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Hands-Free Driving Wins Entrepreneuship Challenge

The Ultimate In Hands-Free Driving Wins Entrepreneuship Challenge

A university-based business developing a fully autonomous robotic driver has sped away with the top prize in Spark The University of Auckland $40K Entrepreneurship Challenge.

Team Grand Challenge picked up $20,000 and a tenancy at The ICEHOUSE business incubator, valued at $10,000, at Spark’s prize giving ceremony held in the Alumni Marquee on the lawn of Old Government House on September 27.

The ceremony also saw 10 teams each win $1000 in Spark’s $10K Challenge and six teams take home $1000 for their ideas aimed at achieving social or environmental change in the Spark Aspire Challenge. (Full details of all winners and description of the challenges is attached)

Aimed at turning first-class ideas into world-class businesses, Spark offers students and staff free seminars to develop skills around creating a business and the chance to test their entrepreneurial ventures while competing for a share of a total prize pool of $60,000.

Grand Challenge was launched in November 2004 to compete in the DARPA Grand Challenge – a 175-mile, Pentagon-funded race for robots in the Mojave Desert – for a US$2 million prize. Out of almost 200 entrants in the 2005 race, they reached the quarter finals before lack of resources forced them to withdraw.

Their entry into Spark centred on the commercial applications for robotic drivers and the team already has plans for their product to be used in specialised warehouses.

The Spark win will go a long way in helping them reach the 2006 DARPA Grand Challenge finals, develop their drivers for industrial uses, and achieve their vision of creating a global centre of excellence in robotics, here in New Zealand.

Spark $40K Challenge runner-up and winner of $10,000, team Auximedic, were applauded for their temperature regulation product that can control human temperature against environmental conditions, through heat transmission.

The product has already attracted the interest of the New Zealand Defence Force and St Johns for its potential use in the emergency treatment of people caught in extreme conditions.

Spark Chief Executive Manoj Patel says in just its third year, Spark is already a highlight of the University calendar and the past few years have seen a significant growth in the spirit of entrepreneurship among students and staff.

“Spark has played a key role in stimulating an entrepreneurial culture here at the University, which is spreading through all faculties and building our connections with the external community,” says Manoj.

“The challenge impacts on many more people that just entrants. This year more than 100 people from the business community contributed as judges, mentors and speakers in the free 15-week Vision to Business seminars, workshops and the intensive qualifiers’ ‘boot camp’.

“It is really exciting to see the development of so many new initiatives and ventures brought about because of the support and mentoring all entrants receive as part of Spark.”

Spark was established to foster the growth of a culture of entrepreneurship, build links with the business community and to encourage the creation of value from the host of innovative ideas developed within The University of Auckland.

Spark is a student-led initiative of The Postgraduate Students Association, in conjunction with The University of Auckland Business School and its affiliated business incubator The ICEHOUSE (International Centre for Entrepreneurship). Spark is supported by gold partners: ASB Bank, Auckland Uniservices Limited, Microsoft, New Zealand Trade and Enterprise and The Edwards Charitable Trust, in addition to the silver supporters AJ Park, Lion Nathan and the School of Graduate Studies.


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