Co-sharing is the way to get business done

Sparkbox Venture Group

Greg Sitters, chief executive of Sparkbox Venture Group, is a serial investor in early stage technology companies, and working out of the GridAKL innovation hub in downtown Auckland suits him down to the ground.

Sitters moved his Sparkbox business, along with an intellectual property lawyer and fellow investor, into the open space environment at GridAKL. He soon brought in four other innovative companies his group has invested in.

"You have to have daily contact with the companies," says Sitters. "By co-sharing space, you can have them on your shoulders and help them in the decision-making – instead of spending all day on the phone or driving in the car (to their offices).

"Co-sharing helps them think and operate in the right direction, and they develop more rapidly," he says.

Sparkbox, established in 2002, has invested in 47 technology companies. With his European partner, Sitters provides funding at a very early stage – the money is used to prove the concept, build a prototype and validate the product/service for the international marketplace.

Sitters says he’s more comfortable working in the co-sharing space of GridAKL than in an incubator. "GridAKL is more flexible but you still have to act like a corporate citizen. ATEED and BizDojo (hub operator) gave me a pod and how I filled it was up to me."

In most incubators, you have to be there for a significant amount of time and there’s more structure. The incubation is usually orientated around a particular market type.

"My companies may be in GridAKL for a few months to a year and then they are off doing market development overseas," he says.

Sitters say he’s impressed with the collaboration in GridAKL because of the companies and capabilities based there.

"You want to go to a big conference and you have a video production company on hand to produce a 65-90 second presentation. They can provide a video for my four companies and they do it as part of promoting themselves."

"There’s a PR, brand and marketing company here. Jane (the owner) has grown her own business and she understands what others go through. Her service is very synergetic – like all the businesses here. It’s pretty easy to operate," says Sitters.

His four companies working out of GridAKL are innovative and full of potential. There are three software businesses, and another that has developed a smart-looking machine that loads and unloads taller stacks of bread and dairy crates than a traditional forklift.

One of the software companies, developed at Auckland University, provides web-based tools which allow organisations to visualise and navigate their data in an easy to use interface – similar to a mind map.

The other start-up has developed software development tools and toolkits (SDKs) for API developers and publishers on a mobile platform.

The third software company has developed an app that turns a colouring page into 3D animation. "We are applying this augmented reality to someone else’s technology. Not everyone can do that," says Sitters.


Photo: GridAKL is a place for connecting entrepreneurs, swapping ideas and creating an innovative product or service