Business Profiles

Start-up business leverages opportunities from the beginning

Brothers Izaiah (25) and Shae Lange (33) (Ngāti Kahungunu) launched their Napier-based business TH!NK just over a year ago.

Izaiah had returned from playing cricket overseas because of the Covid-19 pandemic and the young entrepreneur saw an opportunity to start a business with his brother Shae, a talented tattoo artist providing the service and him managing the day-to-day operations of the business.

He explored options for upskilling and building his business skills and together they approached the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) to inquire what opportunities were available to them in the business start-up space.

MSD’s Flexi-Wage for Self-Employment product was identified as an option for the Langes. The process is thorough, recognising the investment of public funds and to ensure that businesses have the best chance of success. Locally the Flexi-Wage for Self-Employment was being under-utilised and strategically MSD wanted to see more Hawke’s Bay entrepreneurs access the funding, especially Māori. “One of the ways we could increase the number of Māori businesses completing the application process successfully was by working with providers who could provide culturally appropriate support for whānau.

One of those was Tipu Ake Tonu, through their Whanake Ake service,” says MSD’s Regional Commissioner Karen Bartlett.”

The Langes worked with Tipu Ake Tonu to access Flexi-Wage which provides a weekly income for 26 weeks as well as a grant; an agreed amount of capital funding based on the business plan applicants complete. Izaiah and Shae were able to secure their CBD premises through the grant and manage the start-up commitments and living costs with TH!NK, their tattoo and apparel
business being their main source of income.

It allowed us to focus on getting things off the ground straight away. We didn’t have to worry about wages or paying ourselves as we knew what was coming in. It 100 percent took the pressure off and allowed us to free flow,” explains Izaiah.

TH!NK has survived the tumult of the past year, after initially having to close just after opening due to Covid and theirs being a close contact business.

“Being open and staying open through a time like the last year and a half has been crazy. Our best business learning has been to persevere with what we know will work.”

Tattooing is a service that lends itself to social media marketing and word of mouth. There is often an emotional, sentimental, and expressive element to it and the brothers agree that there is no easily definable demographic that uses their services. They quickly included the addition of lifestyle apparel brands to their offering to diversify and complement their key product- Shae’s art and his ability to interpret what the customer wants.

They are excited about the next offering they are looking at bringing to market, tattoo removal. While it may seem ironic it is the market who have driven the service expansion. After a conversation with a friend they saw potential with a gap in the market, leveraging an opportunity to positively impact whānau and community.

“People’s situations change and one of the avenues for removals is for those people who are looking to reintegrate back into the community after rehabilitation or prison and want their tattoos removed.” Not only does it help give people a second chance, but it is also a savvy business move with early projections showing it could equate to around 25% of their turnover in the first year of service.

Without Flexi-Wage for Self-Employment TH!NK might not be in the position to expand their offering. Providing options in the start-up space aligns with the Ministry’s focus. Karen Bartlett said, “while MSD is known for our income, housing and employment services, we do offer a range of support for people and creating self-sufficiency and independence for whānau is always a priority.”