Idealog takes a looky at Mahuki, Te Papa's new innovation hub

Te Papa's innovation hub, Mahuki, has launched. Could it be the Next Big Thing for the museum and NZ's cultural sector?

It’s no secret that business incubators seem to be the big thing in Aotearoa at the moment. Name the location or industry, and odds are that someone has an incubator – or maybe two.

It’s not just the private sector that’s gotten onboard the incubator train, either. Wellington’s own Te Papa has also jumped on board with the launch of Mahuki.

The idea of Mahuki – which means 'perceptive' and relates to ideas that spring to the mind – is a relatively simple one, says innovation hub general manager Tui Te Hau. “These types of hubs can really invigorate and add vibrancy to organisations,’ she explains. “We see the opportunities being in both enterprise and [museum] experience. The calibre of the teams and their ability to execute is the most important of all.”

Ten companies from throughout New Zealand will be based in Te Papa for the incubator: Point Zero, AdCloud, Gamelab, IPSL, Time Limited, Dot Dot, Koha, Craftmapper, Openwindow and In-Depth. The companies, some of which relocated to Wellington specifically for the incubator, were selected from 34 entries that were received.

Point Zero is one of the companies that’s doing some particularly interesting things. The company’s core business focuses on 3D visualisation and interactive holograms, for which founder Chris Mather has been in talks with potential clients around the world. In short, interactive holograms allow users to control virtual 3D objects with touch screens or gestures, similar to Tony Stark in his Iron Man labs. In a museum like Te Papa, though, interactive holograms would allow visitors to better visualize complex science and technology concepts.

Wellington-based Gamelab is another company at Mahuki pushing the boundaries of innovation. The company already has more than 15 years of experience in the gaming industry, focusing on combining pedagogy with game development to inspire young people in science and technology. Lead Dan Milward says the company plans to especially focus on the idea of creating learning resources themed around curatorial and science work, developing museum-based discovery centres and technology stations using online build-your-own games platform Gamefroot.

Dot Dot is relocating from Auckland for the incubator. Operating in interactive entertainment since 1999, Dot Dot will concentrate on addressing the challenges of using VR hardware and software in a public environment. Led by Chris White, the company plans to develop a custom un-tethered headset and a platform that will enable developers to programme 3D exhibitions for a fraction of the cost of traditional exhibitions.

Mahuki entrepreneur-in-residence Tim von Dadelszen says big things are expected of the companies taking part in the incubator, regardless of the fact that Te Papa has poured about $1 million into the incubator, as well as $150,000 from Vodafone New Zealand. “It’s something that the teams will get really excited about.”

The opening of Mahuki comes as Te Papa undergoes the most extensive renovation in the museum’s history. Having a museum-based incubator may be a first for New Zealand, but it’s not a world-first: a number of prominent museums, such as the Smithsonian, the British Museum and the Met, all have their own incubators.

Te Hau, who was involved in setting up the Lightning Lab business accelerator, says having the incubator physically based at Te Papa presented numerous advantages. “These types of hubs can really invigorate and add vibrancy to organisations,” she explains, adding being able to tap into Te Papa’s extensive professional network and expertise are direct benefits for the companies involved.

Von Dadelszen says there’s another advantage for Te Papa, too. “Most museums at any given time have five percent of their collection items on display. Technology allows that other 95 percent to be brought to life.”

The incubator helps connect New Zealanders with “their treasures and their stories,” Te Hau says. The initial programme will run until December – but she says that won’t be the end of Mahuki. “This is an ongoing, enduring relationship.”

And she can’t stop gushing about the companies they’ve brought on board.

“I’ve been absolutely blown away by the calibre of the companies coming into the programme. They’re going to be doing exciting, amazing things.”