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These businesses are a representation of the huge number of innovative businesses located all over the Wellington region, illustrating the wealth of local experience and breadth of expertise available here.
Pete Gillespie, brewer and co-founder of one of Wellington’s favourite breweries, Garage Project, originally planned to open a brewery in Australia. But the appeal of Wellington was too much to resist, and he and his business partners Jos and Ian found an old petrol station in Aro Valley that ticked all the boxes.
Most breweries develop a set range of beers to distribute - but Garage Project have chosen experimentation over certainty. And local beer lovers have come to expect, and appreciate, the surprising results.
Garage Project didn’t want to be “just another craft brewery” and it’s clear why. “We wanted to have the creative freedom to experiment, and have fun.” They challenged themselves to make 24 beers over 24 weeks. After launching a new beer every week, they sold far more than expected. Their willingness to experiment not only led to a cult following but also attracted interest from investors. The brewery’s most recent expansion (to 2, 000 litres) means they can produce larger volumes to satisfy the increasing demand.
Innovation is evident from tank to tap: ingredients can be mango, seawater, chocolate or fish; beer names include Pils ‘n’ Thrills, Trip Hop, Aro Noir, Umami Monster, Burning Globe, Pernicious Weed; and because every beer has a different story, every label features a different illustration and design. The cellar door attracts curious passersby and committed converts.
Garage Project has already produced over 100 different beers, with some ending up in Australia or as far afield as Norway.
Pete is sure that “Wellington has more than its fair share of innovative people; its creative culture draws them in”.
“We got the brewery with cellar door up and running after six months of planning in Wellington.The same idea proved impossible in Australia after three years. Good ideas are possible here, everyone is really supportive.”
Millions of women around the world are being helped by breast density screening software developed by poineering Wellington company Volpara (formerly known as Matakina).
Its world leading breast imaging software increases the accuracy of information about breast density so radiologists can make better clinical decisions and therefore detect breast cancer earlier.
The innovative software is in high demand from breast clinics all over the US and Europe, and Volpara has grown to a staff of 17 in Wellington and five between the US, Bangkok and the UK, with more to come.
Company founder Ralph Highnam has been interested in the subject of breast density since finishing his PhD in quantitative breast imaging at Oxford in 1992.
Connections have played a major role in the company’s success so far. Volpara’s directors and chairperson have been able to raise funds via their personal and professional networks, and the firm works alongside a world class team of experts including academics in Toronto, Nijmegen (the Netherlands) and Oxford.
It is also well supported locally by researchers at Massey University in Wellington and the Bioengineering Institute at the University of Auckland.
After starting-up, Volpara was assisted by Grow Wellington and grants from Tech NZ. Ralph explains that the proximity to like-minded people in Wellington is really valuable, as is having easy access to local specialists (such as for intellectual property advice).
“We were born global but love living in Wellington. And the local pool of talented software engineers ensures our technology is world class.”
8i have developed virtual reality capabilities allowing users to experience an exciting virtual world.
Founded in Wellington by Joshua Feast, Linc Gasking, Sebastian Marino of Jig Lab and Eugene d'Eon from Weta Digital in May 2014, 8i has just secured $20 million in investment from Samsung Ventures and Ashton Kutcher's Sound Ventures.
Using the Oculus Rift headset, their ground-breaking VR technology puts users in the middle of the movie-making and entertainment action.
8i emerged out of the collaboration of some of the most creative and digitally focused minds in Wellington.
They've decided to base themselves in Wellington for a number of reasons.
Co-founder Link Gasking says "Wellington is the perfect place to scale this company. There are so many world leaders in visual effects and digital media here.
Wellington is the 3D capital of the world . . . there is no other place in the world where we could have set up."
While Cheryl and Barry Eldridge were determined to make their textiles a local success, they never dreamed they’d be designing and producing material for costumes in international blockbusters such as The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit and The Chronicles of Narnia.
The couple started their business Stansborough after they bought a small flock of rare sheep known for their lustrous bluegrey wool. This is woven on their 19th century looms into high-end textiles, blankets and babywear sold in New Zealand, the UK, Europe, Canada, Australia and the US.
Cheryl admits that working with the film industry has been a challenge – meeting tight deadlines while keeping the quality up.
“But it’s presented an exciting opportunity and has definitely raised our profile in New Zealand and overseas.”
"We’ve pursued a niche market which favours quality and individuality over quantity and uniformity.”
The company’s initial R&D was well supported by Wool Research, NZTE and Grow Wellington. “Knowing what our wool is capable of has helped us determine ‘what next’. Our determination and No.8 wire attitude means we are always on the look-out for new opportunities.”
Not surprisingly, Stansborough’s range of corporate gifts is in high demand nationally and its innovative textiles are destined for catwalks, movie sets, super yachts, boutique lodges and designer homes the world over.
Cheryl is enthusiastic about being based in Petone, between Wellington and the Wairarapa.
“Wellington’s a vibrant city offering many things that bigger overseas cities do but in a more compact space. It’s full of innovative people who appreciate the arts, design and premium quality. And government and corporates with VIP visitors are discerning customers so being close to them is a real advantage.”
In 1972, Vega designed an innovative light to mark the entrance to Paremata Harbour near Wellington.
The design has since been refined and is now one of Vega’s core products supplied to its customers across the globe.
From the Panama Canal, Port Louis, and Long Beach Island, to the English Channel and the Port of Durban - Vega's innovative lights and beacons can be found on almost every coastline around the world.
Based in Porirua, 20 minutes north of Wellington city, the world leading designer and manufacturer has evolved to meet the highly specialised needs of marine authorities throughout New Zealand and over 50 other countries around the world.
With specifications varying by country, Vega uses its expertise in optics to develop a vast range of products known for their sophisticated lenses and intensity of light.
Vega’s commitment to superior optical performance has become a world benchmark. “When someone needs a light that others say is in the ‘too hard basket’, they track us down.”
Staying focused on the marine industry and committing a quarter of its 43 staff to product development and commercialisation has allowed Vega to design innovative products which its competitors can’t beat.
While 95 percent of Vega’s products are exported, Alistair knows being based in the Wellington region has its advantages.
“We live by the sea on the Kapiti Coast and are only a 10 minute drive from our newly-opened building so we’re not moving anywhere else any time soon.”
Agricultural scientist Bridgit Hawkins has always been passionate about transforming science into products and services for the agricultural sector.
ReGen’s ambition to help farmers make smarter decisions for the benefit of their land, bottom line and confidence, led the company to develop an innovative system for managing dairy effluent.
Being a small city to get around means Bridgit benefits from meeting daily, face-to-face, with her support crew.
Bridgit explains that networking in Wellington is easy and that being exposed to a diverse range of business people from all kinds of sectors, not just from agri-business clusters, is a real bonus.
“If I ever have a question for tech entrepreneur Rod Drury, I could probably find a way to meet him next week.”
While ReGen’s customers are based in rural areas, Bridgit says, “We are primarily an IT company so Wellington suits us perfectly.” With Wellington airport being a regional hub, its team of six is only one flight away from wherever it needs to be.
“Many of us enjoy walking to work every day, alongside the harbour. Our staff want to live here so we have a more stable team and can deliver better outcomes.”
ReGen has been successful in securing grants and funding for their business.
They have raised approximately $1 million from funders including the New Zealand Venture Investment Fund and Angel HQ and ahve also gained another $500,000 in grants from sources such as Callaghan Innovation and Dairy NZ.