Earthquake recovery bootcamp

I loved my office in the CBD, on the 10th floor of what is now Spark’s building, overlooking the Square. I’d exited my business, and recently joined global SaaS company SLI Systems. Here’s a photo of the last time I saw that office – that’s my desk, with the window fallen on it. Better than Rod, the CFO’s office though, as the ventilation system had fallen through the roof above his desk and smashed it. 

Earthquake recovery

12 of us had volunteered to go into the ghost town of the CBD, and we had exactly two hours to run up and down 10 flights of stairs with backpacks and get out what we could (servers, important documents, my US colleague’s suitcase which was HEAVY), under rigidly controlled circumstances. We had personal supervision of a firefighter and a rescue person, we were bussed in and it was absolutely surreal. It was the ultimate, adrenaline packed bootcamp session and 7 trips of stairs later I could feel my legs for a week. That photo was taken as we were about to exit for the final time; I’m standing with my colleague Ashley, and I’d grabbed my yoga mat.

Ten years on, and Ōtautahi Christchurch has come a long way. The city is buzzing, the economic recovery is in full swing, and ChristchurchNZ (which absorbed the old CDC, Canterbury Development Corporation) is a powerful driving force behind innovation and business growth programmes delivered through strategic partnerships with University of Canterbury’s UCE with ThincLab, and Ara’s Te Ohaka with MoA.

In a recent visit by NZGCP (formerly NZVIF) to ThincLab, the question was raised as to how many Canterbury ventures had been invested in since the launch of the fund – the answer, “3 out of 160.” It is fair to say there’s a huge amount of VC interest now in the innovation ecosystem here, not only for scale-up companies but for early stage startups too. 

Why Canterbury? In the words of ChristchurchNZ, “A booming tech hub. A world leading agritech and future foods centre. A magnet for medical excellence and health-tech. A launchpad for future transport and aerospace.” 

In part, we can thank the earthquake recovery for this. SLI Systems eventually, after squatting in a St Albans flat and YikeBike’s office, became the anchor tenant in EPIC Innovation with 16 other earthquake-displaced tech companies – the first commercial building to be rebuilt in the CBD. Google’s Craig Nevill-Manning came to visit, with Google sponsoring the communal coffee machine. What was interesting was the range of tech companies that emerged that there had been no real visibility of. EPIC became the hub for Startup Weekends, Ministry of Awesome was born there from humble beginnings as a weekly Coffee and Jam session, and people collaborated and ideated together.

Fast forward a decade….

… new infrastructure, new buildings, new energy, new optimism. New opportunities. I was blown away by the research and enterprise teams within the recent Food, Fibre and Agritech Challenge UCE and ThincLab delivered with B.Linc. As a recreational pilot I’m excited about future transport, UC’s development of aerospace capabilities, and the mahi ThincLab is doing with companies like Kea Aerospace. And I’m seeing a range of high-growth potential companies.

So. Bring it on.