International IT company thriving in small town New Zealand

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Paeora-based software development company Adroit Creations is proving that IT companies can thrive in a regional, rural town rather than a big city centre.

“You don’t have to live in a big city to have a successful IT company and to connect with clients around the world,” says Adroit Creation’s co-founder and chief of customer experience Nic Edmonds. “I am a strong believer that you can be innovative and creative anywhere.”

Founded around two years ago, Adroit Creations develops software for local government organisations to enable them to do things more efficiently and effectively. Their elementSERIES software helps manage timesheets, data and training online. Many of Adroit’s clients are based in Australia, with growing interest from New Zealand councils and organisations.

“We have chosen Paeroa as the place to launch and grow our business because we believe investing in heartland communities is the way of the future, especially for companies like ours,” says Mr Edmonds.

Born and bred in Waikato, Mr Edmonds spent time living and working overseas before starting Adroit Creations in late 2014.

During a stint in Australia, he saw what other IT service providers were doing and thought it could be done in better, innovative and more sustainable ways.

“I wanted to start my own IT business and see if the model could be different,” says Mr Edmonds. “I could see the potential for disrupting the way software and services are delivered to clients, and I wanted to provide a more sustainable business model that would also serve the community.”

It came at a time that Mr Edmonds and his wife Donna Haynes (Adroit’s cofounder and development director) were wanting to start a family. Small town culture beckoned, but could an international IT company survive and thrive in rural New Zealand?

“We looked at Auckland and Sydney before making our choice, but Paeroa ticked the box for many reasons,” says Edmonds. “Paeroa offers a great lifestyle. The cost and ease of living is better than a bigger city. It’s easier to own your own home, and renting office space is cheaper. We don’t get stuck in traffic for hours – heavy traffic in Paeroa is five minutes.”

He says living in Paeroa has been a drawcard for employees and new recruits. “A big reason for setting up the business here was providing a good lifestyle for our kids, and buying a large piece of land that we could grow vegies on,” says Mr Edmonds, who now has two pre-school children.

The company has grown from two to nine staff members, including several overseas recruits. One of them was a top developer from WeChat, a Chinese social media application with more than 938 million active users – and life in Paeroa appealed. “He wanted the job because his three-year-old had never played on real grass. They wanted to replace the Beijing smog with fresh air and a home with a backyard,” says Mr Edmonds.

Another staff member recruited from Brazil – “an amazingly talented developer” – was also attracted by the lifestyle opportunities of living in rural small town New Zealand.

The latest staff member to join Adroit Creations is its new director, Daniel Newman, who hails from Auckland. Mr Newman spent the last nine years managing his IT business, but was attracted to Adroit due to the refreshing approach the company takes when building products, engaging with clients and supporting the community. Mr Newman commutes daily from Pukekohe to Paeroa – a drive he says is easier and quicker than his previous commute through Auckland to Albany.

“Living outside Auckland or a major city is no barrier to business, especially if you work in a field such as IT”, says Mr Edmonds. Although he travels a lot for business, Auckland International Airport is not far away.

Investing in regional New Zealand was important to Mr Edmonds: a way of supporting the local economy, providing jobs and perhaps more importantly, inspiration.

He says that around 43 per cent of Hauraki residents do not have access to the internet at home, according to the 2013 Census. Adroit Creations hopes to change that, and inspire people into careers or opportunities in the technology sector.

Adroit recently began a social good initiative called the Creation Room, in partnership with Promapp and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

It has been designed as a free community resource for Hauraki residents interested in exploring opportunities in technology and creative industries, and is set up with computer equipment and an internet connection.

“People can come in and learn about coding or web design or blogging,” says Mr Edmonds. “If they want to set up an online presence for their own business, or explore robotics or something else tech-related, then we have a free public space for them to use within our professional offices.”

He cautions that the Creation Room is not for gaming, but is a learning and creative space. “We are not a training academy, but if people are self-motivated and want to find out about what’s on offer in the world of IT, we can help.”

The Creations Room is open twice a week, Mondays and Thursdays, from 10am to 5pm. “It doesn’t matter how old or young people are, or if they are new to technology or not, they are welcome to pop in and use the Creation Room,” says Mr Edmonds. “We really want to give back to our community, and enable them to make the most of the opportunities the Internet can offer. It’s our way of supporting the district council, who has big plans to digitise the region.”

He hopes to inspire other companies, particularly in the IT sector, to replicate their business model for the social good of their communities. “A company doesn’t need to be big to be responsible to its community and to be a good social citizen,” says Mr Edmonds.

The philosophy flows through to Adroit’s product range. Their “Software as a Service” (SaaS) products are designed to use software and online tools to improve people’s lives, without high costs or ongoing support needed. As part of this they have developed the ‘elementSERIES’ for local Government organisations. These include innovative software products such as ‘elementTIME’, ‘elementSTAFF’ and ‘elementORG’.

GETTING BUSINESS SUPPORT
When Adroit Creations launched in late 2014 they began working with business advisor Peter Davey from the Business Growth Services team at Waikato Innovation Park. He immediately saw the potential, and was impressed at the IT firm’s passion for supporting the Hauraki region.

“My first reaction was ‘wow’,” says Mr Davey. “I thought it was fantastic to see a business like this starting in Paeroa.”

Mr Davey, who lives in nearby Waihi but who works in Hamilton, is a strong believer in regional businesses. He regularly travels around Waikato and Coromandel to meet with entrepreneurs, and is always impressed with innovation and passion in small-town communities. “I thought it was a brave move and very forward thinking,” says Mr Davey.

Mr Edmonds says the support of the Business Growth Services team has been valuable, not only with connections and networking but with practical advice based on experience. “As a small business it can be hard – everything is on you and it can be a lonely road,” says Mr Edmonds. “They were there to reassure us that other start-ups go through the same ups and downs, and that we were doing well.”

Business Growth Services is funded by the Regional Business Partner Network (RBPN), a central government initiative to help build business capability for growth. Led by New Zealand Trade & Enterprise and Callaghan Innovation, the aim of the network is to support businesses that have high-growth aspirations and are also export focused, technology-driven or have innovative products or services with real commercial merit.

With at least one-third of clients outside Hamilton, team members travel once a month to towns including Raglan, Paeroa, Tokoroa, Thames and Tuakau to meet with people who have a new business idea or product.

To date the team has engaged with more than 1000 businesses and have helped contribute more than $1.3 million to the regional economy through their support of new businesses and products.

Mr Edmonds says meeting with a business advisor over coffee was handy when he needed advice.  “Bouncing off everyday problems and having someone there for a ‘sanity check’ was really helpful,” he says.

When they had an immigration issue with a staff member, Business Growth Services were able to connect them with an immigration consultant to work it out. “They have the ability to tap into different networks that we didn’t know about and that heads off potential problems.”

Mr Davey said helping businesses make connection is a big part of what they do at Business Growth Services. “You don’t know what you don’t know in business,” says Mr Davey. “Often you need someone from the outside to open up doors for you, or to offer a new way of looking at things. That is what we do.”

Through Callaghan Innovation, new businesses or people with innovative business ideas can access a network of support, training and funding. “There is an amazing depth of capability through Callaghan Innovation,” says Mr Davey. “It’s not always easy to access unless someone shows you how.”

People interested in getting free advice and support for their new business idea, product or service can contact a Business Growth Services business advisor on 07 857 0538 or businessgrowth@wipltd.co.nz

For more information see www.wipltd.co.nz/what-we-do/grow-your-business


TIPS FOR ENTREPRENEURS
from Nic Edmonds, Adroit Creations

1. It takes hard graft. When you read a story about a successful business it is easy to gloss over all the hard work that has gone into it. The hard graft doesn’t always get reported. However – although it’s hard – it should still be enjoyable if you are passionate.

2. Accept there are some things you might have to give up. I gave up a ridiculously good pay packet (as an IT contractor) to start my own business. But it’s not just about the money. It’s really cool to be doing something that you believe in.

3. Include social responsibility as part of your business strategy. You don’t need to be a big company to do good things in your community. It can help grow your business, attracting staff, and the support of other businesses and your community.

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