging their unique resources, often in the form of volunteers, Thrive and Venture Centre offer value to entrepreneurs across provincial New Zealand that might have been otherwise inaccessible.
“There might be people in Whanganui that are a great support to Tauranga and vice versa,” Allum explains, “The quicker we emerge as a network with some infrastructure, the better supported the community solutions will be.”
Even though there was an uptick in people for both Thrive and Venture Centre during COVID-19, most response funds were focused on existing businesses rather than emerging and developing enterprises. On top of that, although Thrive’s audience is 80% women, the recovery spending was not geared towards them.
Patrick says that when facing economic hardship and job loss, solving problems unique to a community through a social enterprise lens could make all the difference in generating wealth and jobs.
It’s the mission behind Thrive and one that carries across the emerging network it’s a part of.
“If you’re someone who lives in an isolated rural community, your concept of social enterprise is going to be different, but it’s equally valid,” says Patrick. “We want the diversity supported in the mix.”