Innovation hubs are coming alive

By Graham Skellern

New innovation precincts are a 21st century approach to industry clusters

Artist's impressions of the Lysaght Building, soon to be renovated as part of the Wynyard Precinct. Photo / File
Artist's impressions of the Lysaght Building, soon to be renovated as part of the Wynyard Precinct. Photo / File

Twelve months ago Nextspace - a 3D visualisation solutions company - moved from Greenlane into funky, new premises in the Wynyard Quarter, and never looked back.

Nextspace's 15 highly skilled employees are happy and contented, and the privately-owned company's clients and sales continue to grow.

"The office (upstairs in the North Sails building in Pakenham St) feels like a loft conversion and the staff love it," says Nextspace general manager, Damian Swaffield.

"They can go out at lunchtimes and walk around the waterfront- that's harder to do from Greenlane. This kind of working environment helps attract and retain staff."

Nextspace, one of many smart high-tech companies in Auckland, provides powerful three-dimensional solutions, allowing organisations to visualise and effectively manage, their assets and operations as if they were viewing them in the real world.

It is also the premier partner of German multi-national SAP for visual solutions and integration involving plant and machinery, utilities and cities.

Nextspace's technology captures lots of data from different sources, such as plant asset management, CAD drawings and geospatial information, and presents it in a usable and intuitive 3D form.

The high-tech firm has provided Auckland Council with a 3D model of the city, including the underground utility network, and is presently updating the alignment of the proposed City Rail Link.

Formed in 2007, Nextspace has worked with up to 25 clients including large corporates in New Zealand, North and South America and Australia. It was the first high-tech tenant in the Wynyard Quarter and has been joined in the same building by Constructing Excellence and smartphone solutions provider VMob.

Keen to remain long term tenants, they are looking forward to an innovation precinct growing up around them.

"We already have a little pocket of high-tech companies sharing stories and learning from each other," says Swaffield. "We love the fact that we are part of a waterfront that is being developed - there will be a large footprint of low rise buildings and that beats working in a 40-storey tower block.

"The precinct can become a hub for innovation capability," he says. "The main competition is offshore and we are a long way from the markets. New Zealand high-tech companies face similar challenges, such as capital raising and attracting and retaining talent.

"The networking within the precinct will create a tighter NZ Inc that will take on the world. By creating a climate of learning and collaboration (in the precinct), you get great innovation," he says.

Recently, Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (Ateed) and Waterfront Auckland hosted a media briefing, as the Wynyard Quarter Innovation Precinct focusing on ICT and digital content swings into action.

They met in the 90-year-old John Lysaght Building which will be renovated and provide 1600 sq m of office space for between two and six tenants. The heritage building, alongside North Sails, will include a new mezzanine level and the work, costing $4.5 million, will get under way later this year.

Brett O'Riley, Ateed chief executive says the precinct will become the epicentre for innovation and entrepreneurship. "Auckland has lacked a cluster or place to showcase its excellence in the ICT and digital sector. Wynyard Quarter is a highly desirable part of town located near the water, and we are looking for critical mass (in terms of companies and talented staff) to strengthen the innovation eco-system.

"The precinct will have vibrant incubation and acceleration, it will have a mix of large and small tenants, and it will make sure that early stage companies can grow into businesses which are exporting and delivering measurable success," O'Riley says.

The precinct will establish strong links with the tertiary sector to ensure suitably qualified graduates are available to work in the burgeoning innovation precinct.

There will be a range of office space and rental rates to encourage even the smallest start-up business into the precinct.

At present, more than 100 local high-tech companies have expressed interest in relocating to the Wynyard Quarter. The first tenants for the innovation precinct, providing total space of 48,000 sq m, will be announced at the end of March, and a shortlist of local and international applicants to operate and manage the precinct has been drawn up.

Wynyard Quarter is just one of several innovation networks across Auckland designed to increase productivity and create new jobs, as well as attracting businesses and investors to the city, such as United States-based Geeks on a Plane.

The networks are an integral part of Auckland Council and Ateed's economic development strategy to increase exports and establish the city as a major innovation hub of Asia-Pacific.

Auckland Mayor Len Brown says his vision for Auckland to be the world's most liveable city can only be realised if it is underpinned by an internationally competitive, prosperous economy that all Aucklanders can benefit from and participate in.

The export focus needs to be aimed at developing and selling high-value goods and services into high-growth sectors, such as food technology, and into rapidly growing economies, such as China.

Auckland's economic development strategy has a goal of doubling annual regional export growth to 6 per cent and productivity to 2 per cent, and increasing annual GDP growth from 3 per cent to 5 per cent.

The FoodBowl (Te Ipu Kai) in Verissimo Drive near Auckland airport - part of the New Zealand Food Innovation Network - and the New Zealand Health Innovation Hub are picking up the pace.

More than 600 people including equipment suppliers and packaging companies are expected to attend open days on March 13 and 14 that showcase the FoodBowl's progress, its capability and state-of-the-art processing halls, and food and beverage products developed by its customers.

There will be display stands, designated networking areas, and seminars about accessing markets, particularly supermarket shelves.

A group representing the East Gippsland Food Cluster will travel from Victoria in Australia to be part of the Open Day action. "There's nothing quite like the FoodBowl in Australia and they are envious about our Government doing so much to support the food and beverage industry here," says Sarita Males, the FoodBowl's chief executive.

The FoodBowl has four main processing halls, a freeze drying unit and product development kitchen, all set up for exclusive use by small and large companies. There are more than 150 pieces of ancillary equipment on site that can be configured to suit the processing system.

The FoodBowl provides a competitive edge by offering customers use of its high-pressure processing unit. Food products are pasteurised without using heat, harmful bacteria are removed, and the fresh taste and appearance are maintained, resulting in longer shelf life and increased food safety.

The innovation centre, established at the end of 2011, enables food and beverage companies to test their products, complete production runs and produce market samples. It is a cost-effective, low-risk way for businesses to develop and prove their initiatives.

The FoodBowl is, in effect, a mini-factory available for hire or lease any time of the day or week. The FoodBowl management can also connect customers with skilled technologists, scientists, consultants, are coming alive

The FoodBowl is a cost-effective, low-risk way for businesses to develop and prove their initiatives.

packaging and equipment suppliers, and funding experts.

"It's not just about leasing space but also building capability," says Males. "When people contact us, we do a gap analysis of their business and then put them in touch with the right people to solve a problem.

"We may be talking with some businesses for several months before they ready to come to the FoodBowl and start producing," she says.

Over the past year, the FoodBowl has assisted more than 120 customers, 40 per cent of them family-based, start-up businesses. Some larger companies will be using the FoodBowl facilities for the next 18 months to two years before they make a decision to buy new capital equipment and expand their business.

The smaller customers have found it ideal to upscale by moving out of their rented kitchen and into the FoodBowl. One of them is Hakanoa which makes handmade ginger syrup, chai, and ginger beer.

Its owner, Rebekah Hayes, worked closely with FoodBowl process engineer Glenn Hendriks to improve the production processes and increase the shelf life of the ginger beer.

Hakanoa has now spread outside Auckland and is selling product into cafes and specialty food stores around the country.

Hayes says she wants to be exporting by the end of the year "come hell or high water, or I'll eat my hat." She is eyeing the upmarket Waitrose chain of supermarkets in Britain.

The virtual New Zealand Health Innovation Hub is a joint initiative between the Auckland, Waitemata, Counties Manukau and Canterbury District Health Boards (DHBs), and the network has established an office in Newmarket.

The hub's chief executive, Dr Frances Guyett, and innovation managers are reviewing potential projects which may be converted into business opportunities. The hub has launched its website: innovation.health.nz

Just a month into her new role, Dr Guyett says 60 opportunities have already been identified. They involve new products and services from groups and departments within the DHBs and in the private sector, and they are in various stages of development - from an idea to clinical validation. The first major project will be announced by the end of this month.

"This is only the beginning," she says. "We are the front door to the DHBs and we can connect companies with leading academic clinicians and other support people to commercialise health products and services and to protect intellectual property. We want to be proactive on a larger scale to improve patient health outcomes and help make the DHBs more effective," says Guyett. "This is an exciting time. I don't think there's an initiative like this anywhere in the world that spreads across the whole country."

The hub aims to grow overseas earnings for New Zealand businesses and to increase investment from global healthcare companies. The four DHBs are contributing a total of $7.5 million and the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment $3 million over five years for the innovation hub to make an impact on new health technologies.

Dr Guyett moved from Melbourne where she was the director of industry engagement and commercialisation for the RMIT University Science, Engineering and Health College. Before that, she was chief executive of Melbourne's RDDT Laboratories, which provides services to the biotechnology, pharmaceutical and chemical sectors specialising in medical devices, oncology, cardiovascular and dermatology research.

Brett O'Riley says the innovation hubs provide a dynamic platform for business and economic growth. "New Zealand industry hasn't been every good at collaboration but now we can engage more companies and quicken the pace of innovation.

"We are taking a 21st century approach to industry clusters by having everyone working together, on research and development and commercialisation. This will result in increased exports and the overseas revenue will flow through the Auckland economy," he says.

The Auckland-based team of the new Callaghan Innovation institute is sharing office space with Ateed in Quay St. A floor below is New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, and the Quay St building has become another business growth hub. "We are working closely with Callaghan Innovation and NZTE to streamline the process of businesses dealing with government agencies. We are using the theme: 'There's no wrong door for business'," says O'Riley.

Graham Skellern is a consultant at Ateed

- NZ Herald

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