Access to other technology companies' staff and skill base, and the ability to cross-use resources, were the main attractions of relocating to Massey University’s e-centre, tenants say.
The four-years-in-the-making incubator centre opened its doors two weeks ago with a near full house, attracting 40-strong staffed software company Soft Tech, founded by industry longtimer John Ball, as anchor tenant and confirming seven other fledgling businesses.
Ball, who recently resigned as president of the NZ Software Association, has long been a key advocate of the e- centre, which plans to develop and support technology-related businesses and has financial backing from the Tindall Foundation and the North Shore City Council.
Soft Tech finance chief Robert Roger says the company plans to be at the centre for a couple of years and expects to take on a kind of "mentoring" role for the other businesses, offering both formal and informal advice. He says one area Soft Tech may be able to help out in is international marketing, drawing on the company's 15 years of experience and being able to scout for markets for the other companies when its representatives are overseas.
John Ball says Soft Tech also plans “to use the university for its research facility, access to students for projects and access to students for future staff”.
Soft Tech, which last year won a $5 million investment from venture capitalist Strathmore Group, has already taken on several graduates and plans to work with others involved in web development and design.
Another tenant, EDX, says it relocated its fledgling two-person band business there to take advantage of the skills of other businesses. Director Kim Powell, previously chief executive of Mortgage Services, a WestpacTrust subsidiary, says he and his partner have the management skills needed to progress their idea of a new consumer credit and banking model for people on low incomes. They say low income people are often turned away from mainstream banks and such consumers need new, monthly budgeting and accounting services.
They don’t have IT development skills – but are already “talking to the guy down the hall” about outsourcing this to him.
Other tenants include a website engineer, wastewater software developers and financial services consultants. E-centre general manager Steve Corbett says businesses are expected to stay for up to 18 to 24 months and pay market rates for their tenancy space. Soft Tech was needed as an anchor tenant to provide a sure, continuous flow of rent to balance the uncertainty of the start-ups’ rent.
The e-centre’s board includes professor Ian Watson, vice chancellor nominee Chris Kirk, Massey business development manager Brian Chrystall, North Shore City Council councillor Margaret Miles and Tindall Foundation representative Allan Morton, who is also chief executive of digital media firm Software Images.
The Tindall Foundation loaned $2 million for the building of the e-centre last year while North Shore City Council donated $500,000 and Massey chipped in with other funding and the land.
Other partners include Enterprise North Shore and patent attorneys Pipers. 3M and Canon sponsored technology and office equipment for the centre.
The e-centre tenants are using Massey's own IT infrastructure.