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Spark* Finalists Display Diverse Talents

Spark* Finalists Display Diverse Talents Of Tomorrow's Business Leaders

An eclectic lineup of new business ventures has made the final of spark* The University of Auckland Entrepreneurship Challenge.

Biotechnology software, oyster farming technology, new ways to produce and market Indian food, flat hunting website, weather forecasting technology, an English-teaching product for Koreans, two advanced engineering technology products and a new specialty retail concept are among the 10 finalists [A full list of the finalists, including brief descriptions of their ventures and key person contact details, is attached to this release].

The student-led initiative, aimed at turning first-class ideas into world-class businesses, is based on highly successful competitions at the University of Cambridge and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The finalists, announced at a gala event at the University last Friday evening, were chosen mainly on the overall commercial potential of their ventures. The 20-person judging panel included successful New Zealand entrepreneurs, technology experts, venture capitalists and industry sector specialists.

Head judge, experienced international entrepreneur turned venture capitalist Mark Edwards, says the talent on show made choosing the finalists extremely difficult. He says a number of those that did not qualify will make very good businesses.

"The University, and the Postgraduate Students' Association in particular, have done a great job in integrating themselves with the wider community through spark*. They've attracted a strong panel of local judges representing entrepreneurs, executives, government sector and representatives and venture capitalists to support the programme."

Cambridge Entrepreneurship Centre Director Peter Hiscocks, who has advised the University on spark*, says the finalists have the potential to make a difference to New Zealand.

"These are ventures with potential to boost growth and lift New Zealand's economic performance."

More than 100 participants spread across 41 teams - including students and staff from several University faculties, together with outside business practitioners - entered their "new venture summaries" in spark*'s $40K Challenge. The finalists will be rewarded with extensive mentoring over the next three months to help them develop their ideas into robust business plans.

The winning team, which will be announced on October 23, receives a prize valued at $30,000 with the runner-up receiving $10,000. The prize money must be used to develop the proposed ventures. As an added bonus, all finalists have the opportunity to present to angel investors and venture capitalists.

Spark* was launched in May with a free course run over 13 weeks called "Vision to Business." The course's popularity forced the Business School to move the sessions temporarily to the bigger premises of the Auckland Town Hall. Taught by Business School staff and real world practitioners, the sessions delivered to more than 500 students and staff from throughout the University the kinds of entrepreneurial skills needed to foot it in the business world - such as choosing a business idea, understanding intellectual property rights, marketing and financing a venture.

As well as the $40K Challenge, a concurrent $10K Challenge provides chosen students and staff with the opportunity to prepare a short business profile on their enterprising ideas. The 10 winners of this competition will each receive $1000.

Spark* is run by The Post Graduate Students Association (PGSA) in conjunction with The ICEHOUSE, The University of Auckland Business School and foundation partners: ASB BANK, Microsoft New Zealand, New Zealand Trade & Enterprise, The Edwards Charitable Trust and UniServices Ltd.

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