In a Shed Near You

By Diana Clement

In a back yard near you is a budding entrepreneur. Enterprising Kiwis with small capital and big ambitions have taken on the world from their sheds and garages.

In the past decade there has been an explosion of backyard businesses here in New Zealand. The entrepreneurs might want to become the next Sergey Brin of Google or William S. Harley, who founded Harley Davidson motorcycles. Both started in their garages.

Back yards aren't just for start-ups. Even once they've become successful, some Kiwi business people continue to work from the back yard, shunning the idea of commuting to an office.

Rural entrepreneurs on the rise

Darrin Hewitt, principal of Telecom Business Hub Waitakere, assists many a back yard entrepreneur. Hewitt's territory is the swathe of rural and lifestyle land and country towns to the north west of Auckland City.

Out past the small town of Kumeu Hewitt has watched small and growing businesses proliferate on rural properties.

Twenty years ago New Zealand's Internet speeds and mobile coverage were just too primitive for technology dependent businesses to survive in the back of beyond, says Hewitt.

The technology of today means everyone from budding internet entrepreneurs to bandwidth dependent architects can work from almost anywhere. If "anywhere" is their own rent-free garage or shed, all the better for the bottom line.

Every day Hewitt meets lifestylers and farmers who have converted their garages or other existing outbuildings into the headquarters of SoHo (small office home office) businesses.

He sees a lot of souped-up sheds that have been lined and insulated. A typical example is a graphic designer who chooses to work from a lifestyle block to avoid the daily commute into town. Other clients are importers: trading in everything from second-hand cars to boutique food items.

When they grow too large for the old shed, many have added purpose built outbuildings to their property to house the burgeoning number of employees, plant or machinery or simply outsourced their warehousing to pick and pack service providers.

Almost all of Hewitt's back yard clients use fixed lines, broadband (or wireless if they are too far from the exchange) mobile phones and tablets.
A few, however, are pushing the boundaries. For example, Hewitt's hub set up a VoIP fixed line telephone system that allows a motor vehicle importer operating from a new build garage on his property to transfer calls seamlessly to employees and contractors in other parts of New Zealand and overseas.

Subhead: Change in the wind

You'd never know that Telecom Hub Tamaki client PredictWind was a backyard business. From his back yard in Auckland's Point England, former Alinghi weather team manager Jon Bilger offers accurate wind prediction available to sailors and boaties in more than 20,000 locations throughout the world.

The PredictWind technology predicts changes in the direction and speed of the wind in graphical format and includes live wind temperature and barometric pressure information.

Its web-based, Android, and iPhone/iPad software and apps can plot the fastest route for users to sail between two points according to local weather conditions, says Bilger who represented New Zealand at the 1992 Olympic Games in the 470 class.

The revolutionary service is run quite literally from the back of Bilger's home. One of the 80 New Zealand weather stations is on Bilger's back deck. It and the others, which are all in strategic locations, transmit to boaties from a standard Telecom data card in the weather station via a 3G modem.

The company also sells 3G Communicator devices that extend mobile coverage for boaties up to 100km from the nearest Telecom tower. The connection can be shared via WiFi to laptops and smartphones onboard.

"Up until now most (boaties) have taken a USB stick if it works it works and if it doesn't it doesn't," says Bilger. The 3G Communicator means that they can get localised forecasts from PredictWind much further out to sea than they would have in the past.

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