Idealog's Guide to Tauranga: Innovation heroes in the bay

There’s no shortage of entrepreneurial minds in Tauranga. The region is made up of a network of talented individuals, from a determined scientist who’s changing the way primary schools teach science, to a man who’s taking the world’s first electric farm bike to the world.

Chris Duggan

Chris Duggan, the founder of the House of Science (HOS), is a woman on a mission. The idea for HOS came about in 2014, when she was working as a secondary school science teacher and was becoming concerned at the number of kids coming through her classes lacking a basic knowledge of science. 

She soon found that primary school teachers felt ill-equipped to teach it, so she launched into action with the creation of boxes full of easy-to-use science equipment and a set of instructions to follow and distributed them to a few local schools. 

In three years, it has grown into a nationwide movement that creates a safe, fun place for kids to experiment, explore and investigate science. 

Each box has its own theme, such as nano-chemistry or plants, petals and pollination. The theme of each box is also linked to the education’s curriculum, preparing the younger generation for what they’ll learn later in high school. 

Duggan says part of the effectiveness of HOS is that there’s no additional training required for teachers or kids who use its boxes.

“We provide resources presented in such a way that anyone can pick them up and teach them – they don’t need any background knowledge, so it’s self-sufficient,” Duggan says. 

Nearly every Western Bay primary school uses the resources, and the model is now being recreated throughout the country. 

Duggan says establishing a science education at an early age is incredibly important because it equips children with the ability to question things. 

“By fostering this curiosity and getting kids to think like scientists wondering about the world around them, we’re training kids to be the future innovators,” Duggan says. “One of the things the scientific-literate community is identified by is being able to have robust conversations about social scientific issues. For example, ‘Should I vaccinate my children?’ 

“We’re losing that ability to question people’s opinions. By raising the scientific literacy, the whole community will insist on evidence rather than be swayed by emotion, which is very easy in this social media world we live in.” 

With an impressive CV that ranges from founding Locus Research, creating reports on innovation for the government, to consulting on products and business development for the likes of Fisher & Paykel Healthcare and Boeing, Tim Allan definitely has his fingers in a few innovative pies.

His latest venture is as the CEO of Ubco, a company that makes electric farm bikes as an eco-friendly alternative to the motor-powered kind.

The idea was originally presented by Daryl Neal and Anthony Clyde at the 2014 Fieldays event where it snagged an innovation award. Allan was the convenor of the event and the invention caught his eye.

“Often with product development it’s quite intuitive, if you look at something and viscerally think ‘wow, it’s got something,’ it’s quite often right,” he says.

He collaborated with the pair through Locus Research to develop the idea further. Allan stepped up into the fulltime role of CEO of Ubco Bikes in 2016 and has helped it go on to receive $3.95 million in its series A funding round.

While creating the world’s first electric farm bike is exciting, it’s also been very challenging.

“I specialised in complex product development – stuff that’s new or doesn’t exist – and Ubco is definitely that kind of product,” Allan says. “It’s a two-wheel drive electric bike, which doesn’t exist, so every market you go into that’s both a problem and an opportunity.

“Whenever you’re taking something that’s quite disruptive and first to market, you have to do a bunch of things differently to achieve that, and it places a lot of challenges on the technology, the manufacturing and consumer education.

“Now, two years down the track, we're actually getting talked about at boardroom tables and at farms and getting into people’s consciousness.”

And the demand for a recreational, on-road version from users and industries such as tourism and law enforcement has meant another version of the bike is in the works. He says the trick to getting an idea like Ubco off the ground is to take a creative approach to all areas of business, and not take no for an answer.

“Many people have told us you can’t do a deal at our age and stage. It’s not my job to listen to that – it’s to make sure that our creativity comes through at the business level because unless you’re prepared to do things differently with developing a new product, you won’t make it. Creativity’s pivotal to how a whole business behaves,” he says.