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Celebrating 15 years of Velocity

The little startup that could: Celebrating 15 years of Velocity

Velocity - the University’s student-led entrepreneurial development programme – is celebrating its 15th birthday and the successes it seeded.

Velocity (formerly Spark) was born of a big idea: to transform New Zealand into a growing and prosperous nation by reshaping its economy.

‘Godfather of Velocity,’ Geoff Whitcher, helped drive its creation. “Velocity was a recognition that creating a knowledge-based economy required more than a lift in spending on research and development. It also demanded a new breed of graduate - one who is innovative, entrepreneurial, business-savvy, globally connected and capable of having both an economic and social impact.”

Over the past 15 years, Velocity participants have ignited more than 120 ventures, attracted over $220 million in investment and created more than 700 jobs in more than 35 countries. Among the successes:

PowerbyProxi (wireless power technology). Fady Mishriki and Kunal Bhargava, then engineering students, were part of the team behind a design for wireless power that earned them runner-up in the inaugural 2003 Challenge. Four years later, Mishriki and entrepreneur Greg Cross formed PowerbyProxi to commercialise the technology, with Bhargava as engineering manager. Within six years, the company had built more than 50 wireless power applications for Fortune 500 companies.

Tectonus (earthquake protection). 2015 Challenge winners Tectonus patented their novel ‘seismic joints’ that allow buildings and other structures to return to their original position after earthquakes and aftershocks. The state-of-the-art earthquake protection was used in Nelson’s new airport. CEO Pierre Quenneville was formerly Head of Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Auckland.

Green Spot Technologies (alternative flours). School of Biology academics-turned-entrepreneurs Silas Villas-Boas and Ninna Granucci were runners up in the 2015 Challenge with a fermentation technology that has been developed to make nutrient-rich alternative flours from fermented fruit and vegetable pulp that would otherwise go to waste. This year, the company moved to France on the back of $1.2 million seed funding.

Students, staff and Velocity alumni and supporters shared their stories of the programme’s impact at Velocity’s birthday celebration.

Wendy Kerr, Director of the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE), reflected on the success of the programme and its impact on the University’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. “We’ve done a lot of work over the last 15 years, creating business-savvy STEM graduates, which was at the heart of Velocity’s creation. The incredible growth of the CIE would not have been possible without the foundation that Velocity has built.”

Engineering graduate Tina Tian, COO of technology start-up Blackhawk Tracking Systems and Velocity mentor, credited the skills and knowledge she developed through Velocity for her success today. “Joining Velocity remains one of the best decisions I’ve made – the skills I gained are invaluable and I wouldn’t be where I am without these. We are a really innovative country, but there is gap in our ability to commercialise all the cool things we invent – Velocity is instrumental in being able to close that gap.”

Law graduate Lucy Xie is passionate about social impact and used Velocity as a platform to launch her own social enterprise. She cited her winning Velocity Ideas Challenge submission as the most important essay she wrote as a student. “At the time I had no idea it was going to change the course of my life. I’m still on my entrepreneurial journey and I want to thank the Velocity team, because I’m exactly where I’m meant to be.”

Associate Professor Greg O’Grady has entered a number of Velocity challenges, and won prizes in the $100k Challenge twice. “I try to get as many of my students involved in Velocity as possible. It expands their horizons, gives them a vision, and leadership and team-work skills. It gives them confidence to build products that can make a tangible, direct difference to someone’s life. Velocity inducts them into a culture of entrepreneurship that gives them the feeling they can have an impact and change the world.”

The new Velocity CEO for 2019, Nick Goldstein, has just recruited a team of 32 students who will take the lead in 2019 for what promises to be another outstanding year.


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