With representation from academic disciplines right across the University, the 42 entries in the 2021 edition of AUT's entrepreneurship competition X Challenge The Accelerator is the highest in four years. Eight finalists have been selected by a panel of 16 expert judges and each team is now on the journey to the Final Pitch Night on 18 November.
Selection to the final eight was hard won and the deliberation extended to three rounds with strong advocates on the judging panel even for entries which didn't make it to the final eight. The Accelerator judges were impressed and enthusiastic. "It's my second year being involved, and I have to say I really love the kaupapa of X Challenge. I firmly believe Aotearoa needs more job-creators," said judge Kerry Topp, Founder of The Kerry Topp Collective.
The eight finalists have been matched with industry mentors and will be working with them to refine their ideas in preparation for the final pitch night in November. With $20,000 of cash plus prizes up for grabs, it will be an exciting finish to the competition.
Director of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, Martin Bell, also noted the strong industry support for X Challenge. "As well as a surge in entry numbers, 2021 has also seen an unprecedented level of support from industry partners keen to play their part in the development of the next generation of Kiwi entrepreneurs", says Bell. "From Venture Capital firms, to tech giants, to high-growth local companies, we are heartened and thrilled by the support we have received – it's recognition of the high regard in which X Challenge is held and its important place in the start-up ecosystem".
We're also excited to announce this year's judging panel for the Final Pitch Night. The judges are: Kerri McMaster (CEO – Good Health Breathing, previously Co-Founder – Performance Lab Technologies), Sam Kamani (Co-Founder – Ensyder), Vaughan Fergusson (Inventor – Institute of Awesome, Co-Founder – Pam Fergusson Trust, previously Founder – Vend) and Marisa Fong (Co-Founder – Arné, Executive Judge – Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year). It's a pretty stellar cast.
Last year's winner Mohd Akhtaar attributes his Mindful Muslim app's exponential growth and success to his participation in AUT's entrepreneurship programmes X Challenge and CO.STARTERS, "I've run start-ups before, but X Challenge was a game changer. It allowed me to meet supportive mentors such as Dr Michael Fielding from AUT Ventures, Frayne Cooke, Co-Founder of Well Revolution and Rudi Bublitz from Flying Kiwi Angels as well as other experts who believed in my idea and helped me fine tune my approach."
The next nine weeks for the finalists will be exciting, demanding, fun – and maybe a little nerve-wracking!
Enabling the remote monitoring of waterways across Aotearoa
Ander Castelltort Schnaas (Postgrad, DCT – Engineering, computer and mathematical sciences), Hannah Wetzel (Postgrad, DCT – Engineering, computer and mathematical sciences), Morgan Dolfing, Helen Chambers, Brendan Bell, James Lear
A new and contemporary social platform where engineers can collaborate to solve conservation issues
Jesse Wang (Postgrad, DCT – Engineering, computer and mathematical sciences), Ron Chiu (Postgrad, DCT – Engineering, computer and mathematical sciences), Ray Liang, Aidan Kelly
An investment brokerage app that allows people from Australasia to easily invest in the US stock market
Aldar Batomunkuev (DCT – Engineering, computer and mathematical sciences), Viola Ember (CLS – Hospitality, tourism and events)
A bread clip based around sustainability and a circular economy
Kylan Waters (BEL – Business and economics), Ria Sharma
A bike parking solution designed to encourage people to use public transport
Wendy Wang (DCT – Art and design), Xinjia Zhuang (DCT – Art and design), Ziyan Qiu (DCT – Art and design)
Paramedic airway management equipment
T'heniel Chetty (Postgrad, DCT – Art and design)
A student meal planner app based around helping young people shop, cook and connect
Jennifer Susanto (DCT – Art and design)
A wedding planner app bringing wedding service providers together in one place for ease of planning, booking and budgeting
Lourdes Maea (CLS – Education)