Engineering a new business

CIVIL ASSIST: Managing director Andrew Lawton, project manager Luca Barone and senior water engineer Marcus Koll. Picture by Rebecca Grunwell

It’s been a hard road at times, but Andrew Lawton is pinching himself after a life-changing 12 months.

Last year Mr Lawton made the decision to go part-time on his long-term job with Tairawhiti Roads, to see if he could hack it on his own. The result is Civil Assist, tagline: Engineering for Life.

“We are a civil engineering company that delivers projects with a focus on environmental and social outcomes,” he says.

Most recently that is exemplified by a project with the NZ Transport Agency, around assessing culverts on State Highway 35 to ensure they properly allow for fish to pass through.

“It’s an engineering job but at its core the focus is on improving fish habitats, by improving their ability to navigate through culverts which have presented an obstacle up until now.

“Above all we want to deliver civil engineering projects that are innovative and offer optimum results for clients, the environment and the community — whether that is network management for roading, project management for construction, aerial mapping or drainage design.”

Civil Assist is Mr Lawton’s third startup. He founded Honest Day’s Work last year too: a personal online tender system where tradesmen and women can use their skills to find the work they want — vice-versa for prospective clients.

Next came collaborative childcare solution, Awhi Tree, the product of his involvement with 2018 Tairawhiti Startup Weekend.

After a solid release, Mr Lawton has taken Honest Day’s Work offline short-term for a rebrand, at the advice of business mentor John Pittar (more about that later). He has also stepped back from Awhi Tree — it’s in the very capable hands of the rest of the Awhi Tree team — with a slightly bigger, more commercial fish to fry in Civil Assist.

Aside from himself, Mr Lawton now employs two full-time and three part-time staff at Civil Assist. This rules him out of Launch! Coworking, which has a four-person full-time equivalent limit.

Mr Lawton started Civil Assist at Launch! and says it was instrumental in taking away the burden of start-up life.

“Things like rent, internet, bills, printers and copy machines — all the nuts and bolts are taken care of. It enabled me to focus on client delivery and meant I didn’t miss out on social or professional interactions, because I was coworking with other Launch! members.”

Mr Lawton started by renting a hot-desk one day a week. Flexible membership options meant he could work on his business when it suited.

“Now it has grown to a full-time business. Launch! has grown a lot as well, it’s such a positive hive.”

Launch! Coworking manager Simon White says Mr Lawton represents exactly what Launch! is supposed to do.

“Coworking spaces are an integral part of the startup, remote worker and sole trader eco-system. The space is used to awhi residents through initial phases, until they have grown enough to stand alone.”

At which point, says Mr White, they move on and another startup takes their place.

“Andrew is one of our original success stories.”

Mr Lawton says having the support of economic development agency Activate Tairawhiti via avenues like Launch! greatly impacted his business journey. He has also worked with AT’s business growth advisers and a business mentor via its Regional Business Partner connection. His mentor is experienced business consultant John Pittar, a resource Mr Lawton says is second-to-none.

“I’ve had massive support from John, we have weekly meetings and he has certainly driven me to succeed. John is absolutely part of the team and having him onboard has given me the knowledge and confidence to do a lot of things I wouldn’t have otherwise.”

Case in point, signing a long-term lease for Civil Assist’s new office on Grey Street.

With five employees and his own permanent office space, Mr Lawton now well and truly means business.

“I honestly pinch myself, Civil Assist is a dream come true.”

It’s been a hard road at times, but Andrew Lawton is pinching himself after a life-changing 12 months.

Last year Mr Lawton made the decision to go part-time on his long-term job with Tairawhiti Roads, to see if he could hack it on his own. The result is Civil Assist, tagline: Engineering for Life.

“We are a civil engineering company that delivers projects with a focus on environmental and social outcomes,” he says.

Most recently that is exemplified by a project with the NZ Transport Agency, around assessing culverts on State Highway 35 to ensure they properly allow for fish to pass through.

“It’s an engineering job but at its core the focus is on improving fish habitats, by improving their ability to navigate through culverts which have presented an obstacle up until now.

“Above all we want to deliver civil engineering projects that are innovative and offer optimum results for clients, the environment and the community — whether that is network management for roading, project management for construction, aerial mapping or drainage design.”

Civil Assist is Mr Lawton’s third startup. He founded Honest Day’s Work last year too: a personal online tender system where tradesmen and women can use their skills to find the work they want — vice-versa for prospective clients.

Next came collaborative childcare solution, Awhi Tree, the product of his involvement with 2018 Tairawhiti Startup Weekend.

After a solid release, Mr Lawton has taken Honest Day’s Work offline short-term for a rebrand, at the advice of business mentor John Pittar (more about that later). He has also stepped back from Awhi Tree — it’s in the very capable hands of the rest of the Awhi Tree team — with a slightly bigger, more commercial fish to fry in Civil Assist.

Aside from himself, Mr Lawton now employs two full-time and three part-time staff at Civil Assist. This rules him out of Launch! Coworking, which has a four-person full-time equivalent limit.

Mr Lawton started Civil Assist at Launch! and says it was instrumental in taking away the burden of start-up life.

“Things like rent, internet, bills, printers and copy machines — all the nuts and bolts are taken care of. It enabled me to focus on client delivery and meant I didn’t miss out on social or professional interactions, because I was coworking with other Launch! members.”

Mr Lawton started by renting a hot-desk one day a week. Flexible membership options meant he could work on his business when it suited.

“Now it has grown to a full-time business. Launch! has grown a lot as well, it’s such a positive hive.”

Launch! Coworking manager Simon White says Mr Lawton represents exactly what Launch! is supposed to do.

“Coworking spaces are an integral part of the startup, remote worker and sole trader eco-system. The space is used to awhi residents through initial phases, until they have grown enough to stand alone.”

At which point, says Mr White, they move on and another startup takes their place.

“Andrew is one of our original success stories.”

Mr Lawton says having the support of economic development agency Activate Tairawhiti via avenues like Launch! greatly impacted his business journey. He has also worked with AT’s business growth advisers and a business mentor via its Regional Business Partner connection. His mentor is experienced business consultant John Pittar, a resource Mr Lawton says is second-to-none.

“I’ve had massive support from John, we have weekly meetings and he has certainly driven me to succeed. John is absolutely part of the team and having him onboard has given me the knowledge and confidence to do a lot of things I wouldn’t have otherwise.”

Case in point, signing a long-term lease for Civil Assist’s new office on Grey Street.

With five employees and his own permanent office space, Mr Lawton now well and truly means business.

“I honestly pinch myself, Civil Assist is a dream come true.”

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