$24,000 in prizes for innovative solutions

18-Sep-2017 8:37 AM

Bringing the Ports of Auckland closer to the people of Auckland is one of the winning ideas that Auckland students have generated in an innovation challenge with a total $24,000 prize pool.

The Solve It challenge, run by the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the University of Auckland Business School, invited fresh solutions to gnarly environmental and social problems posed by three corporate sponsors.
Nineteen teams of University of Auckland students entered, testing and developing their ideas with guidance from mentors and advisers over September’s two-week semester break. The sponsors picked winners and second-place-getters based on a final pitch, with a first prize of $5000, and second prize of $3000.
Ports of Auckland asked for ideas around staying relevant in the face of potential disruptions from technologies such as drones, 3D printing, robotics, block chain.
“We know we need to explore the impact of disruptive technologies so we can build a sustainable port that enhances social, environmental and commercial outcomes,” says Ports of Auckland CEO Tony Gibson. “By partnering with the Centre, we can learn so much from the talented young people who are the future leaders of New Zealand.”
The winning team’s solution focused on building the profile of Ports of Auckland with the people of Auckland through providing innovative, creative spaces for people to hang out in, open access to the Ports’ data, and investment in the younger generation.
“We developed a social approach that bridges the gap between technology, Ports of Auckland and the people of Auckland,” says team leader Jono Cooper, a science student. “We’d now like to put in practice our solutions.”
Mr Gibson says that could happen over the coming months for many of the team’s ideas.
“We loved the way they focussed not on specific technologies, but on the cultural changes needed to develop a workforce that could recognise disruption and adapt, regardless of the different technologies that might come and go,” he says.
“Their solution was about changing mind sets, recognising that the future is about people, with technologies enabling, not driving the future.”
He says the company looks forward to an ongoing partnership with the Centre. It was so impressed by all seven entries, it provided an extra $1500 to be shared among the five non-place-getters.
Beca, which provides engineering, planning, architecture and other professional services, wanted ideas on how to retain women long-term in the traditionally male-dominated industries it covers.
The winning solution: trialling a New Zealand-first initiative for Beca and its employees that would allow flexibility, work-life balance and travel, resulting in an increase of attraction and retention.
“After interviewing a whole range of people (clients, students, employees), we discovered that community, family and diversity are most important in the work place. Our idea represents how a business like Beca can provide a sense of community, inclusion and family,” says team leader Nicholas Bing.
Says Beca NZ managing director Darryl-Lee Wendelborn, “Every presentation held real gems of ideas which we could see ourselves using in some form, and we want to thank the students immensely for what they offered us.”
Sustainable winemaking pioneer Yealands, known for innovations such as replacing lawnmowers with KuneKune pigs, had a very specific challenge: finding a new way to recycle the PET plastic backing from wine labels.
The winning team proposed processing the PET into a plastic-based synthetic diesel fuel. “We brainstormed everything from bacteria to plastic pellet recycling and found this to be the most realistic, sustainable, and cost effective option,” says team leader Samantha Williams, a science student.
Yealands global marketing manager Avram Deitch says Solve It “allows us to explore a multitude of sustainable business solutions in a very short, but meaningful amount of time. Our intention is to move the ideas forward.”
Centre Director Wendy Kerr says the programme, now in its second year, has worked better than they could have imagined.
“We have had very positive feedback from all our sponsors. They find the students’ solutions are unbridled by the constraints of their organisations. The solutions presented push the boundaries of what’s possible and therefore raise everyone’s thinking of what is actually do-able. Some sponsors have been so impressed they have even employed students from the challenge.”  
Several students who entered last year’s challenge for Fonterra now work with the Fonterra Ventures team on innovative ‘internal disruption’ projects. Yealands also followed up with their 2016 winning team and UniServices, the University’s commercialisation arm, to explore using the team’s idea of converting broken vineyard posts into a biofuel called biochar.
Nicola Shepheard Media Relations Adviser
Tel: 09 923 1515 Mob: 027 537 1319

Topic: Environment

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