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Tech, science and M?tauranga M?ori: Vic Crone and Ian Taylor on the NZ Hi-Tech Awards and greater M?ori representation in tech  

By this point in time, it’s pretty well established the NZ Hi-Tech Awards are among the most prestigious innovation and tech awards in Aotearoa. Year after year, the competition to take out the top prizes gets fiercer – and the 2019 edition is shaping up to be no different.

But that doesn’t mean one should shy away from entering – in fact, the increasingly high profile of the Awards is precisely why it is a good idea to enter, as it means more exposure and potential for financial benefit and access to networking and mentoring.

One of the most prestigious awards at the Hi-Tech Awards is the M?ori Hi-Tech Award. With record numbers of people of M?ori heritage engaging in R&D and making up nearly half the finalists in this year’s New Zealander of the Year Awards – including the overall winner, Mike King – the Hi-Tech Kamupene M?ori o te Tau (M?ori Company of the Year) is a chance to stand out among peers and help get recognised at a time when the world is starting to pay more attention to innovation in Aotearoa.

One person particularly pushing for more entries is Animation Research’s Ian Taylor. Taylor, who was named New Zealand’s Innovator of the Year – says greater M?ori representation in this year’s New Zealander of the Year Awards was a milestone, but overdue. He says there’s much more that needs to be done – including in the innovation and tech space.

“It shows what’s possible for M?ori, who for decades have been missing from mainstream achievements,” he says. He adds he was thrilled two of the finalists for the innovation category in this year’s New Zealander of the Year Awards were M?ori.

“I think the fact that two out of the three finalists in the New Zealand Innovator of the Year awards this year were M?ori sends a powerful single to our young people, our rangatahi. It reminds them that innovation is in their DNA. It’s a reminder that their ancestors sailed across the largest body of open water on the planet to this land, were astronomers, astrologers, scientists, designers, innovators. And that this is a world where they belong, where they bring a different world view.”

But M?ori and Pasifika remain under-represented in every aspect of science and technology. Taylor says M?ori businesses need to reach out and inspire, while iwi could pay a bigger role in investment.

“More iwi investors need to recognise that these sectors will provide the high-value jobs our children will need to engage in,” he says.

“While it may seem hard to understand, they should stand tall in the fact our ancestors led the world in technology and innovation.”

Taylor believes Government support from organisations like Callaghan Innovation and NZTE has been a key factor spurring M?ori innovation. He says the establishment of a M?ori Economy team at Callaghan has been of particular help.

“By setting up a specialist M?ori Unit inside its operation, Callaghan Innovation has embraced the vision that this country will be stronger by acknowledging the power that the indigenous culture brings to our future,” he says.

“More importantly, this wasn’t a token gesture, it was driven by a genuine belief that there was another way to look at science, technology and innovation. In less than five years we are seeing the results of the vision.”

‘We can’t continue being typical shy kumara’

Callaghan Innovation CEO Vic Crone says the number of M?ori businesses the agency works with has increased by about 20 percent for each of the last three years. “From almost zero, we now work with over 115 technologically complex and ambitious M?ori businesses, and more of these are in our high-growth portfolio with global reach,” she explains.

She adds: “Five years ago, at the start of Callaghan Innovation, most of the M?ori-led businesses we worked with were in the traditional sectors of food & beverage and agriculture. We are experiencing explosive growth and over the past year we have seen M?ori digital customers come from almost zero, to 25 percent of our portfolio – overtaking agriculture and now on par with the food & beverage sector.”

She says more. “We now have K?kiri, New Zealand’s first M?ori tech incubator; we have young innovator programmes like the P?horo Stem Academy to lift M?ori and Pasifika STEM engagement; and this year we’ll host our third Matariki X Innovation event, having attracted 600 participants last year.

“But the levels of participation are not where they need to be. We’ve got to partner with more M?ori businesses and make sure pathways for M?ori innovators are clear and compelling.”

Listen to this roundtable podcast about K?kiri and M?ori start-up innovation:

Hence Callaghan sponsoring the M?ori Hi-Tech Award. “Since we started the M?ori Hi-Tech Award, we now not only see successful M?ori innovators in this category, but right across all the awards,” explains Crone.

“That’s what’s going to motivate and inspire confidence in others. As my colleague Aroha Armstrong says, ‘we can’t continue being typical shy kumara!’”

Crone says the importance of greater M?ori and Pasifika representation in tech and innovation goes beyond an awards event, however. “Driven by global consumer trends, the business world is having to align with values of katiakitanga (care for environment) and putting people at the heart of what they do,” she says.

“M?ori of course have a real advantage in M?tauranga M?ori.”

As the Hi-Tech Awards website itself says: He mihi maioha. Tirohia te Iotanga ? roto. Ka mate maramara. Ka ora tahiwi. Whakapurua ?tea toto rangatira. Taitea, taik?k? ?riki (find that eternal spark of divinity within. Disregard the peripheral. Retain the essential. Imbibed bloodlines of nobility. Humble beginnings. Noble outcomes).

Entries for the 2019 NZ Hi-Tech Awards close at 5pm on Monday, including for the M?ori Hi-Tech Award, Hi-Tech Kamupene M?ori o te Tau. More information, including how to enter, is available here.

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