Students Jarek Beksa and Ayush Nigam from the Faculty of Design and Creative Technologies, together with Jeong Su Jeon, Lead Developer, and Sara Chin, Fundraising Business Development Manager at the Blind Foundation, have won the top prize at the AUT X Challenge 2019 for Sonnar Library, a cloud-based platform for sharing accessible audio content via voice-activated smart speakers.
The eight finalists had five minutes to pitch their ideas to the audience of over 100, followed by 5 minutes of questions from four fearsome dragons. The groups competed to win a share of a $40,000 cash prize pool and an additional $30,000 of prizes from X Challenge sponsors ATEED, Samsung, Lowndes Jordan, krunch.co, Xero and CO.STARTERS.
The 2019 judges were Lillian Grace, Founder and Trustee of Figure Group, Morgan Donoghue, Managing Director at inMusic and co-founder of Pacifica Investments, Siân Simpson, Director of Community at Kiwi Landing Pad and Creator of Sales and Marketing Jam, and Dion Nash, Founder of Triumph & Disaster, Founder of 420 water and former international cricket player.
The judges were impressed by the team’s pitch and Sonnar Library’s ability to help people, dubbing it ‘Spotify for the vision impaired’.
The team was approached by the Blind Foundation over a year ago to help improve their digital library. After making a prototype, the team was hired to develop the application which gives those with impaired vision access and independence. Their next steps will be promoting the business and rolling it out to international organisations.
AUT PhD candidate and Sonnar CEO Jarek Beksa said that X Challenge helped the team refine their business plan, which is crucial for investors. “The feedback throughout the process was really useful, and the connections we’ve made have been really important,” he said.
Jarek’s message to budding entrepreneurs is not to give up. “JK Rowling’s first Harry Potter book was rejected 12 times before it was picked up. Just because it didn’t take off today, doesn’t mean the idea is bad. It might need polishing. The experience is about learning.”
AUT's X Challenge was born in 2017 – a University-wide competition that gives every current student an opportunity to develop an idea for a business, cause or project and participate in a fun entrepreneurial experience.
The X Challenge has an overall total prize pool of more than $80,000 of cash and prizes split over two competitions The Idea and The Accelerator.
In March this year, AUT launched X Challenge The Idea. This competition asked students to submit a one-page idea through an online form to win one of 40 prizes of $250 and go into the random draw for a Samsung Galaxy S10. In April The Accelerator was launched. For The Accelerator, students submitted a more detailed business plan and participated in a number of workshops to help further develop and fine-tune their entry. From these entries, eight Finalists were selected to take part in the grand finale in September.