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Want office space where you can blow stuff up?

If you are an early-stage research-based company looking for office space where you can do gnarly science stuff, inner-city Auckland may have the place for you. Level Two, the science and hardware coworking space that spawned RocketLab and LanzaTech, is planning a $500,000 expansion to enable more companies to move in.

The Level Two cluster turns 21 this year and is based on level two of the former Industrial Research Ltd building in Parnell, Auckland. Because of its IRL background, it offers the sort of facilities that might make other landlords nervous, said director Mat Rowe. These include dangerous goods stores, fumigators, lab space and high-pressure steam sterilisers, an R&D growth room for plants, and a 3D printing hub.

“I remember when [RocketLab founder] Peter Beck was here you’d come in and there would be smoke coming out all over the place,” Rowe said at the announcement of the expansion last night.

The present 2,000 square metre coworking space is at capacity, and the new development will produce another 1,000 sqm of lab space on the ground floor available for early-stage companies. Of that, 100 sqm will be given free to a “hot new startup, until it gets up on its feet”, Rowe said.

A soon-to-be-published thesis by Auckland University masters student Ahmed Nawaz estimates the Level Two cluster has enabled almost $1 billion of growth in the New Zealand economy through the 21 years of its existence. That doesn’t include the millions of dollars spent overseas by companies like bioenergy specialist firm LanzaTech, Nawaz says.

Other companies working at Level Two include Rowe’s company Dotterel, which is developing noise reduction technology for drones. Rowe was previously at LanzaTech, as was Sean Molloy, who co-founded another Level Two tenant Avertana, a company extracting valuable minerals and chemicals from industrial waste to be used in paint, fertiliser and cement. Meanwhile, Will Barker, yet another LanzaTech alumni, heads up Mint Innovation, which is working on metal recovery techniques, including for electronic wastes.

Part of Callaghan Innovation is based out of level four of the old IRL building, and high-speed broadband network company REANNZ is also there.

“LanzaTech invested more than $2 million in the building. Now we believe we operate the most successful cluster in the country, possibly in Australasia,” Rowe said.

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