Sowing the seeds
There are plenty of opportunities in the Bay for businesses that have already started. But efforts are also being made to ensure more youngsters gain the confidence to start them.
One of the biggest celebrations of creativity and innovative thinking in the Bay of Plenty region is the Young Innovator Awards (YiA), a local awards programme for students in the Tauranga region.
The awards are an initiative of Instep, the educational arm of economic development agency Priority One in partnership with local companies Woods and Bluelab.
Applicants are tasked with coming up with an innovative product or service that would make the world a better place, and can win cash prizes and internships with leading Bay of Plenty businesses.
Reuben Woods and YiA project manager Stacey Jones say the awards are not focused on the products and services created. Instead, it’s about teaching kids the process of innovation.
“Some of these kids’ innovations could potentially turn into something bigger, but that is not our focus,” Jones says. “We want to give the kids the confidence to experiment with their ideas.”
As well as this, Jones says it’s teaching kids that they don’t have to necessarily be the best in the class in a particular subject, they can still be gifted by pursuing and developing an idea.
“We’re not science or business focused, it’s all about giving every student a platform to learn about innovation,” Jones says.
Winners of YiA go on to spend a week working at different types of businesses on their idea, including Bluelab, Locus Research, Cucumber and Woods. YiA also recently established a new Intermediate category with House of Science, another show of collaboration in the region.
Previous alumni of YiA include local furniture designers George & Willy, or George Wilkins and William McCallum, who won the Emerging Exporter of the Year Awards at the 2017 Bay of Plenty ExportNZ Awards.
Last year’s Senior Award winner, Lydia Gilmour from Tauranga Girls' College, created a mini-glad wrap dispenser designed specifically for first aid kits called Swift Wrap. The process she went through at YiA inspired her to change her degree focus from Materials and Process Engineering to Mechanical Engineering at Waikato University this year.
Jones says one of the most significant outcomes of YiA is it inspires kids about what to do in the future, and can even end up changing their life.
“One of the things we’re proud of is it’s not always the smartest or the most creative kids that succeed. It doesn’t matter if their idea is valid or not, or if they make a million dollars off it. We’re just proud to impact on their lives and set them on the journey through a creative process.”