Te Papa drops a cool $1m into innovation hub

Te Papa is launching its own entrepreneurial residential programme. Its goal: to find the Next Big Thing for the museum – and the world.

A new entrepreneurial residential programme and innovation hub is set to soon make waves in Wellington. What’s especially interesting is that this idea isn’t coming from a spunky startup or insurgent innovator, but straight from the establishment itself: Te Papa.

Te Papa launched its innovation hub, “Mahuki” on April 20. The name translates as “perceptive”, and relates to ideas that spring to the mind, and to the wellspring of inspiration.

Te Papa chief executive Rick Ellis is outright bullish on what he says is about tapping into the creativity of New Zealanders.

“In the next four years our renewal programme will see us make the most dramatic changes to the museum since opening,” he said.

“We have done our homework and we know there is a need to support innovations for the cultural sector, both globally and locally. Mahuki is a place where New Zealanders can develop the ‘next big thing’ for the New Zealand cultural sector, and export it to the world.”


Image: Te Papa Chief Executive, Rick Ellis launching Mahuki on it's opening night

There’s big money involved, too. Te Papa will invest about $1 million to establish Mahuki, with that money covering things such as housing the facility within Te Papa’s office space, supporting 40 entrepreneurs while they work, and helping the entrepreneurs access international networks when their innovations are market-ready.

The entrepreneurs at Mahuki will work directly with Te Papa, with the chance to market-test innovations with visitors to the museum.

That has Ellis more than a little excited.

“Te Papa has always been a creative powerhouse, and working with these exciting companies will bring new ideas into the mix.”

About 40 entrepreneurial residents will form Mahuki’s first “class” beginning this August. The entrepreneurs will spend a four-month intensive residency developing innovations, with Te Papa taking a six percent equity stake in companies. Residents will also receive $20,000 per company while they work in the hub.

Ellis said that while the business model for taking innovations to market will depend on individual circumstances, Te Papa could directly purchase innovations if it decided they met the museum’s needs.

“The kinds of innovations we are looking for will enable New Zealanders to access their national collections in new ways, and activate new kinds of storytelling,” says Ellis.

There’s already examples of innovations produced from similar incubators that have worked elsewhere around the world. In New York, the Cooper Hewitt pen lets visitors to the Cooper Hewitt Museum “collect” artworks during their visit, which they can later use to research artworks further. Findings can also be shared on social media, allowing visitors to effectively “curate” their own collection from the museum.

And some big business players are also helping get Mahuki off the ground. Vodafone New Zealand is pumping $150,000 into the venture, which Vodafone head of enterprise business Andrew Fairgray said is a smart investment.

“Vodafone is passionate about innovation, and we believe in opening up new opportunities to Kiwis through technology,” he says.

“We’re excited to see what ideas will come out of Mahuki, creating new digital pathways for New Zealanders to access their national collections.”

While it remains to be seen what comes out of Mahuki, applications for residency close on June 9.

Ellis is pulling no punches in his hopes.

“Mahuki will create incredible new experiences to touch the hearts and minds of New Zealanders,” he said.

“When we see old soldiers in their eighties poring over a 3-D digital map of Gallipoli with tears in their eyes – that’s the kind of impact we are looking for.”


Image: Te Papa is opening up it's collection to entrepreneurs as part of the innovation hub, Mahuki