GridAKL is pre­par­ing to open two new build­ings in Auck­land this year, bring­ing its foot­print to 12,000 square me­tres. But, as Anna Bradley-Smith dis­cov­ers, there’s a lot more to it than cool co-work­ing lo­ca­tions. Through a fo­cus on com­mu­nity, place and se

Idealog - - IDEALOG / ATEED - Want to ex­pe­ri­ence the many ben­e­fits of the ex­panded GridAKL? Visit www.gridakl.com for more in­for­ma­tion.

When Brett O’Ri­ley re­turned to New Zealand from work­ing abroad in the late-noughties, he saw un­tapped po­ten­tial.

“Auck­land didn’t have a hub of in­no­va­tion, and par­tic­u­larly didn’t have a show­case,” the chief ex­ec­u­tive of Auck­land Tourism, Events and Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment (ATEED) says.

The chal­lenges faced by the in­no­va­tion sys­tem were sim­i­lar to Auck­land City’s prea­mal­ga­ma­tion. “It was just too frag­mented.” Af­ter a few con­ver­sa­tions, $30 mil­lion of Auck­land Coun­cil in­vest­ment set aside in its long-term plan and more in­vest­ment from Precinct Prop­er­ties, and co­op­er­a­tion from the real es­tate and busi­ness sec­tor, GridAKL – a high-tech in­no­va­tion hub in Wyn­yard Quar­ter – was cre­ated in 2015.

By of­fer­ing cu­rated com­mu­ni­ties, re­spon­sive places and a range of ser­vices rel­e­vant to busi­nesses of vary­ing stages and sizes, the coun­cil aims to grow ad­vanced in­dus­tries, cre­ate jobs, en­rich the in­no­va­tion com­mu­nity and di­ver­sify the econ­omy.

The end goal? Po­si­tion Auck­land as an in­no­va­tion hub of the Asia Pa­cific re­gion by fo­cus­ing on world-class re­search, at­tract­ing tal­ent and help­ing to get more in­no­va­tive, tech-based ven­tures off the ground.

GridAKL’s ini­tial BizDojo-led John Lysaght build­ing houses 78 busi­nesses, star­tups and en­trepreneurs, and Gen­er­a­tor, a co-work­ing space com­pany, will house an ad­di­tional 300 busi­nesses in the new Mad­den Street and Ma­son Broth­ers build­ings open­ing in Wyn­yard Quar­ter in Septem­ber. A huge amount of cor­po­rate space and fa­cil­i­ties are also un­der con­struc­tion in the area.

With the two new build­ings, it is es­ti­mated GridAKL and the wider Wyn­yard Quar­ter in­no­va­tion precinct, will con­trib­ute $450 mil­lion an­nu­ally to Auck­land’s GDP by 2020 and 3,270 peo­ple will be em­ployed there by 2022.

Co-work­ing co­hort

Specif­i­cally de­signed for col­lab­o­ra­tion, cowork­ing is tak­ing cor­po­rate real es­tate by storm glob­ally.

A re­cent re­port by real es­tate firm Bay­leys found Auck­land’s co-work­ing spa­ces have grown from 1,400 square me­tres in 2011 to 13,800 in 2016.

O’Ri­ley says the buy-in that the con­cept has had from all sec­tors, with co-work­ing spa­ces pop­ping up all over the city, is “what suc­cess looks like”.

But why are both SMEs and larger cor­po­rates busi­nesses mak­ing the de­ci­sion to join these com­mu­nal work ar­range­ments? And why the in­vest­ment from coun­cil?

En­ter the Grid

O’Ri­ley puts it down to in­ter­ac­tion, the ag­glom­er­a­tion ef­fect, a young en­tre­pre­neur­ial work­force and, im­por­tantly, the ser­vices and events pro­vided to GridAKL ten­ants.

Dur­ing an early con­ver­sa­tion about GridAKL, a col­league said to O’Ri­ley if the only thing the space pro­vided was a vis­i­ble lo­ca­tion for the in­no­va­tion com­mu­nity to con­nect and thrive in, “that would still be a great thing”.

“When we first talked about that peo­ple sort of rolled their eyes, but ac­tu­ally that is a prophecy for the health of the ecosys­tem.”

As well as the space, there's been guest speak­ers, more than 900 events, the in­volve­ment of ten­ants in pro­grammes like the Tri­par­tite Eco­nomic Al­liance Auck­land has with Guangzhou and Los An­ge­les, and ac­cess to gov­ern­ment sup­port from NZTE and Cal­laghan In­no­va­tion pro­grammes ad­min­is­tered by ATEED. All have been ex­tremely ben­e­fi­cial to those scal­ing their ven­tures, O’Ri­ley says.

For Auck­land Coun­cil, in­vest­ment in GridAKL will con­tinue to sup­port eco­nomic di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion, in­crease ad­vanced in­dus­tries and of­fer bet­ter jobs for those liv­ing and re­lo­cat­ing to the city, which is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly known as a cen­tre for tech and in­no­va­tion.

As the ben­e­fits of ag­glom­er­a­tion for eco­nomic growth and cre­ativ­ity be­come ev­i­dent, busi­nesses are no longer mak­ing lo­ca­tion de­ci­sions based purely on cost and con­ve­nience. So O’Ri­ley says on top of ad­dress­ing a need, GridAKL has fos­tered the growth of Auck­land’s in­no­va­tion ecosys­tem.

Over the last ten years Auck­land’s ICT and Dig­i­tal Me­dia sec­tor has grown by 26 per­cent in GDP, ac­count­ing for one in 30 jobs in Auck­land.

What other ser­vices should we be pro­vid­ing to those com­pa­nies, what sort of sup­port, and how do we take the col­lab­o­ra­tion to the next l evel?” Brett O’Ri­ley

66 per­cent of New Zealand’s top 200 com­pa­nies are based in the city and it is also home to more than 600 in­ter­na­tional com­pa­nies. GridAKL fol­lows the global trend of ur­ban in­no­va­tion dis­tricts from New York to Seoul to Stock­holm. Com­pact, tran­sit-ac­ces­si­ble, and tech­no­log­i­cally-wired in­no­va­tion clus­ters are pop­ping up the world over.

With GridAKL’s new build­ings open­ing this year, O’Ri­ley says ATEED will likely fo­cus on ser­vice pro­vi­sion and busi­ness at­trac­tion rather than in­vest­ing in more prop­erty. And with many star­tups be­com­ing scale­ups, the needs of those com­pa­nies change.

“What other ser­vices should we be pro­vid­ing to those com­pa­nies, what sort of sup­port, and how do we take the col­lab­o­ra­tion to the next level?”

He says some of that is around lift­ing man­age­ment ca­pa­bil­ity, giv­ing ten­ants ac­cess to ATEED’s net­works and board ex­pe­ri­ence, and driv­ing tal­ent at­trac­tion.

At your ser vice

Ryan Wil­son, the founder and chief ex­ec­u­tive of Gen­er­a­tor, says the new GridAKL build­ings are de­signed specif­i­cally to pro­mote the cowork­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

“We’ve learned di­ver­sity is hugely ben­e­fi­cial for our en­vi­ron­ments, and this di­ver­sity is key to ev­ery­thing we do.”

As well as the size and scope of busi­nesses, he says the search for di­ver­sity ex­tends to in­no­va­tion.

“Busi­nesses of all sizes that ex­cel at what they do and are open to di­ver­sity in peo­ple, busi­ness, and ideas are ideal mem­bers for our space at GridAKL.”

Gen­er­a­tor, which cur­rently oc­cu­pies over 4,000 square me­tres in three Brit­o­mart build­ings, with in­ter­na­tional mem­bers in­clud­ing Face­book and Ex­pe­dia, tai­lors ser­vices to mem­bers’ needs. This, Wil­son says, is crit­i­cal to suc­cess.

An on-site IT team with tai­lored ISP, tech­ni­cal sup­port and net­work so­lu­tions, front of house staff, concierge ser­vices, spa­ces for meet­ings and net­work­ing, and bars and cafes will all be on of­fer, along with Gen­er­a­tor’s Plug and Play tai­lored busi­ness so­lu­tions.

Build­ing a com­mu­nity

Join­ing GridAKL isn’t just about chang­ing lo­ca­tions, it’s about chang­ing cul­tures.

“With­out a strong sense of com­mu­nity, we would just be a place to work,” Wil­son says. “We can have aes­thet­i­cally at­trac­tive spa­ces and ex­cep­tional ser­vice of­fer­ings, but the one thing our mem­bers’ ex­pe­ri­ence is de­pen­dent on is the cul­ture we cul­ti­vate.”

Wil­son says hav­ing places to ex­press cre­ativ­ity, en­ergy and au­then­tic­ity are vi­tal as­pects of the Gen­er­a­tor land­scape.

“If you’re work­ing in an unin­spir­ing place, how can you be ex­pected to pro­duce in­spir­ing ideas and so­lu­tions?”

He says the co-work­ing space at GridAKL will al­low em­ploy­ers and em­ploy­ees to work in a chal­leng­ing en­vi­ron­ment hum­ming with cre­ativ­ity and op­por­tu­nity.

“At any given mo­ment you are ex­posed to new ideas that en­able you to think out­side the box, be­cause you’re not con­fined to one.”

Think­ing big

Al­though Wyn­yard Quar­ter is no stranger to big busi­ness – hous­ing the likes of Dat­a­com, Air New Zealand, IBM, Mi­crosoft and Fon­terra – the Mad­den Street and Ma­son Broth­ers build­ings will see large com­pa­nies join­ing the GridAKL mix.

“Gen­er­a­tor at GridAKL al­lows large cor­po­rates and SMEs, who are typ­i­cally dis­con­nected, to col­lab­o­rate and en­gage in col­lec­tive prob­lem solv­ing,” he says.

By hav­ing a mixed space, the chances for col­li­sion of ideas from busi­nesses at dif­fer­ent stages of life is greatly in­creased, and there’s al­ready been sig­nif­i­cant in­ter­est from some of the coun­try’s largest cor­po­rates, he says.

Full speed ahead

BizDojo, the se­cond largest co-work­ing space provider in Aus­trala­sia be­hind WeWork, has been op­er­at­ing GridAKL’s John Lysaght build­ing since day one and will con­tinue to do so, co­founder Jonah Mer­chant says.

Mer­chant puts the rapid growth in co-work­ing down to changes in tech­nol­ogy that al­low flex­i­bil­ity, and the cost-ef­fec­tive way of work­ing.

But be­yond that, he says tech­no­log­i­cal

changes have been a cat­a­lyst for the big­ger so­cial changes pow­er­ing the on­go­ing global in­ter­est in co-work­ing.

“In­creas­ing flex­i­bil­ity and col­lab­o­ra­tion are trends that are chang­ing the way we ap­proach work it­self, whether you’re a free­lancer or a large cor­po­rate.”

On top of en­cour­ag­ing busi­ness growth, the so­cial con­nec­tiv­ity boosts moods and en­ergy lev­els, and in turn pro­duc­tiv­ity.

Brac­ing for growth

Hav­ing a well-de­signed, col­lab­o­ra­tive space to work is great, but space alone doesn’t lead to great work. Co-work­ing at BizDojo is cen­tred around the core ideas of us­ing col­lab­o­ra­tion and com­mu­nity to sup­port busi­ness growth, Mer­chant says.

This is re­flected in de­sign, sup­port sys­tems, learn­ing fa­cil­i­ta­tion, and events.

“The com­mu­nity needs it. In many ways, the most im­por­tant way of sup­port­ing the com­mu­nity is hav­ing peo­ple open to lis­ten­ing to what that per­son needs, and then car­ing enough to walk through the log­i­cal next steps with them.”

He says ev­ery res­i­dent at BizDojo is dif­fer­ent and the sup­port on of­fer changes depend­ing on the busi­ness type and stage of the founder.

“In many ways we have fo­cused on that ‘co’ in co-work­ing. Be­yond a shared space, we in­ves­ti­gate and in­sti­gate the means to cre­ate com­mu­nity, col­lab­o­ra­tion and con­nec­tion.”

Tak­ing a breather

Otherh co-work­ingk spa­ces llikek ThThe Crate on theh North Shore, Level One in Devon­port and Level Two in Par­nell are ex­pand­ing the co-work­ing op­tions in the city. And BizDojo now has seven co-work­ing sites across New Zealand.

With more than 1,500 mem­bers in Auck­land alone, it has ex­pe­ri­enced 300 per­cent growth in one year, go­ing from 14 staff to 45 and boost­ing turnover from $2.2 mil­lion to $12.5 mil­lion.

Mer­chant says they know first-hand what it’s like to grow fast and start­ing or scal­ing a busi­ness is one of the hard­est un­der­tak­ings most peo­ple will try.

“We be­lieve that if we want to see New Zealand mov­ing for­ward at pace, we need to sup­port those peo­ple with an idea, startup founders, en­trepreneurs and cre­ators of value,” he says.

In it to win it

With the three GridAKL build­ings that will be up-and-run­ning at year’s end and the GridAKL Tech Café it’s pre­dicted GridAKL will add an ad­di­tional $375m GDP to Auck­land’s econ­omy by 2042.

From just 16 busi­nesses in 2014 to 78 to­day, it’s es­ti­mated mem­ber­ship will grow to 700 by 2020. Look­ing back on GridAKL’s de­vel­op­ment over the last three years, ATEED’s Brett O’Ri­ley says al­though he’s a bit sur­prised with the speed co-work­ing has been em­braced, he’s not sur­prised by the tal­ent Auck­lan­ders are dis­play­ing.

“We hoped GridAKL would be­come a bit of a proof point for what was pos­si­ble, and if we could prove the case other peo­ple would fol­low the ex­am­ple. It’s just fan­tas­tic, we’ve been able to cre­ate that and as­sem­ble some­thing that’s ac­tu­ally based on global best prac­tice.”

From top: Ac­tion aplenty in Wyn­yard Quar­ter's boom­ing in­no­va­tion precinct; what the Mad­den St. build­ing will even­tu­ally look like; the first GridAKL space in the John Lysaght build­ing; and the Ma­son Bros. Build­ing plaque.

Ryan Wil­son, founder and chief ex­ec­u­tive of Gen­er­a­tor (left), and Brett O'Ri­ley, chief ex­ec­u­tive of ATEED, stand­ing out­side the soon-to-be com­pleted Mad­den St. build­ing.

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