A diverse range of compelling ideas from students across our academic disciplines are excitingly progressing through to the X Challenge 2022 grand final in November.
X Challenge Programme Manager, Shayna McWhirter says, ‘It’s wonderful to see a really broad range of submissions going through to the final – it’s going to be an exciting battle!’.
Seven finalists have now been selected by a panel of 16 expert judges and each team is on the journey to the Final Pitch on 29 November, where $20,000 of cash, plus prizes, will be up for grabs.
As AUT students, team Easy Eats didn’t have to look far to find a problem they were passionate to solve – the student diet! “Many students struggle when it comes to cooking meals – including ourselves,” says Matthew Hill. “The process of deciding what to cook can be frustrating and difficult to plan in advance when managing the pressures of a busy student life.”
“The solution is as much about cooking as it is about daily organisation. Our mission is to revolutionise the way students cook through Easy Eats.” By employing gamification and other student targeted features, the team looks to lure students away from unhealthy convenience foods and costly delivered meals. With Matthew studying a Bachelor of Design (Communication Design) and Bachelor of Business (Marketing) and his teammate Levi Beintken studying a Bachelor of Computer and Information Sciences, they have the perfect mix of skills to pull it off.
Another not-so-secret weapon – their mentor understands student diet choices and knows what it takes to win X Challenge. After walking away with the Supreme winner title in 2017, for her student targeted healthy energy drink Phoric, Holly Sutich has returned to the competition to guide her team towards victory at The Final Pitch at the end of November.
“I’m an adventurous person, I always love to explore every local spot and to live life to the fullest.” says AUT communication studies graduate Shun Lee. It was this passion for exploration that led Shun to start working on an idea with a team of friends, including AUT student Hannah Nguyen. “I was struggling to find an easy way to find local hidden gems, and plan an exciting itinerary in an efficient way,” says Shun. They didn’t need to look far for potential customers to start to validate their idea; many of their friends were in their target market and echoed the need for a better solution.
The team has made a great start, putting forward a proposed solution which earned them a spot in the X Challenge final, but they are realistic about the need for further validation. “DaCard is for ourselves AND our fellow adventurers,” says Shun. “Talking to potential users to understand what features are important to them and how we can foster an enjoyable, stress-free travel experience is our priority as we build our solution.”
The team has also noted the invaluable contribution their mentor, Peter Lamberton, has already made. “Peter has challenged us to reflect on some of our assumptions,” says Shun. “He has provided a holistic view of the brief and what it’ll take to make our pitch as strong as possible.”
“Everyone should have access to the web but not all websites are accessible to blind users,” says Armani Greenway. “Small businesses are either unaware or ill-equipped to determine website accessibility flaws.” Siblings with a shared love of lake water sports, Armani and Lawson Greenway are on a mission to solve this problem they’ve experienced first-hand. “We know the lack of independence website inaccessibility can cause. Even accessing everyday service providers online is a problem.”
Our youngest ever X Challenge participant, Lawson is currently in Year 12 at Bethlehem College in Tauranga. Armani, who has moved to Auckland to study a Bachelor of Business at AUT, returns home when she gets the opportunity, but says they have relied on Zoom calls to stay connected with each other, and their advisor Grant Johnson from Rocketspark who is also in Tauranga.
With Rocketspark being an X Challenge programme partner, it was Grant who encouraged Armani and Lawson to get involved. He agreed with the team that their venture has potential to solve the problem of web accessibility for blind users and become a successful enterprise – especially with the guidance and support on offer from X Challenge. The team has appreciated the connections they have made so far. "The amount of guidance, support and expertise offered to us has made the process a lot less daunting," says Armani. Their team mentor, founder of Be.Lab and the Global Centre of Possibility Minnie Baragwanath, will be another powerful force as the Blindsite team plays its part in achieving the ultimate goal – an inclusive and accessible Aotearoa for all people with disabilities.
“We're passionate for selfish reasons” say Chad Reader and Blake Fernandez from team Chrono.ly. “We want analytical tools for ourselves, yet they don't exist.” AUT Bachelor of Computer and Information Sciences students, with a love of gaming, architecture and design, Blake and Chad want to understand how things work from the ground up.
They started their idea as a little project on the side but after entering X Challenge on a whim, they were surprised by the level of support they were given and the number of people who want to see them succeed. “The contest has been a great push to take things a bit more seriously and set our aspirations higher. Now we're talking about IP laws and pitching to investors!? Crazy,” says Chad.
Attending X Challenge workshops, and listening to the experienced speakers, the team says they have had to rethink how they frame their ideas. “More compelling ideas are not always 'Look at this cool thing we've made!', but rather 'Look how this thing could help you!'." The fact that they’ll personally benefit from their solution is a big driver in moving their idea forward. Blake and Chad are keen to hear from anyone with similar ambition, looking for a challenge, who may want to join their team and help bring chrono.ly to life – for all the “programmers in need” – just like them.
Working in the energy sector for many years, Chris McArthur has seen solar energy go from a significant investment to an accessible form of residential electricity. Although he’s a vocal solar advocate, Chris is well aware of the major flaw in relying on the sun for energy. During the coldest months, when the grid faces its highest demand, the sun is at its least sunny! And this demand is only going to grow as the electric vehicle swells in popularity.
As a part-time AUT engineering student, Chris is well placed to come up with a nifty solution to this problem he is so passionate about solving. Introducing Power Flue – a product which can support the grid by harnessing waste energy from heating – pretty smart right?
A family man, with a full-time job and study commitments, Chris is facing his own time and energy supply/demand challenges. But he’s smart, so he entered X Challenge as a way of gaining the support he needs to move Power Flue from an idea to a product. He’s excited to have been selected as a finalist, tapping into the expertise of experts and the guidance of experienced entrepreneurs (he’s got both covered in his awesome mentor Scott Kington), gaining inspiration from his fellow contestants and moving towards the realisation of a much-needed energy solution to tackle seasonal variation – the Power Flue.
“We are strong believers in creating a sustainable circular economy and we see huge amounts of wasted potential in the e-device sector” says Josh Patel. It was this mutual mission which brought him together with fellow AUT design student Sue Kim. “We want to empty those drawers full of devices and find a new home for them.” That’s why they started get rid – a service business helping time poor people re-home un-needed devices for a cut of the cash."
Although Sue, who is minoring in creating entrepreneurship, already runs a handmade jewellery business called blushbeads.nz, she says she came to the competition with limited business know-how. “This whole journey has been a highlight due to the skills and knowledge we’ve been able to take away – not only for get rid but for future ideas or careers.” Going to workshops presented by Flavio Hangarter and Connor Archbold was a great opportunity for gaining knowledge in the startup space and getting valuable feedback on how to communicate our idea, adds Josh.
Excited for the rest of the finalist programme, Josh and Sue are looking forward to validating and developing get rid with the help of new industry connections, including their mentor, Ryan Walker from Startmate. “I would love more evidence of get rid working, with real numbers to show the judges the idea is viable.” says Josh. As X Challenge finalists, the team also benefits from being part of a group of like-minded students, their fellow competitors, who will be a great support as they navigate the wide world of entrepreneurship – including an already noted lack of time.
As a trained human dentist with a professional background in horsemanship, it seemed natural for AUT Master of Philosophy student Stefan Hadži-Longinović to combine his passion for pearly whites with his love of horses.
Stefan moved to New Zealand in 2012 and began building his successful business offering his dentistry skills to Aotearoa’s equine population.
Peering into horses’ mouths, Stefan noticed the damage ill-fitting hardware was doing, and was inspired to begin working on a solution. With an idea for a product which could alleviate the issue, but unsure how to make it a reality, Stefan seized the learning opportunity posed by the AUT X Challenge. “Being an unskilled entrepreneur, X Challenge appeared to possess an exciting ‘startup kit formula’” says Stefan.
He was shocked and thrilled when his idea, Computerised Equine Bit, was selected as a 2022 X Challenge finalist. With his impressive resume as evidence of his drive for continuous learning, Stefan says he is keen to fill knowledge gaps in the areas of engineering, design, sales and marketing over the 10-week finalists’ programme.
His mentor, Founder of Hardware Meetup, Elyse Wyatt, will be the perfect person to start filling those knowledge gaps while supporting Stefan to bring his idea to life.
Deliberation over the final seven entries stretched over four hours and was hard won, with judges commenting on the potential of every single idea.
“Ultimately, it had to come down to the ideas that were the most developed and which the judges believed had the best chance of being realised,” says AUT Director of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, Martin Bell, who convened the judging panel.
The next nine weeks will be exciting, demanding, fun – and maybe a little nerve-wracking – for the finalists as they develop a business plan and prepare their five-minute pitch for the final. Luckily, they’re not on their own, with each team being allocated an awesome industry mentor.
Ander Castlletort Schnaas, Co-founder of X Challenge 2021 Supreme Winner, Delta Waterways, says, ‘The insight and support we received from our mentor, Kate de Ridder from Bridgewest Ventures, helped tremendously. Her professional perspective and overall willingness to guide us through the challenge was invaluable,” he says.
The X Challenge team extend a big thank you to the panel of sixteen judges, who each offered a unique view based on their area of skill and expertise.
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