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Innovative Crop-Spraying Venture Takes Big Prize


Spark* Winners Announced - Innovative Crop-Spraying Venture Takes The Big Prize

An innovative venture which could revolutionise the way crop spaying is carried out internationally has taken the major prize in the inaugural spark* The University of Auckland Entrepreneurship Challenge. Winning venture SPRAYCONTROL.net is also aiming its technology at other applications.

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

The winners of spark*'s $40K Challenge (selected from eight finalists whose details are attached) were chosen mainly on the overall commercial potential of their ventures. Many have international applications.

SPRAYCONTROL.net wins $30,000 while second-placed Contactless Technologies Limited wins $10,000. The prize money will be used to develop the proposed ventures. SPRAYCONTROL.net also wins a place in The ICEHOUSE, where it will receive mentoring and consultancy support from the incubator/accelerator's business partners, including the University of Auckland Business School.

The judges said overall commercial potential was the key criteria in choosing the winners, but all eight finalists in spark*'s $40K Challenge have the potential to succeed.

The finalists included biotechnology software, oyster farming technology, new ways to produce and market Indian food and a new specialty retail concept.

"All the finalists were very good," noted ICEHOUSE CEO Andrew Hamilton, speaking on behalf of the judging panel. "Picking the top two proved very difficult."

Mr Hamilton says the judge's key criteria were the overall commercial potential of the ventures.

"The Challenge is all about creating a business - not winning a competition. All eight have the potential to succeed."

Cambridge Entrepreneurship Centre Director Peter Hiscocks, who has advised the University on spark*, says all the finalists - not just the winners - 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."

SPRAYCONTROL.net aims to bring together world-class anti-drift and anti-crop disease software with proven hardware technology.

SPRAYCONTROL.net also hopes its remote location technology will be used by a range of organisations as an information gathering and distribution platform for wider commercial and support activities. These organisations could include national and international safety organisations, research institutes, military, tourism operators and sports organisations. The major current application is managing the spraying of farms more effectively, and preventing spray drift. New worldwide guidelines for spray control come into force next year and New Zealand will be the first country to implement these. The guidelines will govern how much spray drift is tolerable during spray applications whether via aerial (planes and helicopters) or ground (vehicles with spray booms) application.

SPRAYCONTROL.net is aiming at the international market, but New Zealand's quick implementation of the new regulations means the domestic market should be an ideal place for product and service trials and wider market feedback under real conditions.

The venture's integrated technology, which includes a weather forecasting device, pinpoints best weather conditions and locations for spraying (via GPS tracking), meaning less spray is needed.

SPRAYCONTROL.net's primary inventor is Patrick Carroll. The manager of a forest establishment company, Mr Carroll is a five-time winner at Mystery Creek National Field-Days for prototypes and new products, and an almost-qualified helicopter pilot. Brett Oliver, the company's business development manager, is an engineering and architecture graduate of the University of Auckland, and a former aircraft design engineer. The management team is completed by Aaron Taylor, a technician within the Electrical and Electronics Engineering Department.

The team behind Contactless Technologies are all University of Auckland lecturers and students. The venture's product is a modular system of 'plug and play' power receiving units, which electronics designers can integrate into their products. This then allows the products to receive power without any wired connection or need to penetrate the products' packagings.

Planned markets, domestic and international, include the marine electronics industry where numerous sensors (for fish finding or depth warning) are mounted on the hulls of ships and pleasure craft below the waterline. The sensors need electric power so have to be hooked up to the boats battery with wires. Common practice is to drill a hole through the bottom of the boat, which is expensive and messy. Contactless Technologies' solution eliminates this by transferring power through the hull of the boat, although this is only one potential application.

Other applications include machine sensors which can inform the operators of heavy machinery the weight of the payload being lifted.

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 were rewarded with extensive mentoring to help them develop their ideas into robust business plans, and the opportunity to present to angel investors and venture capitalists.

As well as the $40K Challenge, a concurrent $10K Challenge provided 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 (list of winners attached).

spark* is run by The Postgraduate 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. The success of the competition has ensured it will be repeated next year.

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