A captivating collision of tikanga Maori and capitalism

My experience of the world’s first kaupapa Maori Startup Weekend

Last weekend I attended He Tangata - Startup Weekend Nelson.

When I wasn’t floundering around trying to nail down our pitch or throwing numbers at our revenue model, I took some time to notice what was going on around me.

In a New Zealand first, the weekend was set in a kaupapa Maori environment. That showed itself in a number of ways.

The weekend started with a big opening/introductions circle

Several people commented to me that this was nerve wracking and they were cursing the organisers as they waited for their turn to speak. But once they had spoken they felt so much better. Having spoken once, they felt less nervous about speaking again.

Every day and every meal began with a karakia (a Maori prayer) 

Despite being a non-Maori and an atheist, I enjoyed the karakia. A simple chance to shut up, breathe and reflect on where you were at.

Nobody stayed late

Some of the hardened Startup Weekend mentors seemed to see this as a bad thing. To me, there’s nothing wrong with people getting good rest and bringing their best self to the event for 10-12 hours a day, instead of being grumpy, tired and stressed for 14-16 hours.

Many of the ideas pitched at the weekend had a social focus

This was my first Startup Weekend, so perhaps this is normal at other Startup Weekends. I suspect not.

The final pitch session was like a whanau (family) gathering

Supportive, fun and caring. Instead of competitive and stressful. The impromptu speeches from the participants, their friends and whanau lasted over an hour - with tears and tonnes of laughter.

After the initial awkward pause, where it seemed like nobody would speak, the floor was flooded with aroha (love). Many people jumped up and spoke about the personal insights they gained, the friendships they had made and the momentum they’d created.

What does this mean for future Startup Weekends?

This weekend was the first Startup Weekend where nobody has broken down from stress, according to Rowan Yeoman from The Akina Foundation . He's been part of dozens of Startup Weekends across Aotearoa New Zealand.

Rowan says this weekend changed his view of what a Startup Weekend could be.

I hope we’ll see more Startup Weekends in New Zealand borrowing aspects of kaupapa Maori and incorporating them into the weekend.

This doesn’t mean that the facilitator needs to be Maori, or that te reo Maori needs to be spoken regularly during the weekend. Many of the kaupapa Maori practices I mentioned above can be incorporated into the Startup Weekend framework without labelling those practices as “Maori.”

Paul McGregor