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Here’s eight creative New Zealand women you should know about

We celebrate women every day here at Idealog, but we also won’t pass on an excuse to roll out a list of inspiring women more people need to familiarise themselves with. So in light of March being our Creativity Month and today being International Women’s Day, here’s eight trailblazing women making New Zealand a more imaginative and innovative place through their work in tech, design, start-ups, urban design and more.

  1. Ezel Kokcu

Ezel Kokcu is a 25-year-old that’s making the rest of us look bad. No, really. While some her age fend off the thought of a quarter-life crisis, Kokcu has carved out her own career in STEM from the tender age of 18.

In high school, she found little to no encouragement to get into tech. “I remember filling out a questionnaire in high school about what kind of profession you should get into and I got physiotherapist,” she previously told Idealog. “I didn’t even do sports, I just wanted to be creative.”

So instead of following the traditional educational route, to the horror of her parents, she dropped out of University to co-found her first business, STQRY. It received funding from one of the most reputable venture capital firms in the US and raised $5.5 million in capital.

Her third business, Passphere, an event and ticketing analytics platform, launched two years ago and says it has an exciting announcement coming on Monday, so watch this space.

  1. Maru Nihoniho

Not many can claim they’ve made it onto a Forbes list, but as of 2018, the 46-year-old Nihoniho can boast that accolade. Nihoniho is a game developer and the founder and CEO of award-winning company Metia Interactive, which she founded in 2003, and was named on Forbes’ Top 50 Women in Tech.

The trailblazer was the first woman to found a gaming company in New Zealand, which has gone on to produce games that have a key focus on increasing wellbeing and helping youth – and in particular, Maori youth – with different issues they’re facing.

These games include SPARX, an interactive game which was designed to help rangatahi (youth) with depression, won the 2011 United National World Summit Awards and the 2013 Unesco Netexplo Award in 2013, and Tākaro, which aims to get more young people into STEM. Nihoniho’s win as Innovator of the Year in the 2017 MCV Pacific Women in Games Awards from Microsoft Xbox.

Alongside running Metia Interactive, Nihoniho is a mother-of-three, a director of Circle of Care, which she says is a software that monitors and manages moods and provides insights, and is completing a Tech Futures Lab Masters’ degree.

  1. Emma McInnes

In the architecture and engineering industries, often the voice that is the loudest is the one that’s pale, stale and male. The New Zealand Institute of Architects (NZIA) has found that just 20 percent of all registered architects are women, while the Association for Consulting and Engineering Professionals (ACENZ) reports that around 16 percent of the current engineering workforce are women.

But while the bulk of those designing living and urban spaces in New Zealand cities are men, Emma McInnes is one of the co-founders of a movement called Women in Urbanism aiming to change that, and open up the discussion of the future of our cities to a more inclusive, diverse audience.

Women in Urbanism was formed last year to create conversations around gender, urbanism, transportation and housing, all through a woman’s lens. It has already made significant strides in cycling advocacy and safer cities, setting up a children’s Toy Library, a playspace, and children’s book reading sessions for PARKing day, lobbying to make Auckland’s city centre car free, hosting events like Pump Tracks Are For Girls too, an initiative to get more young girls on a pump biking track.

McInnes juggles running Women In Urbanism alongside being a design and communications consultant at MRCagney, writing the occasional column for Idealog and delivering searing burns to Mike Hosking (see Q, ‘What should be uninvented?’)

  1. Bonnie Brown

While some may accuse us of being a little biased to name our 2018 Blunt Umbrella Competition winner in our list of some of New Zealand’s Most Creative women, we say you are wrong, as ever since the 23-year-old won this hotly-contested competition, she has gone from strength to strength.

Brown is a talented freelance designer who admittedly wasn’t sure if her love for drawing could translate into a prosperous career.

“I had studied architecture as a bit of safety net in that it combined creativity and promised more job security than pursing art,” she previously told Idealog. “Coming from a very low-income family, the financial security was appealing, but I’ve since realised that a lot of success just comes down to hard work, and luck, in any field.”

However, Brown wasn’t feeling fulfilled working at an architectural firm and in a very Millennial fashion, begun sharing her illustrations on Instagram through the handle @Studio.Bon as a creative outlet.

She has since proven that you can be a young creative doing your thing independently in New Zealand and make a living for yourself. She now has an audience of over 5000 hanging off her every design, and has had brands both in New Zealand such as Innocent Packaging, Miss FQ Magazine, PR company Showroom 22, as well as overseas companies, working with her.

What’s more, she just took a risk and launched an independently quarterly print publication called Counter Journal. Who said print was dead?

  1. Kate Darby

Kate Darby is the brains behind the podcast you may have seen popping up recently on Idealog’s channels, Design Work. A third-generation agency director and designer, the twenty-something first cut her teeth in the design world by freelancing making Bebo skins as a teenager.

Since then, she’s racked up a more professional career, working with hot-shot clients at agency Resn, getting a first-class honours degree in design, and has now moved into the entrepreneurial space and co-founded Dovetail X with her father and design industry sage Simon Darby.

Dovetail X is a SaaS platform for creative agencies and tech teams that allows them to build projects remotely. It has a focus on growing the freelance economy in the creative industry and has studios using it software across the globe, which led to Darby getting out in the community and hearing about the challenges of modern-day designers.

Off the back of this, she recorded Design Work, an 11-episode podcast that interviews designers hailing from around the world, the problems they face and how they embrace new modes of working. It’s a fantastic insight into the ups and downs of the design world, told from a New Zealand perspective."

“I wanted to highlight the fact that there’s no ‘right way’ to be a creative and give people the confidence to design their own creative careers around what they’re passionate about,” Darby previously told Idealog.


6. Anna Dean

If you don’t know Double Denim co-founder Anna Dean, she’s a woman you should get to know. The 41-one-year is one gracious, warm and creative half that heads up Double Denim, a creative agency that has in-depth research into the economic and emotional lives of New Zealand women and works with brands to unlock the power of the untapped female economy.

She, alongside co-founder Angela Meyer, are passionate evangelists for all things that empower women. Alongside their work with brands at Double Denim, they host workshops in Wellington to help women understand their power, such as educating women on how to be financially savvy. Meanwhile, Dean and Meyer also co-manage the Ace Lady Network, an online Facebook page that shares news that affects women to a 5000-strong audience.

“We’re extremely excited and enthused to see how the international conversations about equality are moving forward (despite occasional moments of backlash). We now have more women connected online than ever before and this means the dominant narratives are changing,” she previously told Idealog.

  1. Lillian Grace

As the world moves into increasingly digital times, the significance of everyone being able to understand and democratise data cannot be overstated. Which is why as the CEO and Founder of Figure.NZ, Lillian Grace is doing very important things with information architecture here in New Zealand by making it accessible to all.

The company designs and develop technology, processes data and conveys it in an easily digestible manner, while also educating people on how to use its platform, from running workshops for big private and public sector organisations to running classes for six-year-olds.

“We’re the first in the world to assert everyone should be able to use data, not just the experts, so our mission is unique,” she previously told Idealog.

Grace previously had her finger in many pies: she was on the Data Futures Partnership Working Group, the Open Government Partnership Expert Advisory Panel, and the boards of the Innovation Partnership and of Centre of Research Excellence Te Punaha Matatini.

She has since resigned from these positions to focus purely on Figure.NZ, as well as learning Te Reo Māori.

  1. Emily Heazlewood

Emily Heazlewood is the 24-year-old woman behind Romer, an app that she describes as a Tinder for unique experiences, where people can find the perfect cocktail, waterfall walks in a specific area and more.

The idea came to her when she was traveling for work between Wellington, Auckland and Melbourne, so she’d ring friends or I’d reach out to people I knew who knew hotspots for activities to go do.

Heazlewood has also been putting in the hard yards to get her idea off the ground and recently closed a funding round of $250,000 from backers. She also went through the Vodafone Xone accelerator last year, and she’s also attracted prominent business partnerships from the likes of AA Traveller and Christchurch NZ.  

Keep an eye out for her in Idealog’s Elevator Pitch, out next week. 

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