Josie Robinson – Mrs Pickles – of Robbie’s Pickles and Preserves in Gore, placed second in Soda Inc.’s seed grant pitch night yesterday, from over 50 applicants across the country.
The seed grants were established to help Kiwi start-ups get funding at a time when they need it most. Designed to help push the business forward, prizes of $5000, $2000, and $1000 were awarded to first, second, and third place.
CE at Soda Inc. Erin Wansbrough, said “We know how hard it is to come by the seed funding required to get started. That is why we launched our Seed Grant initiative, which we will repeat every 3 months.”
Like many small Southland businesses, COVID knocked Robbie’s hard. With fetes and markets cancelled across the country, Robbie’s lost 80% of sales overnight. “It was terrifying.” Josie explained. “We questioned whether we should continue. But my gut said, you’re not done yet.’ So, we bit the bullet.”
Having sat on the domain name out of fear for three years, Josie took the leap and launched robbies.nz mid lockdown. Now 70% of sales are coming from Wellington and Auckland. The pickled onions are her best seller, but Nana’s Worchester sauce is the hero. “It’s full of heritage apples, organic molasses, garlic pepper and cloves.” She says. “It’s good for you. And delicious. Traditional and authentic, like Robbie’s.”
Wansbrough, said Robbie’s was a stand out, “due to the palpable passion, authenticity and commitment to quality that stands behind the Robbie’s brand.” The judges believed this had the potential to scale in volume without losing the quality and authenticity of the brand promise. And Soda have already placed their order this morning. “8 jars thank you.”
Josie has been hand-peeling onions for four years – over three tonnes of onions a season. Her big audacious goal is to invest in an onion peeling machine. “Instead of peeling for eight months of the year, we could do it in eight weeks. It would transform everything.”
“We’re working with Sarah from Malloch McClean on a plan for the business going forward. That’s where the seed money is going. If COVID has taught me anything, it’s that you need to do the brain work.”
Soda Inc. offers pragmatic support to help solve business challenges for start-ups. They’re the equivalent of COIN South in the Waikato but have been running for 10 years. They’re running the seed grants again next quarter.
Two Southlanders made the finals – Cameron Richardson pitched a fintech idea, Squad. A true entrepreneur, he also runs Souper Natural in the pop-up Food Trucks on Esk Street.
COIN South’s Chief Activator Louise Evans is grateful to the team at Soda Inc for their ongoing support of the region, and says she’s incredibly proud of both Josie and Cam.
“Working with someone as coachable, as driven and hard working as Josie is inspiring. And Southland is full of Josie’s. It’s a talented region we live in.”