Business incubator draws PM, mayor

"Incubators work," says New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark. And the A-list speakers at the official opening of the new and much-expanded premises of Wellington's Creative HQ proves it.

Clark's bold claim at the opening ceremony last week, and her sharing of the podium with Wellington Mayor Kerry Prendergast, ex-trade unionist and head of Positively Wellington Business Ken Douglas and Simon Moutter of Telecom New Zealand Ltd., can be seen as further testimony to the success of the concept of nurturing businesses in a collaborative environment.

Creative HQ has produced a number of viable spin-offs in innovative areas, one of the best known being Virtual Katy, with its sound-editing software, a finalist in this year's Computerworld Excellence Awards.

Its new site, in Marion Street, accommodates 34 embryonic companies. This affords them still slightly cramped accommodation for individual offices and large areas for meeting and networking, as well as essential facilities including Internet access that bypasses local ISPs and links directly into nodes in the U.S. and Europe.

The inhabitants can also draw on the good contacts of board members for advice in legal and financial matters and other aspects of business acumen where ideas people may lack initial skills and knowledge.

Another six hopefuls are currently being evaluated. Telecom is a major sponsor of the new site, which is twice as big as Creative HQ's old Victoria Street premises.

But incubation with government, ratepayer and industry support is no easy ride, says Ian Bevan of Bevan Technologies, one of the inmates. The first requirement is an idea that the board thinks has good market prospects, then the quick evolution of a business plan.

Thereafter innovators are kept up to the mark. "You have to be making at least $45,000 a month after two years or you get kicked out," says Bevan. "And if you're not on the growth path to that target, you could get kicked out earlier. There's a queue of people wanting space here."

Ventures working out of Creative HQ benefit from cross-fertilization of ideas; others on the premises are making practical use of Bevan's innovation, a PC-scale document-management system with the emphasis on version control. He describes it as most useful for "those times when you feel you've wasted half the day going in the wrong direction and you wish you could turn the clock back to 10 that morning". In the sense of documents on the PC, Bevan's File Journal lets you do just that.

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