Tenants get ready to move into tech hub

MOVING UP: Wil McLellan says the second stage of the Epic hub will expand it from "aquarium" to "coral reef".
MOVING UP: Wil McLellan says the second stage of the Epic hub will expand it from "aquarium" to "coral reef".

As the first tenants of Christchurch's new technology hub prepare to move in, co-founder Wil McLellan is already preparing for stage two of the venture.

About 17 quake-displaced companies have signed up as tenants of Epic Sanctuary, the first stage of the Enterprise Precinct and Innovation Campus.

Christchurch City Council has granted Epic rent-free use of the old Para Rubber site on the corner of Manchester and Tuam streets for five years.

The project was funded by two grants from the Science and Innovation Ministry and New Zealand Trade and Enterprise totalling $1.8 million, and a $3.5m loan from the Bank of New Zealand.

The project has "stretched the dollar", said McLellan. "We did this for the cost of Portacabins."

The building design was based on collaboration, after McLellan found that "proximity stimulated activity" when his own company, Stickmen Studios, was sharing office space with another firm after the quake.

Features to encourage mingling include a full barista setup supplied by Google and a Trends-sponsored kitchen.

"The challenge for New Zealand companies is isolation," McLellan said. "If I'm a VC [venture capitalist] in America I'm not going to come out here to see one or two companies. But if I can come out here and present to 50 or 100 companies, that's worth the flight."

As tenants complete their fit-out and communal areas take shape, McLellan said the feeling was "like being three-quarters of the way through a marathon".

However, this was just "Everest base camp" of Epic, McLellan said.

"This [stage one]) will help 5 to 50-man companies. Stage two we will be bringing in some of the big multinationals. Stage one is like an aquarium, stage two is a coral reef."

Andrew Hill, founder of information technology company Treshna Enterprises, is looking forward to moving into the Epic building, which he likened to Silicon Valley in California.

"If you put a whole bunch of very smart people together . . . they'll create something great."

The Press