INNOVATION THAT'S GOOD FOR THE WORLD: A LOOK BACK AT TECHWEEK’S BIGGEST YEAR ON RECORD
Another year of Techweek has come and gone, with more than 470 events taking place celebrating the tech sector across New Zealand. This year’s festival was the biggest recorded and marked a push to get underrepresented communities in tech – such as women,
Techweek originally began as part of ATEED’s Innovation Programme in TechweekAKL in 2016. That first year, 55 events held in Auckland were attended by 10,000 people, proving the demand was there for a week dedicated to celebrating New Zealand’s tech prowess, as well as educating New Zealanders on new technologies.
In 2017, TechweekAKL became a nationwide annual festival called TechweekNZ, with 287 events spreading across the country, at 24 locations, and more than 20,000 New Zealanders getting involved.
And in 2018, the festival’s size was a testament to the technology now
underpinning all business sectors. In Auckland alone, the technology sector contributes almost $8 billion a year in GDP and supports more than 47,000 jobs.
With technology being a key driver in New Zealand's long-term economic growth, ATEED's goal is to help build on the strength of the tech sector, as the region works towards becoming a major innovation hub of the Asia-Pacific.
TechweekNZ’18 helped cement that with a record-breaking year, with more than 500 events across the country in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin, Taranaki, Palmerston North, Tauranga, Gisborne and further afield.
General manager of economic development at ATEED, Pam Ford, says Techweek’18 attracted participants from around New Zealand and further abroad, including influencers, innovators, investors and researchers.
She says the festival succeeded in amplifying the stories of individuals and businesses that are coming up with inspiring ways to shape our future for the better.
“Auckland’s diverse technology capabilities were showcased during the event through workshops and programmes catering to children, women, Māori and Pacific people – all groups who have huge potential to take advantage of the technology revolution,” she says.
“Many other tech events are happening anyway – for people working and wanting to learn about bitcoin or blockchain or AR/ VR, through corporate or industry-type entrepreneurial events for instance – but being able to introduce a programme that is created by and specific to women, children, and Māori and Pacific people in tech is a testament to the maturity of Techweek.”
Better inclusion of these underrepresented groups also played into the festival’s overarching theme of ‘Innovation that's good for the world’.
Events centred around this included the DIGMYIDEA Ideation Weekend, TECHquality: Women at the forefront of technology and Southtechweek18-XLR8, which aimed to increase the potential of young Māori and Pacific people in the digital innovation space through workshops and activations.
Southtechweek18-XLR8 was hosted by The Southern Initiative at the Vodafone Events Centre in South Auckland, with project manager Michelle Wilson saying it was important to show Māori and Pacific youth the career opportunities in the tech industry, as that underrepresentation is costing New Zealand’s tech industry diverse viewpoints and new ways of innovating.
She says the organisation is aware of the divide between the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ in these communities, so getting more Māori and Pacific tamariki into the digital space through events like Techweek’18 will help bridge that divide and alleviate socioeconomic issues impacting them.
“Creating these types of events shows young people a reflection of themselves in regards to these Māori and Pacific digital innovators speaking, and that it isn’t a hard pathway to take,” Wilson says.
“It’s showing them that this is actually a really meaningful career journey you could take, which in turn helps these tech teachers nationally, as what we’re seeing is not enough young people coming into this industry, especially from Māori and Pacific communities.”
Another highlight of Techweek was the Changing the World with Creativity and Innovation event, which celebrated Auckland’s unique creative sector.
Auckland’s diverse technology capabilities were showcased during the event through workshops and programmes catering to children, women, people – all groups who have huge potential to technology revolution.
It was the first time the event was held and was a great way of showcasing that there’s no shortage of creativity in Auckland. Half of all people employed in the creative sector in New Zealand are based in Auckland, and the sector is made up of 10,000 businesses – totalling 5.4 per cent of total businesses in the city. It also generates $2.8 billion in GDP and employs close to 31,000 people.
Associate director of Unleash Space Darsel Keane said the event’s aim was to empower and inspire the student community to get their creative juices flowing.
“They hear lots of buzzwords like 3D printing, AR/VR and creativity, but that link is hard to make in terms of what it means for them and how they harness it,” Keane says.
“We empower them by giving them examples of people who are doing amazing things.”
But she says more importantly, the diversity on display on the panel sent a message to the students.
Speakers included Auckland Bioengineering Institute associate professor and director of the Augmented Human Lab Suranga Nanayakkara, Southside Rise’s Dr Michelle Johannsson and University of Auckland Soul Capital’s Dr Deb Shepherd.
Nanayakkara was inspired to create products that enable accessibility because he used to be unable to read English, so when he learnt about computers, the technology wasn’t accessible to him.
This led him to founding the Augmented Human Lab to explore ways of creating human-computer interfaces that are a natural extension of people’s minds, bodies and behaviour, as well as create sensory augmentation that enhances human perception.
A lot of the work is focused on innovating for those who suffer from hearing or vision problems, as Nanayakkara believes while technology has been great for most, it has excluded those who are impaired.
Keane says she hopes attendees identified with some of the panel and saw what they are capable of.
“Because we’ve got a diverse representation of what creativity and innovation looks like, it empowers them to do something with those skills.”
Another one of Techweek’s events, the Sports Performance Innovation Forum, showcased how despite being a small nation competing on the world stage, innovation and technology has helped New Zealand excel when funding falls short.
Keynote speaker, award-winning cyclist and America’s Cup winner Simon van Velthooven shared that using the right technology has given him an advantage over his competitors, even if it’s just a placebo effect on his mentality.
“When you know you’ve got good gear underneath you, you feel like you’ve got a better chance than what you had before to get the result you desire or deserve,” he says.
“When you believe in the kit you’ve got, you go that extra one percent to win a race. If you don’t believe in it and go in with a negative attitude, that is the biggest hurdle.”
ATEED’s Ford says she hopes people have come away from Techweek either inspired to do something in technology or with technology, or to learn more about technology.
“The key point is it’s so satisfying and encouraging to see how Techweek’s grown so rapidly in a very short space of time. It shows how tech orientated we are as a city and a national community.”