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Grow North: Why the North Shore is Auckland’s up and coming digital economy

There’s no shortage of innovative businesses in North Auckland, at least if Techweek’s Grow North: Powering World Leading Innovation event is anything to go by. We speak with Smales Farm marketing manager Mark Kelly about why north of the Harbour Bridge is a booming hub for businesses.

The region that is officially dubbed the Grow North Innovation District (made up of five North Auckland regions: Kaipatiki, Devonport-Takapuna, Hibiscus and Bays, Upper Harbour and Rodney) was set up by Auckland Tourism Events, and Economic Development (ATEED), Massey University, GridAKL and BNZ  in 2015 to create an ecosystem that would encourage innovation within the area. 

Techweek’s Grow North: Power World Leading Innovation event held last week aimed to showcase the results of this, and was hosted at co-working space the B:Hive in Takapuna.

It featured sessions showing early stage tech start-ups located on the North Shore, as well as businesses based there that are now accelerating on the global stage and an Unfiltered Live interview between Rawdon Christie and 90 Seconds CEO and founder Tim Norton.

The event comes as the latest 2018 TIN Report shows the North Shore is not to be underestimated: 40 out of the top 200 fastest growing tech businesses are located there, while Auckland’s Northern district is also the second highest region in New Zealand for the number of tech businesses there (in terms of numbers, not per capita).

ICT firms account for almost 64 percent of surveyed tech companies in this region, while fintech companies were also stand-out performers.

So, what’s the appeal of being based north of Auckland’s Harbour Bridge? Smales Farm marketing manager Mark Kelly says lifestyle is the biggest drawcard for businesses – especially for those companies that are looking to attract the younger generation.

The B:Hive

For those that live on the North Shore or further afield, commute times to the CBD can often be up to an hour, while there are plenty of beaches to choose from to pop down on a lunch break. It’s these perks that are luring businesses away from the city centre, Kelly says.

“The biggest challenge for these businesses who are on fast growth trajectories is attracting and retaining talent,” he says. “80 percent of the talent they’re seeking are millennials and millennials are all about work-life blend. The days of work-life balance are gone. These guys want beaches, bars, cafes, community, flexibility and fun as part of their working week.

“They’re resistant to wasting unnecessary time commuting to an increasingly congested CBD, especially given how technology allows them to work from wherever they want these days.”

In terms of companies based on the North Shore that are doing big things, Kelly says there are a number of businesses he could mention, with start-ups like Curiat and Flowbox making a name for themselves.

Curiat creates real-world augmented reality experiences, while Flowbox is a visual effects software platform.

“However, having seen firsthand the business potential of augmented reality that Curiat has tapped into, the system Flowbox has developed to get school kids into coding, the medical benefits Rex Bionics delivers and how FaceMe is putting a human face to AI, I would say these are some of the businesses to keep an eye on,” Kelly says.

He says he hopes attendees of the Grow North event saw the digital economy talent that is originating out of the area.  

“There are some amazing businesses developing world-leading innovation and a lot of it flies under the radar,” Kelly says. “Hopefully attendees came away from the event a little more informed about the fantastic innovation happening across Auckland North.”

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