2020 New Zealand Innovator of the Year Semi-Finalists

14 Dec 2019

Innovator of the Year
Innovator of the Year

This award honours a person or group whose selflessness and passion drive our society and economy forward. Meet our 10 semi-finalists.

Sean Molloy – Avertana

Sean Molloy – Avertana

Avertana is a process technology business that has developed a novel, proprietary pathway to refine steelmaking waste into raw materials used to make everyday products.

Avertana was originally conceived seven years ago by three entrepreneurs who were then colleagues at LanzaTech, a New Zealand biotech company now globally recognised for revolutionising the way we think about carbon waste.

Back in 2012 the company began turning its attention to other industrial waste streams beyond flue gas emissions.

Identifying that steelmaking slag was rich in titanium, the company has developed a patented extraction technology which turns steelmaking residues into essential raw materials: titanium dioxide, gypsum, alum and magnesium sulphate.

These valuable products are used in everyday applications including paint, building materials, water treatment, paper making and fertiliser.

Bill Buckley - Buckley Systems Ltd

Bill Buckley - Buckley Systems Ltd

Buckley Systems Limited is the world’s leading supplier of precision electromagnets – used in the manufacture of silicon chips, flat-panel screens, high-end medical machinery and particle accelerators. The company totally dominates the world’s silicon chip manufacturing industry.

Buckley Systems supplies machinery used in the manufacture of more than 90 per cent of the world’s total output of chips.

Now, Bill Buckley and his company, Neutron Therapeutics, have designed and built a BNCT (Boron Neutron Capture Therapy) machine which is a cancer treating machine. The machine has been installed in Helsinki University Hospital in Finland with treatment trials due to commence in 2020. It is considered a significant breakthrough in cancer treatment.

Typically, with traditional treatments, a patient will have to go through 30 fractions of radiation which has significant physical implications and side effects. However, the BNCT machine does it in one fraction of radiation without the physical side effects and delivers the treatment much more accurately.

Peter Barrow - Enviroplaz – Plazrok

Peter Barrow - Enviroplaz – Plazrok

Enviroplaz has been involved in the development of technologies around the use of polymers for both engineering purposes and the use of waste plastics

Enviroplaz has developed a process turning waste plastic and glass into a lightweight polymer aggregate “Plazrok” used to enhance the performance of concrete

Enviroplaz has also developed the use of a high-grade polymer sheet to replace steel, stainless steel and aluminium in a range of applications for the transport and associated industries that lightens the load and reduces carbon footprint.

“Plaztuff” can be fabricated in the same way as most other materials; fully weldable it outperforms and outlasts other materials in a large range of applications

Both products provide significant advantages in their respective fields:

“Plazrok” not only provide significant advantages as an aggregate in concrete but can use all plastic waste 1s through to 7s, including plastic-infused foil packaging without the need to sort or separate, along with a range of other waste product derived from landfill.

“Plaztuff” is seven times lighter than steel and greatly reduces gross weight in truck bodies, allowing for better payloads providing a range of cost benefits. It doesn’t rust, rot or corrode, lasts longer in the environment, reduces carbon footprint and is fully recyclable at the end of its useful life.

“Plaztuff” is now a global commercial business with licensees in New Zealand, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and the USA and others about to come on board in other jurisdictions

“Plazrok” is about to be commercialised in New Zealand with licensees looking to sign for both the UK and USA markets.

Dr Philip Elmer - Plant & Food Research

Dr Philip Elmer - Plant & Food Research

Dr Philip Elmer has demonstrated a career-long commitment to addressing the grower business needs of the fruit and vegetable industries in NZ, providing new tools and technologies that have been successfully implemented to address significant disease issues in key horticultural crops in an environmentally sustainable way.

His team’s research work was critical in the response to the devastating disease Psa that threatened to decimate NZ’s kiwifruit industry. It included discovery and development of a biological control product, Aureo®Gold, which offers a new and desperately needed control options to both conventional and organic kiwifruit growers.

He was a pioneer in the development of new biological control tools including botrytis, a major fungal disease of many crops globally, particularly in wine grapes. As the principle inventor of the biological control product, BOTRY-en, Dr Elmer is very proud that this BioGro certified product is also being sold globally to tackle major diseases in crop such as almonds in the USA.

Dr Elmer has led Plant and Food Research’s ‘Futures’ programmes, the most successful being the GrapeFutures programme that resulted in 75% of NZ wine growers adopting GrapeFutures strategies to ensure more sustainable disease control with much less reliance on synthetic fungicides.

Professor Jane Harding

Professor Jane Harding

Professor Jane Harding’s research activities include clinical as well as basic physiological studies. Her main interests are the interaction of nutrients and growth factors in the regulation of growth before and after birth, perinatal glucose regulation and the long-term consequences of treatments given around the time of birth.

Professor Harding and her team’s Sugar Babies Study, involving 500 babies born at Waikato Hospital at risk of low blood sugar, was published in the Lancet in 2013. It was the first study to show that dextrose gel massaged into the inside of a baby’s cheek is more effective than feeding alone for treating low blood sugar. A follow up study of these babies at two years of age confirmed the treatment was safe in the longer term.

Seventy-five per cent of birthing units in New Zealand are now using this oral dextrose gel treatment, and they are reporting reductions in the number of babies admitted to neonatal intensive care units for low blood sugar.

There have now been similar reports from around the world, including in the UK, Australia, Europe and the US. Research findings throughout Professor Harding’s career have significantly informed and changed health policy and practice in New Zealand and globally.



In any business, accurate, timely information makes all the difference in performance, profitability and quality. Beekeeping is no different.

Knowing the weather, hive weight, humidity, temperature, and other important factors allow apiarists to perfect their timing and give their bees the best chance they're going to get. It's all about improving productivity, hive health, and hive security.

Beekeepers need a way of knowing what is happening with their hives without having to travel long distances. Hivemind is Australasia’s only commercially viable visibility tool for apiarists with hives in or out of mobile coverage.

It is a system of hive weight scales and sensors that enable tracking of hive performance remotely. The sensors transmit via satellite to the beekeepers account. Access is via PC, tablet or smartphone. Simple and easy to set up, it uses replaceable batteries that last a full season

Fady Mishriki

Fady Mishriki

Fady Mishriki is the founder and former CEO of PowerbyProxi. The company was established in 2007, with a mission to design and develop safe, high-efficiency and high-density wireless power. PowerbyProxi technology enables the charging of everyday devices such as smartphones without having to plug them in.

Today, nearly every smartphone features wireless charging, many top-range automobiles feature wireless charging consoles, and public charging hotspots are proliferating overseas in cafés, airports and hotels.

IHS estimates that annual unit shipments for wireless power receivers and transmitters, across all applications, sectors and product segments, reached 450 million units per year in 2019 and will grow to more than 2.2 billion units per year by 2023.

Under Fady’s pioneering stewardship the company quickly grew to become a world leader as the largest wireless power firm globally by revenue, with over 500 patents to its name. In 2017 Apple acquired the company for an undisclosed sum.

Beyond this, Fady’s commitment to foster the next generation of Kiwi innovators and entrepreneurs has seen him maintain an ongoing involvement with a number of initiatives with the University of Auckland – including both the Dean’s Leadership Programme at the Engineering School and the Velocity Challenge at the Business School.

Dr Mark Sagar – Soul Machines

Dr Mark Sagar – Soul Machines

Soul Machines is a ground-breaking high-tech company of Al researchers, neuroscientists, psychologists, artists and innovative thinkers; re-imagining how we connect with machines.

They bring technology to life by creating incredibly life-like, emotionally responsive artificial humans with personality and character that allow machines to talk to us literally face-to-face. Their vision is to humanize artificial intelligence to better humanity.

They use neural networks that combine biologically inspired models of the human brain and key sensory networks to create a virtual central nervous system that they call our Human Computing Engine.

Mark previously worked as the Special Projects Supervisor at Weta Digital and Sony Pictures Imageworks and developed technology for the characters in blockbusters such as Avatar, King Kong, and Spiderman 2. His pioneering work in computer-generated faces was recognized with two consecutive Scientific and Engineering Oscars in 2010 and 2011.

The focus is on neurobehavioral animation that combines biologically based models of faces and neural systems to create live, naturally intelligent, and highly expressive interactive systems. Emotions translate through the face, but also through the words we use and the way we use them: things like tone, volume and pitch of the voice.

People prefer face-to-face communication because they gain a clearer understanding of a situation through the projection and interpretation of all these communication signals. If a Human Machine can respond empathetically to all these components showing emotional intelligence, then people can interact with a computer in a more relatable way, thereby creating a truly interactive experience.

Despite his success, Mark insists that we are still at the tip of the iceberg. His goal remains to capture a sense of consciousness in his characters that is completely indistinguishable from a real human.

Emotionally intelligent Human Machines add meaning to artificial intelligence, opening the door to a new age of opportunity by enhancing the lives of everyone. The potential is enormous across a wide range of fields.

Steven Saunders & Alistair Scarfe – Robotics Plus

Steven Saunders & Alistair Scarfe – Robotics Plus

Robotics Plus Ltd emerged from the need to solve the growing challenges in the global primary industry such as labour shortages, sustainability for growers, pollination gaps and yield security.

Robotics Plus Limited has focused on developing intellectual property and, through mechanisation, automation, robotic and sensor technologies, has created robotic fruit pickers and sorters for the growing international horticultural fresh fruit market.

To solve these challenges, Robotics Plus Limited has focused on developing adaptable platform systems through an intellectual property (IP) portfolio covering artificial intelligence, machine learning, mechanisation, robotic and sensor technologies. This IP has been applied to fruit packing, fruit picking, pollination, log truck scanning and self-driving vehicle systems to help solve some large, international industry challenges.

With a focus on making the technology viable for industry, Robotics Plus offers several options to lease or buy systems depending on the industry. Having a team of over 60 people, Robotics Plus is poised to adapt their technology to solve even more industry challenges.

With tens of millions of apples and several million tonnes of logs anticipated to be processed through their systems next year, Robotics Plus has solidified themselves as a world leading agri-robotics high-growth company.

Aliesha Staples Staples VR

Aliesha Staples - Staples VR

Aliesha is highly sought after, both locally and abroad, as a producer of AR/VR & emerging technology content and has produced projects for studios and television networks including Warner Brothers, Paramount Pictures, Disney, TVNZ and ABC through her company StaplesVR.

She has a particular passion for using emerging technology not only for entertainment but also for healthcare. She was involved in the roll out of VRemedies, a Virtual Reality exposure therapy software for children to lower the need for drug use for non-invasive procedures on hospitals.

Aliesha won the High Tech Young Achiever of the year award twice, once in 2017 and again in 2018; she won the NZ international business awards in 2018 as an inspiring women leader; she was a finalist in the Next women of the year Business and Innovation category; she won the excellence in digital health award at the 2018 ITX awards; and her work on the Zespri VR experience recently won her a New Zealand Cinematography award for Experiential content.

Related news