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Startup stress: free support on offer for founders

Peter Griffin, Editor. 01 August 2023, 12:24 pm

Callaghan Innovation has begun offering free guidance and counselling for founders taking the rollercoaster ride of launching and trying to commercialise a startup company.

The Government’s innovation agency announced today that it will cover the cost of one-to-one guidance “for any startup founder who has experienced inappropriate behaviour within the startup ecosystem, whether or not they are a customer”.

The free service for founders includes a confidential session with Aspen Restorative Consulting, a Wellington-based consultancy founded in 2016 by Haley Farrar and Lindsey Pointer.

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Source: Startup Snapshot

“During the session, you can talk about your experience and receive guidance and support in order to make decisions on any next steps. Callaghan Innovation will cover the cost and you will have the option to follow a tikanga approach,” Callaghan Innovation explains on its page devoted to the start-up wellbeing initiative.

“If further support is required, Callaghan Innovation will also cover the cost of accessing an informal resolution service run by the same provider.”

The move to offer free support and advice follows an acrimonious dispute in the start-up community that centred around We Are Indigo, an Auckland-based digital agency that won a series of government contracts, including contributing to the Government’s Digital Boost initiative.

Allegations of bullying and inappropriate business practices were levelled against key We Are Indigo executives by other small companies they had partnered with to deliver their contracts. Details of the dispute came to light in two leaked due diligence reports Callaghan conducted on We Are Indigo, which as responding to RFPs put out by the innovation agency.

The details of the due diligence reports and the appropriateness of their contents being shared with other government agencies, is hotly disputed by We Are Indigo’s key players. It also led to Callaghan board member Rachel Kelly stepping down as a result of “serious conflict over my values and the decisions made by the board, namely regarding the things we learned during recent due diligence activities and subsequent OIAs”.

The We Are Indigo saga left deep scars on everyone concerned. The aim now appears to be to prevent conflicts from escalating to that point by offering startups independent help to discuss behaviour they consider inappropriate.

Starting up - the toll on mental health

The offer of free support will also be welcome news to those still mourning the loss of young entrepreneur Jake Millar, who took his own life in 2021 following the failure of his business Unfiltered. 

Israel-based founder advisory firm Startup Snapshot undertook research showing that 70% of startup founders felt running their startup took a major toll on their mental health, with 36% experiencing burnout, and 13% having suffered depression.

In addition to the sessions with Aspen Restorative Consulting, Callaghan also plans to trial a programme to provide free general counselling and advice from people experienced in working with founders, to support those “dealing with the intense everyday pressures of startup life”. 

Callaghan has also published an open-source Code of Conduct to "foster trust and respect of all in the startup ecosystem".


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