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Innovate Whanganui Final Night Announced

They’ll be putting their hearts, heads and hopes into their final pitches when Innovate Whanganui’s Top 7 finalists stand before the judges and compete to take home the event’s $10k prize.

The night has been set for September 2, when the NZ International Commercial Pilot Academy airport hangar will house the dreams and ambitions of an impressive group of contenders – along with judges, mentors, special guests and the public.

Tasked with selecting five top finalists from a pool of twenty, judges at the first round of Innovate pitches were so impressed they opted to add two wildcards to the number.

Competitors faced a room of more than twenty judges, across two pitch nights, last month. They each had two minutes to get the judges a diverse range of business people, community leaders, professionals and creatives, inspired by their innovative idea.

The atmosphere was tense for competitors and exciting for the judging panel, Tim Easton, Whanganui & Partners Strategic Lead – Business, said.

“There were a few false starts and a few pitch lines forgotten, it was a real testament to the seriousness of the environment and the high stakes for these entrepreneurs,” Easton said.

“They all have something exceptional and worth backing, they know how worthy their ideas are but this type of competition really puts self-belief to the test and creates extraordinary outcomes.”

Whanganui & Partners is delivering Innovate in collaboration with The Factory, a Palmerston North collective made up of experts at getting ideas off the ground, launching start-ups, and helping businesses grow. The Factory has worked with and supported over 10,000 business founders.

Adding two wildcards to the Top 5 was not in the plans but the move complements the unique nature of this thrilling competition. Innovate has set rules and guidelines but, as The Factory’s Dave Craig told competitors, innovation is about pushing boundaries and doing what others consider impossible.

Innovate’s Top 5 have each received $3000 towards getting their idea humming and, along with the two Wildcards, are midway through a 8-week programme of one-on-one mentorship.

Easton says the 10-week accelerator programme is testing the competitors in ways they didn’t expect, creating robust business models and providing inestimable value through highly competent mentors.

The Factory’s Dave Craig says being well versed in the facts and figures around their innovations is important, but it’s the storytelling aspect of the pitches that makes all the difference.

“They need to start to weave the story, the why, and they need to do it in the language of the customer. Getting the customer to understand they need this innovation, to believe in it, that’s the Holy Grail right there.”

So who are the Top 7? Locals Ben Blain, Brad Kirkland, Mike Petersen, Vaughan Campbell, Lauren Peat, Steven Tier, and a pair made up of Sarah Stephens and Sam Duncan have all made it into the Innovate accelerator programme and are now building their business plans and intensely preparing for their final pitches.

Easton says the Top 7 and their innovative ideas will be profiled in the upcoming months. “We have such a great group of people and they have wildly different ideas and incredibly varied backgrounds. We can’t wait to divulge more about them.”

At the Innovate Whanganui Final, the Top 7 will each have five minutes to pitch to the judges and hundreds of spectators in a high-pressure final bid for entrepreneurial excellence.

The winner will collect $10,000 and help from The Factory. If that top Innovate idea is deemed impressive enough, the winner will also have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to pitch to the MIG Angels, Manawatū's angel group community.

Tickets are now available for the final night. Go to to book.


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