Bright Sparks nurturing Kiwi talent

Tech-savvy young New Zealanders are pitching their inventions up and down the country for the ASB Bright Sparks competition.

Since 2000, ASB Bright Sparks has provided a unique opportunity for young minds across the country to tap into their tech potential. Past winners have taken up positions at companies such as Google and Microsoft.

The Skills Organisation administers the annual tech-education initiative. ASB announced it was signing on as principal sponsor in April this year. The Skills Organisation chief executive Garry Fissenden says having ASB on board is a boost to the competition.

“Technology is changing rapidly and it’s encouraging to see companies embrace and understand its role in our lives, allowing us to create newer and more advanced tools.”

ASB executive general manager technology and innovation Russell Jones says this year’s competition has more opportunities for all young tech minds.

“For 2016 we’re excited to expand the entry categories, and with males comprising of 95 percent of current entrants, there is a real focus for both organisations to encourage significantly increased female participation this year.”

Sophie Crispe, who won first prize at teh 2015 ASB Bright Spark awards for her brain injury app. 

Entry categories this year include science, engineering, environment and software.

Since it began, 2000 Kiwi kids have participated in ASB Bright Sparks and developed software such as a brain injury tracking app, an app that makes it easier to dispense the exact amount of product from bulk bins at the supermarket, and a window-cleaning robot.

A share in a $10,000 prize pool is on offer for all the winners. Macleans College student Kerman Kohli was in year 11 when he put together his proposal for the competition.

Kohli started coding at age 12 and decided in 2014 it was time to put down his thought process on paper and present his project.

Kohli developed The Homework app after he searched the app store for a product that would help him get his homework in on time.  He couldn’t find exactly what he was looking for so he decided to make it himself.

“There were already apps that do similar things but they weren’t up to the standard I wanted them to be. It doesn’t matter that similar apps already existed, there’s always room for innovation.”

Since Kohli was awarded a Bright Sparks prize in 2014, the app has been downloaded more than a million times and is used in 124 countries.

“Bright Sparks was useful for the proposal experience because I’d never done that sort of thing before and it was also great exposure for what we’re doing.”

His huge success has opened some doors for his future, including an internship as an iOS developer for multinational conglomerate Landmark Group, which is based in Dubai.

Kohli has his sights set on studying computer science at an Ivy League university, but for now he is trying to balance running the app with studying for NCEA Level 3.

Entries for the 2016 ASB Bright Sparks competition open until September 28.  All finalists then attend an awards ceremony in November.