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New Focus for University Challenge

March 11, 2005

Social Entrepreneurship A New Focus for University Challenge

This year’s version of Spark The University of Auckland Entrepreneurship Challenge has a new flavour aimed at encouraging social entrepreneurship.

Spark CEO Manoj Patel says Spark, now in its third year, keeps getting bigger and better, so much so that the Spark team has added to the existing $10K and $40K Challenges, and increased total prizes to the value of $60,000.

“The Spark Aspire Social Entrepreneurship Challenge is aimed at encouraging entries focused on encouraging social change and environmental responsibility to improve society. It is ideal for people who have an idea that would really make a difference to the local or global community,” says Manoj.

Aspire aims to foster and showcase social entrepreneurship at The University of Auckland and in the broader public arena.

“Unlike the other Challenges, venture ideas submitted do not necessarily need to be for a profitable business. Instead they must have the potential for social or environmental change, and the goal to be self-sustaining within three years. Potential income may come from generating business revenue, gaining investment and sponsorship, or receiving donations and grants.” says Manoj.

“Ultimately, we want to mentor and develop at least one team to enter the Global Social Venture Competition – a partnership of Haas School of Business, Columbia Business School, London Business School and The Goldman Sachs Foundation.”

Aimed at turning first-class ideas into world-class businesses, Spark 2005 was officially launched last night at The University’s Fale Pasifika. Over 600 people attended the event and were entertained by guest speakers Geoff Ross, CEO and founder of 42 Below Vodka, and University of Auckland Vice-Chancellor, Professor Stuart McCutcheon.

A student-led initiative of The Postgraduate Students Association, in conjunction with The University of Auckland Business School and The ICEHOUSE, Spark fosters innovation and the creation of viable businesses across New Zealand through the free Vision to Business Seminar Series, mentors, and workshops, helping entrants turn their bright ideas into commercial enterprises.

“Last year the $10K and $40K Challenges attracted hundreds of participants and support for the concept is really catching on. Spark’s reputation is growing and this year we are helping the University of Canterbury and the University of Wollongong to start their own competitions,” says Manoj.

Last year’s $40K Challenge winner Telemetry Research developed a product for wireless monitoring of physiological signals using radio frequency technology. Runner-up was mykidsbiz, an entrepreneurship programme for students aged under 19.

Both companies have joined 2003 Spark alumni Spraycontrol and Contactless in business accelerator The ICEHOUSE.

Telemetry spokesman Simon Malpas says Spark has been a huge boost to the business.

“While we already had our product, developing it into a viable commercial venture would not have happened without the mentoring and advice we received through Spark and now through our ongoing support at The ICEHOUSE.

“Small businesses can easily get bogged down in the detail – producing business plans, managing finances, developing marketing collateral and addressing legal concerns. Both the Vision to Business seminars and having a business mentor helps us cut through a lot of that and concentrate on our research and product development.”

In April, Telemetry Research plans to introduce its product to a world congress on experimental physiology and biology, or as Simon puts it, “the world’s largest gathering of our target market”.

Teams competing in the $10K Challenge submit a business profile from their enterprising idea, which could win them one of ten prizes of $1000. More advanced teams can enter the $40K Challenge which requires them to produce a more extensive business plan. Finalists receive extensive mentoring and the winning team receives $20,000 plus time in The ICEHOUSE, valued at $10,000. Spark Aspire is offering five prizes of $1000 cash and a grand prize of $5000.

Finalists in the $40K Challenge will be announced in June and all winners announced in September.

Spark’s gold sponsors are ASB BANK, Auckland UniServices Ltd, Microsoft, NZ Trade and Enterprise and The Edwards Charitable Trust.


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