Idealog looks back: The top 10 entrepreneurs and innovators that caught our eye in 2014

Idealog looks back: The top 10 entrepreneurs and innovators that caught our eye in 2014
Here are some new (and old) innovators and entrepreneurs who made waves in their chosen industries in 2014 – and were featured in our pages (web and/or print). This is our (relatively random) pick among the ones that caught our eye.

Disclaimer: The choices for the top ten were endless, so don’t be too mad at us if you’re not on the list. 

This list is in no particular order 

Vaughan Rowsell - Vend
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- Twitter

Founder of one of New Zealand’s fastest growing software companies, Rowsell is an inspirational individual who not only has an impressive moustache and is the CEO of a business that is one of the coolest places to work (see: Vend lets employees bring their dogs to work) he is the founder of OMG! Tech, a series of high-tech workshops for kids, particularly those from low-income families. Having being raised by a wheelchair-bound mother who was on a benefit and mortgaged her home in order to let her kids have the latest tech, he wants New Zealand’s next generation to be given the opportunity to invent, explore and innovate with tech. The workshops aim to develop the biggest ideas in the youngest Kiwi minds. This, as well as his accolades of founding Vend and being a member of the TradeMe alumni (He was CTO of Vianet, which became TradeMe’s Travelbug) has earned him a spot on our list.

Dr Michelle Dickinson - AKA Nanogirl
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- Twitter

Singlehandedly destroying stereotypes about women in science and tech, Dickinson is a force to be reckoned with. And she reckons with forces through nanotechnology by “breaking tiny things” in her lab. Nanotechnology is science, engineering and technology around extremely small things (less than 100 nanometres in size, when one nanometer is a billionth of a metre). She doesn’t just understand nanotechnology, she explains it to ordinary people in YouTube videos and lectures with ease and runs New Zealand’s only nano medical testing lab. The technology has the potential to make objects invisible, generate electricity through sweat, and make surfaces really waterproof, and Dickinson is busy exploring that.

Dr Mark Sagar
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Dr Sagar, a two-time Oscar winning engineer who has worked on the rendering of Hollywood blockbusters such as Spiderman 2, King Kong and Avatar, is revolutionizing the world as we know it. After developing a keen interest in how to use artificial intelligence to bring emotion to avatars’ faces (think the range of emotions shown on King Kong’s face), Agar is now hoping to instill this artificial intelligence technology in airports. In the future, flight attendants and airport check in staff could be cleverly designed avatars that read a range of emotions and respond depending on the mood the person they’re assisting is in. Designing internationally recognized, groundbreaking tech that’s capitalized on by other industries besides movies earns Agar a spot on our list.

Frances Valintine - The Mind Lab
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- Twitter

Former marketing director of Auckland Zoo, Frances Valintine, co-founder of the Media Design School and founder/chair of The Mind Lab by Unitec, takes a spot in the list for being all kinds of awesome. Valintine won the best start-up award at this year’s Talent Unleashed awards for her latest baby, The Mind Lab. Steve Wozniak and Sir Richard Branson judged the awards earlier this year, with Valintine later getting to go to the Branson Centre for Entrepreneurship in Cape Town, South Africa. The Mind Lab is a creative learning space that aims to give both teachers and kids the skills to equip them for the rise in technology in the 21st century, something she’s incredibly passionate about.

Joshua Harrington - MEPO
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- Twitter

Harrington is an entrepreneur who has already accomplished a fair few things in his 18 years of life: he’s a self-taught web developer and designer and was part of many startups while at school, including his latest venture, MEPO (Manage Education Platform Online), a startup weekend idea from last year that has taken on a life of its own and won this years Invercargill Startup Pitch Competition. MEPO is an education management platform for students and teachers to use. Though not officially launched, the idea is in the pipeline and soon to be released and Harrington was named a rising star at this year’s Talented Unleashed Awards.

Anna Guenther - PledgeMe
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- Twitter

PledgeMe founder Anna Guenther earned the respect of the Idealog staff and our Twitter followers when we learnt company employees sometimes wear their onesies to work on Wednesday. Human-sized dinosaurs and pandas are known to roam the PledgeMe office, making it a contender for one of the coolest workplaces in New Zealand (it’s no surprise the aforementioned Vaughan Rowsell of Vend was a funder). All this aside, Guenther is one of the pioneers of the crowdfunding movement in New Zealand and was inspired to start up her company when she saw how much it was taking off in the US and now she is helping Kiwis to fund their dreams.

Rollo Wenlock - Wipster
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- Twitter

Apart from having a seriously cool name, Wenlock is a Kiwi entrepreneur carving a name for himself on the world stage with his company, Wipster, a cloud-based video collaboration platform that resembles Soundcloud, but for video format. People coming together on a video project can comment and give real-time feedback. Coming from a background in commercials, films and music video, Wenlock spotted a gap in the market for sharing edited videos. He’s now being courted by Microsoft’s BizSpark Programme, as well as note-taking software heavyweight Evernote, which wants to incorporate videos in its note sharing functions.


Gabe Davidson - Wellington Chocolate Factory
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- Twitter

One of Wellington Chocolate Factory’s two co-founders, it’s hard to find a person more passionate about chocolate than Davidson. His passion to change an industry dominated by monopolies is eye opening – just take a look at his Tedx talk in the article above, where he likens the chocolate industry to having the potential of the wine industry in terms of flavours. The chocopreneur’s factory is the first in New Zealand to show the bean-to-bar process to the public, making him Willy Wonka-esque. It may also be the first factory in the 21st century to embark on an epic, crowdfunded sailing trip to seek out a new flavor of chocolate to make a brand new bar – the company just recently reached its $36,000 Kickstarter goal to get them to Bougainville. Choice.


Lani Evans - Thankyou Payroll
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- Twitter

Taxes aren’t an enjoyable pastime for most, but Evans, the CEO of Thankyou Payroll, is innovating one of the most mundane tasks known to man – and creating good from it. She says she runs a generosity-based business in the form of Thankyou Payroll. The company uses a government subsidy to pay their staff and takes care of organisations and small businesses taxes for free, so they can concentrate on the more enjoyable things in life. Meanwhile, up to $5 per company per payroll goes toward the Thankyou Charitable Trust, which goes towards different community funds in New Zealand. Evans calls herself a community worker and an adventurer. She is also the co-chair of the trust and is a past recipient of the Vodafone World of Difference, The Good For Life Scholarship, The National Geographic Adventure Grant and Rotary’s Group Study Exchange.


Kayne Horsham - Kaynemaile
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- Twitter 

The guy behind the aptly named ‘Kaynemaile’ seamless meshing company had to fight to get his business up and running – seven companies turned him down before No.8 took him on to develop his prototype. Horsham has an interesting past – he previously was the art director for creatures, armour and weapons on The Lord Of The Rings movie, making chainmail for characters like Aragon. But after being frustrated because the traditional chainmail was weak where the rings join, he came up with an improvement – an innovative seamless mesh that’s both flexible and strong. Kaynemaile was highly recommended in the Innovation in design and engineering category at the New Zealand Innovator Awards earlier this year and his product is being used worldwide.