Taranaki business ideas in to win $10,000

A Taranaki start-up has gone from strength to strength after winning a local incubator competition last year.

The idea for the tourism chat-bot start-up Yonder was conceived last year by James Donald and Letitia Stevenson, who entered it in the inaugural Idea Summit 2018.

The summit was a resounding success and saw more than 75 entries all vying for a spot as a finalist, and ultimately, first place with the chance to take home $10,000.

Taranaki’s 2019 Idea Summit kicks off this week and James says it’s a exceptional opportunity.

Yonder took part in the Idea Summit 10-week incubator programme that saw them receive expert business advice, coaching and mentoring, as well as the chance to pitch their idea and receive judging feedback.

“We thought we had a good idea on our hands, however you obviously never know who you’re up against and what the judges are looking for,” James says.

Letitia says Yonders offer tourism operators an industry specific conversational chat tool that works as a virtual assistant for operators and their customers.

“The tourism industry worldwide is growing significantly, and more travelers want to communicate and book quickly through intelligent online systems, however their lack of resources results in operators and hotels missing out on bookings,” she says.

“It’s been so rewarding working with operators, helping them to support their business needs. We’ve already seen some real business benefits starting to transpire, which makes it all the more rewarding.”

This year, Idea Summit will condense the incubation period into seven weeks and give even more entries a chance at success, Venture Taranaki Business Advisor and event organiser Nick Field says.

“The Idea Summit programme was built to ensure our entries are given the support and resources required to build and create viable businesses.

“Last year, from all that entered, five finalists were selected by our judging panel, however this year of those that enter, we’ll select 20 to pitch for a shot at the final five.

“The remaining 15 entries will then be offered places in another accelerator programme, connecting them with coaching and mentoring and the opportunity to build their business.”

Since taking out Idea Summit Yonder have continued their winning streak, leveraging the connections they built throughout the course of the competition.

Letitia says Venture Taranaki have been hugely supportive and have helped them to connect with funding opportunities and build the business on the back of their win.

“Starting out is definitely daunting, but the support we were given has made it as easy as possible and allowed us to focus on building the best offering possible – we’ve been able to stick to what we’re good.

“We’ve been fortunate enough to draw on expert opinions and support when we’ve needed it, and this has definitely played a part in our trajectory.”

Last year Yonder received funding from Callaghan Innovation in the form of a Getting Started Grant which allowed them to investigate the feasibility of the service, and this month they have been approved for a R&D Project Grant to support their continued growth.

The pair were also accepted into the Massey University ECentre Global Sprint Programme in February and have earned a spot as part of the 2019 SaaStr Annual kiwi delegation in San Francisco.

James describes the continued support from funders and Venture Taranaki as invaluable.

“The past year really has been a journey for us. Since winning Idea Summit this time last year, we’ve met and connected with amazing people, been able to build and grow our business, and contribute to streamlining customer acquisition in the tourism space,” he says.

James will be speaking at the Idea Summit 2019 launch event Wednesday May 8, 5pm at Johnson Corner. Entry is free.

To find out more about Idea Summit and how to enter visit ideasummit.co.nz