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Ara Becomes Official Partner Of The Orion Energy Accelerator Programme

Ara Institute of Canterbury and its new commercial ‘Research Hub’ have been chosen to act as one of seven partners providing services and support to start-ups participating in the prestigious nation-wide ‘Orion Energy Accelerator’ programme.

As the owner and operator of the electricity distribution network that covers central Canterbury - one of the largest networks in New Zealand – Orion New Zealand is highly motivated towards improving how power is generated, transmitted, stored and used.

This year, the company - which is a community-owned entity with two main shareholders, the Christchurch City Council and the Selwyn District council - has partnered with key Canterbury start-up incubator Ministry of Awesome to rally engineers, students, dreamers and innovators towards a vision of a new, low-emission national power paradigm.

The ‘Orion Energy Accelerator’ initiative seeks to take on the significant technological and economic challenges involved in reducing the electricity sector’s greenhouse gas emissions, while supplying sufficient electric power for a global economy that’s predicted to grow four-fold by 2050 with citizens pursuing ever-higher standards of living.

Because of the wide variety of possible approaches, technologies and priorities, potential solutions must draw upon a range of expertise and experience, and be rigorously evaluated in terms of their technical and financial viability.

Accordingly, invitations have gone out nationally for start-up proposals designed to help Aotearoa in its quest towards a low-emission energy future. These new businesses will work to develop real-world innovations in areas such as smart power grids, novel power storage methods or devices, EV charging and smart energy-saving construction.

From the received submissions, 11 startups will be chosen to join a 7-week mentorship-focussed programme with Ministry of Awesome, which also includes workshops and profile-raising activities. Each participating group will work on validating their ideas and progressing them towards commercial readiness. All startups in the programme will have the opportunity to present at a ‘Demo Evening’ where the two teams judged most promising by industry experts will receive ‘Orion Startup Grants’ worth a combined $25,000. Suitable startups will have the chance to work with Orion as a customer or partner, and perhaps receive an equity investment from a pool worth up to$100k from Orion.

Jacob Varghese, Head of Innovation at Ministry of Awesome and the Accelerator Programme Head says “The Orion Energy Accelerator is designed to produce start-ups which can be commercialised within the next two years. Ministry of Awesome will work with Orion to support them through their validation and development journey. The whole structure of the Accelerator is also designed to direct critical investment and industry feedback towards these formative businesses, which is also an important part of getting them rapidly on the path towards commercialisation and successful operations.”

These fledgling companies will additionally get to work alongside some of the brightest talent in the New Zealand energy sector, and gain access to Orion resources and its Expert-in-Residence, as well as the various areas of expertise offered by Programme Partners.

Ara is lending more than one variety of expertise to the programme, with Dr. Michael Shone, Ara’s Head of Research acting as an official Partner programme mentor within the Accelerator. Additionally, Ara’s research capabilities will be available to successful start-ups.

While Ara has had impressive research capabilities for many years, the recent accreditation as a research provider by New Zealand’s IRD and the 2021 launch of the ‘Research Hub’ means that the Institute is in an even better position to assist companies working with new technologies.

Dr. Michael Shone says “Ara lecturers are highly qualified with extensive applied research experience, and are widely respected for their practical and quality research outputs. Our researchers have also over the years fostered very close relationships with local industry sectors, which has enabled us to complete multiple industry-sponsored research projects in recent years.”

The new Research Hub will be able to make an important contribution to the ongoing development of sustainable low-emissions power generation, transmission, storage and use in New Zealand, via its engagement with the new start-ups coming through the Accelerator programme. The Hub will also benefit Ara learners, as its presence opens them up to the most up-to-date findings and technical innovations in areas ranging from electrical engineering through to creative arts. The commercial capabilities of the Hub also offer learners yet another way to directly access opportunities to work for, network with and study alongside the next generation of innovation-focussed New Zealand organizations.

Jacob comments “I’m thrilled to be able to bring in these talents and resources from Ara, and I foresee that the Research Hub will make a meaningful contribution to the successful ‘graduation’ of these start-ups.”

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