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Innovation ahoy: Challenger Series open for entries, calling for innovative business ideas in Dunedin and the Deep South

A new competition for start-ups is the latest event designed to give a boost to innovation in the lower South Island. Say hello to the Challenger Series.

It seems just about everyone is doing start-up competitions these days. But not everyone is doing one where three businesses can win up to $65,000 worth of prizes – and, more importantly, get coaching advice from some of New Zealand’s top advisers and businesses. And even less likely still is to have such a competition at the bottom of the South Island.

Dunedin has launched a competition to find the city (and the lower South Island's)’s most promising start-ups, with entries now open for the Challenger Series.

As part of the competition, three start-ups can each win up to $65,000 worth of services. If that’s not enough, they can also nab a place in a four-month coaching series featuring Deloitte, Gallaway Cook Allan, Startup Dunedin and local and national entrepreneurs. 

Startup Dunedin chairperson Sarah Ramsay says aside from helping individual start-ups, the competition can help the local economy in Dunedin and the broader Otago/Southland area – and inspire others to think of the region as a place where innovative ideas can take hold. “Challenger is designed to identify our top entrepreneurs with global potential and fast-track their business ideas,” she says. “Start-ups are an important contributor to the future economy of the city, creating jobs across all sectors. Even now, Startup Dunedin is supporting innovations in everything from physical products to the gaming industry, software as a service and artificial intelligence.”

Enterprise Dunedin business development advisor Chanel O’Brien expands on that. She says a big goal of the Challenger Series is to create jobs and develop talent in the lower South Island. “Talent attracts talent and we’re expecting great interest in the programme because Dunedin is a thriving start up ecosystem,” she explains. “Start-ups are growing in Dunedin because of the proximity to a burgeoning talent pool within the University of Otago and Otago Polytechnic, gig speed connectivity (the fastest in the Southern Hemisphere), the rise of creative and well connected work spaces, and a collaborative business culture.

“Whilst all sectors of the economy make a valuable contribution, there is an opportunity to build on a broad ecosystem of start-up businesses and investors, and to build scale in exporting facing sectors where we have growing capability and real advantage. This includes health technologies, biotechnology, primary processing, education, tourism, niche manufacturing, engineering, ICT and creative content.”

She also emphasises the opportunity of collaboration with a variety of organisations. “The value of initiatives like Challenger, includes the opportunity to collaborate with private and public partners such as Callaghan Innovation and Creative HQ,” explains O’Brien. “This will support the growth of start-ups, increasing visibility in Dunedin and around the region, nationally and internationally, as a place to innovate and invest, and seeing where we have complimentary areas of specialisations that create real regional advantages and a point of difference.

The competition format itself is fairly straightforward. After applications close on July 7, judges will whittle down the list, and up to 20 selected entrants will pitch their ideas to a panel of local entrepreneurs. Once selected, the final three entrants will spend four months working with a panel of experts, mentors and investors preparing to become investor-ready –  and also get $15,000 in loot (including a $5,000 credit with Deloitte, $5,000 credit with Gallaway Cook Allan, $2,500 credit with Air New Zealand, and a $2,500 marketing budget).

Deloitte partner Mike Horne and Gallaway Cook Allan CEO Matt Gorman are both pretty excited about the potential. As Gorman says: “Like they have in the past, start-ups will also be our city’s future.”  

Enterprise Dunedin Economic Development Programme Manager Fraser Liggett says start-ups are playing a key role in boosting Dunedin by providing employment and increasing incomes. “We are sure Challenger will be a success and hope the winners of this competition could be among our leading innovative export companies in the future.”

The competition is the latest initiative to kick-start innovation in the region. In late April, the latest edition of Startup Weekend Dunedin took place. For that event, entrepreneurs came together to for a 54-hour long event to share ideas, build products and launch a business.

There’s a past history of great innovation in the region, too: after all, the Deep South (Invercargill, specifically) is where instant coffee was allegedly first developed.

Entries for the Challenger Series can be made here.

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