2021 NEW ZEALAND INNOVATOR OF THE YEAR SEMI-FINALISTS
14 Jan 2021
Trade Me Innovator of the Year
The Trade Me New Zealander Innovation of the Year Award - Te Pou Whakairo o te Tau recognises a person or group who, in the spirit of Kiwi inventiveness and resourcefulness, have created a better New Zealand.
Meet our 10 semi-finalists.
Dr Canaan Aumua
Dr Canaan Aumua is co-founder and director of ARK Health Discovery, a company dedicated to addressing health inequity through innovative technology.
In 2019 a wave of misinformation and anti-vax rhetoric spread online faster than the coinciding measles epidemic that devastated New Zealand and its neighbouring Pacific Islands. Identifying the need to combat this ‘misinfodemic’, Dr Aumua led the creation of the world’s first public health chatbot, Mītara. This free and accessible online resource delivered safe, sound, and instant health advice to users in addition to direct consultation with New Zealand medical practitioners.
When COVID-19 breached the shores of Aotearoa in early 2020, the team at ARK Health Discovery saw a similar opportunity to disrupt the horde of growing misinformation and released a second chatbot, ‘Āmio’. Āmio would go on to become the Pacific’s first COVID-19 chatbot and the world’s only bilingual digital health tool to offer free, instantaneous access to self-assessments, self-referral to testing centres, and access to medical practitioners for complex queries and personalised case management.
Together both chatbots have amassed nearly 1 million interactions in over 50 countries across the globe, empowering marginalised communities with unprecedented access to on-hand reputable medical advice. By removing financial, transport, and communication barriers, Dr Aumua and his team have made significant contributions to the health literacy of thousands in New Zealand and the wider Pacific whilst also pioneering world-first creative solutions in the health-tech space.
Carmen Vicelich is an entrepreneurial powerhouse, who is passionate about leveraging data and technology to generate impact and transformation. In an unbelievably short time, she has created two multi-million-dollar, industry-leading businesses that do just that.
Purchasing a property is often a significant investment, however before any bank can lend money for a mortgage, they must first assess the property’s value. Vicelich’s company Valocity has revolutionised this process, by digitally connecting lenders, valuers, brokers and customers in one smart platform, to streamline the valuation and approval process. This makes property buying faster and more transparent for all parties, delivering huge efficiencies to the estimated $2Trillion-dollar New Zealand property market. The unique, cloud-based platform is used by some of the world’s largest lenders across New Zealand, Australia, India, and the ASEAN region. A true Kiwi success story, Valocity has been recognised globally including the prestigious India FinTech Awards 2019 as Fintech Start-Up of the Year, and Singapore Top 10 Global Fintech 2018.
In parallel to Valocity, Carmen developed a second company, DataInsight, which helps New Zealand’s largest business and government organisations leverage the power of data and advanced analytics, enabling data-driven decision making to improve customer experience, efficiency and profitability.
Outside of founding two data and technology businesses, Carmen mentors several students and business founders, is a regular speaker sharing her innovation success story, serves on several boards including UNICEF, and is a proud mother of four children.
Craig Piggott is the CEO of Halter. Founded in 2016, Halter is a US/NZ company that has developed technology to modernise the dairy industry by physically moving and guiding animals under machine learning control. Since its launch, Halter has grown to a team of 50 employees whose work has received widespread recognition, investment from both New Zealand and American venture capitalists, and awards at the 2017 New Zealand Innovation Awards. Craig was also a finalist for the 2018 NZ Hi-Tech Young Achiever Award and EY Entrepreneur of the Year award and won the 2020 NZ Hi-Tech Young Achiever Award.
Flight delays due to ground fog cost the aviation industry $92 billion each year, as well as causing safety issues and delaying emergency rescues. Emily Blythe’s company Pyper Vision (formerly Limpidity) is on a mission to guarantee visibility for every flight operation. Pyper has developed a drone-dispersed, environmentally-friendly absorbent that clears runway fog so that pilots and air traffic controllers have the visibility needed to operate safely. Since founding the company in late 2016, Emily has overseen the research and development of the absorbent, then scaled the product and its dispersal system from indoor lab tests to full-scale drone tests. In 2018 she pitched the company at prestigious investment company Ice Angels’ annual showcase, won ‘pitch of the night’ and was oversubscribed with investors in her fledgling company. By late 2020 Pyper had beat out more than 100 other startups for one of five spots in the inaugural New Zealand cohort of Startmate, an Australian startup accelerator. Prior to founding Pyper Vision, Emily was the CEO and founder of Flatpak, a product that enabled farmers to safely transport equipment on their quad bikes.
Hīria te Rangi
As a young mother to twin boys, Hīria Te Rangi taught herself how to code as a way into a well-paid job working in technology to improve her whānau's day-to-day life. Now she's the Kaiwhakahaere (CEO) of Whare Hauora, an innovative social enterprise using sensor technology and data to change the everyday lives of whānau across Aotearoa - including those in some of the most deprived areas of New Zealand.
One-third of New Zealand homes are cold and damp, and respiratory illness is the 3rd leading cause of death in Aotearoa, mostly among children and the elderly. The Whare Hauora sensors instantly tell whānau members when the temperature and humidity drop below World Health Organisation healthy home guidelines, if their health is being affected, and how and what they can do to improve their environment or even where the warmest, driest part of the house is, so they can move there.
Hīria is personally motivated by her beloved grandmother's tragic death from a preventable respiratory illness and thinks the illness was caused by the cold, damp state-owned home her grandmother lived in.
As a tikanga Māori social enterprise working in hi-tech and data, Whare Hauora is underpinned by the core principle that whānau owns its own data. Whare Hauora are the Kaitiaki of that data. Under Hīria's leadership, Whare Hauora is a strong advocate protecting whānau against data misuse and standing up for privacy and data protection.
James Hayes is the Founder and CEO of Virtual Medical Coaching, and he is reinventing the way healthcare students learn their skills. While teaching Medical Imaging at Ara Institute of Canterbury, James was dismayed that the majority of learning still took place in a classroom, even for very practical subjects. He longed for a better, more immersive way for students to learn. His teaching experience, combined with his prior practice in medical imaging, led him to create Virtual Medical Coaching. The technology combines virtual reality (VR), analytics, and artificial intelligence (AI) to allow students to learn complex or dangerous tasks in a safe, immersive and realistic environment. For example, multiple midwifery students can witness and part take in a birth without the risk or intrusion that comes with real-life observation. Once a student has mastered straightforward procedures, the AI will start to introduce complications, and as the student responds the technology will identify skill or knowledge gaps that need further practise. When tertiary education was moved online during Covid-19 lockdowns in 2020, James instantly recognised an increased need for his innovative, solution-driven product. The company immediately pivoted to develop a desktop version of the software so that thousands of students could continue their studies without the prohibitive cost of a full VR headset. He’s proud to be bringing together New Zealand’s highest level of developers to pioneer this world-class, student-centric healthcare education platform.
Uninspired by the reliance on printed handouts in classes, university students Hengjie Wang, Alliv Samson and Jordan Thoms decided to create a cloud-based, collaborative note-taking app. In 2012, along with their mentor Bob Drummond they banded together to start the company that would become Kami, and launched the note-taking app as a product. They quickly found that teachers were their most enthusiastic users, and when they discovered that US schools spend over $7 billion on printing and copying each year, the company pivoted to launch Kami (‘paper’ in Japanese), with an aim of transforming the modern classroom into a paperless, collaborative and efficient digital learning environment for all, and help close the digital divide. Already Kami’s audio & video-enhanced assignments, digital whiteboarding and sketchnoting tools have transformed the way students and teachers worldwide engage with digital information, learning resources, and each other - in the classroom and beyond.
In early 2020, the founders chose to make Kami available free of charge to schools impacted by the pandemic, resulting in astronomical growth as schools around the world moved classes to online or hybrid learning. Kami now supports 22 million students and teachers across 180 countries every schoolday and is ranked the No.1 document annotation application in the Google Web Store, and the most-used application integrated with Google Classroom worldwide.
Following Kami’s international success, the team recently chose to offer free subscriptions to all schools in Aotearoa indefinitely – giving back to the local education community that Kami first emerged from, and ensuring their technology being embraced by the world is available to every kiwi student and teacher.
Ranjna Patel, ONZM, QSM, JP
When CM Police were concerned about the increase in Family Violence in the South Asian community in 2013, they asked Ranjna, an experienced health worker in high needs community and community leader for assistance. Research to Ranjna is identifying the root cause of a problem and gaps. As in health, access was the main barrier for men to get help. In order to keep women and children safe and lessen the trauma of being removed from the home, men are removed and offered emergency accommodation, counselling and behavioural therapy (while also providing wraparound support to the whānau at home, as we know only 20% of women ask for help). Despite all the research to support it, the concept was a challenging one to get off the ground, as people are less willing to invest in support services for men who are physically and emotionally abusive to their families. But 90% of women take the men back. In 2014 Ranjna established the first Gandhi Nivas home for perpetrators for rehabilitation in Otahuhu, partnering with NZ Police and Sahaayta Counselling services and now there are now three permanent Gandhi Nivas homes in Auckland, all staffed 24/7 by counsellors, social workers and Alcohol and Drug counsellors. Massey University released a 5-year longitudinal study (looking at men 5 years before entering Gandhi Nivas and after) and found 60% of men did not re-offend. 60% non-recidivism is amazing and will make a difference in NZ shameful Family Violence statistics.
When New Zealand went into level 4 lockdown, 24-year-old Sarah Colcord’s event and project management business completely dried up. Longing for a platform for small New Zealand businesses to promote themselves during that time, she launched a Facebook group called New Zealand Made Products. The group was a huge hit: in just two months it grew to over 500,000 members, and Sarah and her team of moderators were run off their feet (at the group’s peak, Sarah had 20 volunteers, and 11,000 posts from small businesses pending review). The group was a lifeline for small businesses, helping them survive and thrive during and after the lockdown period. Now Sarah has transformed New Zealand Made Products into an online marketplace called Chooice that has already generated more than $1,000,000 in sales for small New Zealand businesses in just 4 months. Sarah has years of experience supporting young people and her local community, including co-founding Manurewa’s first creative youth hub, co-founding the leading network for youth participation in Auckland, and being a former elected member of the Manurewa Local Board – elected to Auckland Council when she was just 20 years old. She is also a YWCA Auckland Board member and a Duffy Book Role Model for low decile schools.
The energy use and footprint of animal protein eclipses all other industries, including transport, so to tackle the climate crisis, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says the world simply must reduce animal meat consumption and increase its intake of plant-based foods. Enter Shama Sukul Lee, a software engineer turned food technology entrepreneur, whose company Sunfed makes animal-free protein with their current range of chicken, bacon and beef products made from yellow pea protein, chosen because of its sustainability credentials: it’s a fast-growing pulse crop that is nitrogen-fixing, doesn’t require excessive water or negatively impact soil. From the start Shama knew that in order to give meat-eaters a new choice, her products would have to be better than the original in every way – exceptional taste and texture, without compromising on nutrition (it’s packed with both macros and micros), and able to be produced at scale and sold at a price that can disrupt the status quo. Shama is insistent that the products be clean and healthy, with no unnecessary ingredients. Sunfed spent five years developing its world-leading IP and building production infrastructure in New Zealand and is now sold at supermarkets and restaurants across New Zealand and Australia. Sales have grown 170 per cent year-on-year, and the next step is to invest in even larger production plants for economies of scale and global expansion.