Sharing Food and Growing Community

Entrepreneur Spotlight: Cherish Wilkinson and Emelie Verseput

Our entrepreneurs in this month’s spotlight are Cherish Wilkinson and Emelie Verseput, co-founders of Wā Kai, the meal-sharing platform for busy people. 

Wā Kai’s story began in April last year, when Cherish and Emelie joined forces at Startup Weekend Tairāwhiti, building a startup in 54 hours.

Cherish pitched the idea of connecting busy whare (households) to share the load of preparing the week’s dinners - a solution to the ‘mum guilt’ of not having enough time or energy to feed her own whānau (family) a home cooked meal every night of the week. 

“I know I'm not alone in feeling tired, stressed and ‘over it’ when I get home from mahi (work). Between running around after kids, cleaning the house, working, tracking the bills and keeping relationships alive, it can be hard to get a decent meal on the table. As busy mums we’re reaching for whatever is easy to feed our whānau,” says Cherish.

Emelie (Entrepreneurial Support at Venture Centre) got behind Cherish’s idea, bringing her background in marketing and entrepreneurship to the table. During Startup Weekend, the co-founders developed Cherish’s idea further. 

Sharing meals would be achieved by matching five different whare in a local area based on their grocery budget, dietary needs and household size. Each whare would share the load by cooking meals in their group for one night and receive four meals for the rest of the week, dramatically reducing the time, energy and money spent, and making healthier home-cooked meals doable. 

Wā Kai’s relevant and simple startup concept, built upon the kaupapa (shared values) of aroha (love), manaakitanga (care) and kotahitanga me te whanaungatanga (unity and kinship), won the top spot at Startup Weekend Tairāwhiti. 

Cherish and Emelie have been very busy since, growing Wā Kai with the support of their entrepreneurial community. In October last year, they had their first group trial that meal-shared for a month. 

“Five whānau in Gisborne, including co-founder Cherish Wilkinson’s whānau, took part in the trial group. The outcomes were amazing! Participants felt more connected, less stressed and ate healthier. Also, each whānau on average saved $100 per week on groceries,” shares Emelie. 

The success of the trial has given Cherish and Emelie excitement for Wā Kai’s future. So, what’s next for Wā Kai?

“We are in the process of developing a purpose-built platform as our meal-sharing is currently facilitated through a Facebook group. This platform will help match meal-sharing groups, exchange messages, share shopping lists, recipes, upcoming events and access to other helpful and interesting content,” explains Cherish. 

“We’re also looking at sourcing Wā Kai branded containers and other merchandise to help with the meal-sharing and to raise brand awareness. And we’ve just put out a call for expressions of interest to set up more trial groups for both whānau and singles in Gisborne, Tauranga and to see where there might be interest in other parts of the country.”

“Ultimately, turning Wā Kai into a viable Social Enterprise would be really awesome. It’s fun seeing it grow from such a simple idea into a community and support network,” says Emelie.

Founding Wā Kai has been a beautiful journey for both Cherish and Emelie. 

“I’ve loved having the opportunity to go through all the steps of founding a startup in NZ - I’ve never learned so much in such a short time. I’m also very grateful for Cherish who has taken me on this cultural journey, totally embracing me into her whānau and sharing her values and beliefs,” explains Emelie.

Cherish shares, “I’ve enjoyed growing and developing as a person, building networks and strengthening connections across our local business and national startup weekend communities. And I’ve made so many new friends since launching Wā Kai including Emelie.”

With many more exciting things in the works for Wā Kai, we are grateful to be able to follow along with their journey of growing community around simple, healthy eating. You can too, by following them on Facebook at Wā Kai and on Instagram at @wakai_nz.

Stay up to date on the journey and when the next Wā Kai trial group will start, sign up here.

Have a business idea you want to develop? Book a time with one of our Venture Navigators here.

Desire to develop connections within the Venture Centre community? Sign up to Venture Centre’s news and be the first to know about growth opportunities (events) you can get involved in. 


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