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How new collaborative spaces can help ensure Auckland is future ready

In the past decade, co-working spaces have been transported from the tech pockets of San Francisco into mainstream global institutions. In Auckland, the trend has been acutely felt, spurring the creation of GridAKL, an ever-growing innovation campus in Wynyard Quarter. It ties into a greater plan by Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED) and Auckland Council’s Innovate Auckland initiative, to welcome diversity of thought – mixing government, businesses and communities to drive innovation and solve the city’s complex challenges. We chat to Marissa Brindley, manager of innovation precincts at ATEED and Kerry Topp, associate director of transformation and innovation at Datacom, and voice of Wynyard Innovation Neighbourhood (WIN), to explain the benefits of these spaces and how innovation can help solve some of Auckland’s complex challenges and ensure the city is best prepared for the future.

Since the development of GridAKL in 2014 – initially a prototype with four resident businesses – it has become a force to be reckoned with, housing a vibrant community of businesses and two freshly coined innovation labs, Hatchbox,  located at GridAKL’s 12 Madden Street and Pop-up Incubator in the historical Lysaght Building.

GridAKL Innovation Labs sees ATEED and Innovate Auckland work collaboratively to bring Auckland Council controlled organisations – including Auckland Transport, Watercare, Panuku Development Auckland – together with businesses and communities to develop ideas that address some of Auckland’s complex urban, economic and sustainability challenges.

Brindley shares how these dedicated spaces help to drive creative business and innovation into the local economy.

“Providing dedicated physical spaces for innovation [to be de-risked] enables multiple stakeholders to converge in a neutral environment that looks and feels different from typical work settings. This gives people permission to think differently and enhances creativity, leading to better solutions and outcomes.”

The first of these two GridAKL Innovation Lab spaces, ‘Hatchbox’, is a dedicated physical space developed to create the right conditions for a co-design environment of creativity and collaboration.


Hatchbox

Brindley says, “Hatchbox supports the development of new ideas, approaches, and solution development in an adaptable space. With equipment and furniture that can be moved around to suit different requirements and used in various ways or be reorganised to allow for longer project timelines, the space allows for multi-function use to suit innovation purposes. This enables people to be more adaptive and creative in working openly to tackle collective problems.”

The second of these two spaces, ‘Pop-up Incubator’, operates as a co-delivery lab. It provides temporary desk space to multi-organisational project teams or working groups that have been formed as a result of Hatchbox co-design activity.

Brindley says, “This neutral working environment enables the project teams to quickly and cost effectively test solutions and technologies to determine whether they can deliver intended benefits.”

Some specific projects developed within GridAKL Innovation Labs include the Smarter Cities project, to propel better use of city-wide data in decision making, as well as seeking to protect Aucklanders from some of the potential risks surrounding technology, data use and the incursion of privacy.


GridAKL's Innovation Labs

Others are the Auckland Airshare project, focused on proactively managing the risks to safety, privacy, and nuisance from the presence of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones in Auckland’s airspace; Farms and Food for the Future, which explores the impact of technology and farming practices on the viability of the farming business model, local economies, and the natural environment; and Resilient Communities, Catchments and Coastlines, which investigates the use of technology and innovation to build resilient and healthy waterways and surrounding communities.

Brindley adds, “A number of products have progressed beyond prototyping stage, including the award-winning Safe Swim platform that provides Auckland residents and visitors with real-time data on the performance of the wastewater and stormwater networks, forecasts of water quality, and up-to-the-minute advice on swimming conditions at nearly 100 beaches around the Auckland region”.

One new philosophy that complements the GridAKL Innovation Labs is ‘CorpUp’ – bringing corporates, SME and startups together to solve complex challenges in Auckland through the sharing of information and development of inclusive ideas. In turn, this could help boost our tired productivity level, which sits persistently among the lowest in the OECD.


Marissa Brindley, the manager of innovation precincts at ATEED

Brindley says, often city-scale technology and innovation solutions can seem too big for any one organisation to effectively deliver on behalf of Government organisations, while startups don’t possess the experience or capital to successfully win contracts for large scale solutions. Herein lies the benefits of mixing big corporates with SME and startups in one house – it can create meaningful change.

She says, “Corporates bring experience, stability, and resources to the mix, while startups bring a lean, agile and fast-moving approach. As a result, there is a rise globally of corporates and startups working together.

“Using a CorpUp approach, collaborative advantage opportunities are favoured [over competition] in developing solutions and these partnership approaches are fast emerging as an effective process for delivery.”

Brindley says GridAKL Innovation Labs is working closely with Wynyard Innovation Neighbourhood (WIN) to bring the CorpUp philosophy to the labs to help ensure a future ready Auckland.

Taking Datacom to the Wynyard Innovation Neighbourhood


12 Madden Street in Auckland’s Wynyard Quarter

Wynyard Innovation Neighbourhood (WIN) is a collective of like-minded, non-competitive companies and organisations that have come together to collaborate for a better New Zealand. WIN, which includes representatives from Datacom, Air New Zealand, ASB, IAG, Fonterra, Auckland University of Technology, Southern Cross Medical Society, ATEED – including GridAKL, and Centrality, has been meeting regularly for over four years in Wynyard Quarter.

The association has embraced the philosophy and practice of supporting local innovation, attracting the best talent, enabling cultural engagement in innovation, and sharing learnings to improve outcomes for members and working to lift New Zealand’s innovation profile on the global stage.

An integral figure in the Wynyard Innovation Neighbourhood is Kerry Topp, associate director of transformation and innovation at Datacom. He’s helped bring companies together and into what he calls collaborative ecosystem innovation. Much of what he says makes sense – advocating for corporates and startups to work together to be better, sharing information, knowledge and insights.

He says, “My role is to connect and bring together potential partners from across industries and sectors and show them the benefits of working together and how that opens up opportunities they probably hadn’t seen before.”

Kerry says the WIN model is key to that collaboration.

“The Wynyard neighbourhood brings together corporates, start-ups, individuals with good ideas, financial backers with business models, designers, academics, developers and plenty more, and gives them a common ground to work on their own visions but also to share learnings and opportunities.”

He shares an anecdote of a time when he hosted the heads of development operations from various WIN corporates for dinner, a bootstrapped curry, he called it, where over the space of four hours, the conversation unravelled into a complete change in direction for one of the companies involved. While he couldn’t give specifics, the benefit to the organisation concerned was a saving in wasted organisational-wide effort – in the order of 6+ months and many thousands of dollars. It’s one of many examples where he has worked with other businesses to help solve thorny issues.

“If you want to have open collaboration you need to have non-competitive organisations talking around areas of challenge and concern. That diversity of thinking comes from different people and different backgrounds, so we are trying to reimagine a customer experience for an airline to an FMCG company. They are very different industries, but there are some commonalities there and if you invest the time and effort, it’s amazing what you can achieve.”

One project was to work with fellow businesses to identify the key skills for the future workplace, a mission closely mirrored in ATEED’s work with Auckland businesses and people to prepare the city for the future.

He says, “It doesn’t matter where you go in New Zealand, the number one problem is talent attraction, retention and development. So, we formed a group at the Wynyard Innovation Neighbourhood, comprised with five heads of different companies and looked at what skills are required for the future workforce. There we built a framework and compiled six key human competencies, then we mapped it out and open-sourced it to organisations across New Zealand, from Auckland to Nelson and Tasman.”

Topp says the ancestry of Wynyard Quarter is an important piece of heritage, which informs the work he is currently doing, alongside ATEED and Auckland Council, at the Wynyard Innovation Neighbourhood.

He says, “Understanding a place’s origin story unlocks the richness of the past to inform the future. Wynyard Quarter is reclaimed land, but before it was reclaimed it was a place of great abundance. It was a place where Ngāti Whātua o Ōrākei and mana whenua, people of the land, came to share in the abundance of shellfish and kaimoana.

“If you walk down to Wynyard Quarter there is a laneway Panuku has developed, on the laneway you can see the shells and the way the tall grass is growing, and tidal estuary comes in and out. That is to pay homage to what has come before us. By working together, we are attempting to reclaim what was once there, find solutions to issues around our environment, transport, housing and energy, and focusing on people, place and wellbeing as well as a broader capability lift to tell that wonderful global story of Auckland.”

GridAKL Innovation Labs recently secured national recognition at the 2019 Economic Development New Zealand (EDNZ) annual awards, winning the EDNZ Best Practice Award for Innovation.

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