Journey, Learnings and Legacy: The story of C-Prize 2017

‘A whirlwind’, a ‘life-changing experience’, and a ‘mental explosion’. We look back at this year’s competition.

This year’s C-Prize was described variously as ‘a whirlwind’, a ‘life-changing experience’, and a ‘mental explosion’ by the finalists. With the winners now crowned, we thought it was time to look back at the entire journey, and take you along with us. To view it through the eyes of the finalists, have a look at this video:

APRIL: We have lift-off!

The inaugural 2015 C-Prize focussed on Unmanned Aerial Vehicle technology for the screen industry. The finalists tackled questions including the ‘droning’ noise of drones, and their stability in high winds. But for 2017, we were keen to set a different challenge, and one that could have an impact on the lives of all New Zealanders.

After months of planning, with input from technology experts, business leaders and academics’, we found our topic. We asked our entrants to design wearable technology solutions that would improve human performance and wellbeing. These wearables should fit into one of three themes, reflecting areas of priority for our society: Live Healthier, Work Safer and Play Smarter.

So, on 3rd April, with the support of our generous sponsors, Southern Cross Health Society, AUT Millennium and Fuji Xerox, we launched C-Prize 2017, and started exploring the wonderful world of wearables.

MAY: Workshopping

After the launch, we began to scour the land, searching for innovators who would take on our wearables challenge. In a series of information events and workshops in NZ’s major cities, we spoke to scientists, designers, and entrepreneurs about wearable technology, and were excited to hear about some of their initial ideas. The entries started trickling in, and even at that stage, we knew it was going to be a tight competition!

JUNE: Expert Insight

We were delighted to invite three leading experts from Europe’s wearables sector to NZ to deliver a series of seminars. Prof Paul Lukowicz splits his time between the German Research Centre for Artificial Intelligence, and Kaiserslautern University, and is an expert on AI. As one of the founding experts of smart textile company, Clothing+, Mikko Malmivaara has been an active member in the wearables community since 1998. And Prof Robert Riener’s world-leading work in human motion synthesis has given doctors a new generation of rehabilitation robots.

With such diverse backgrounds, these experts provided valuable advice and inspiration to those teams still working on their C-Prize entries.

JULY: Selecting the finalists

As 2nd July approached, the trickle of submissions turned into a flood, with 92 fantastic ideas eventually submitted. Half of all entries were submitted to the Live Healthier category, 30 came under Work Safer and 16 under Play Smarter.

Even with their decades of experience in innovation and wearables, filtering through the submissions was a tricky job for our judges, but on 24th July, they announced the ten teams that made it to the final stages of C-Prize 2017. Alongside the recognition of being named as finalists, the teams were awarded a prize package of $10,000 cash and access to support that would help turn their ideas into a proof-of-concept

AUGUST: Bootcamp #1

Just two weeks after being named as finalists, all ten finalist teams travelled to our Gracefield Innovation Quarter to take part in the first C-Prize Bootcamp. There they heard from some of the C-Prize sponsors, were paired with their Callaghan Innovation ‘buddy’, and met a series of our in-house experts and scientists, to brainstorm their ideas. On Day 2, the teams visited hardware start-up hub, 1st Assembly in Lower Hutt, where they explored rapid prototyping, the science of wearables, and the dos and don’ts of Intellectual Property.

The teams also learned more about the competition process, got some early tips about sharing their story with the judges, and heard more about the successes that followed the finalists of C-Prize 2015. With their minds buzzing, and adrenaline racing, the teams headed home to start working on their wearable.

SEPTEMBER: Keeping notes

Like all good innovators, our finalists kept a record of their progress in a research journal… but this journal was online for all to see! There, the teams regularly reported on their progress, their failures, their successes, and lessons learned along the way.

Through these exclusive Journals, the public were offered a behind-the-scenes look at the process of innovating and inventing that the C-Prize finalists were going through. And they gave us all a tantalising glimpse of the journey you have to go on to turn a brilliant idea into a life-changing product.

OCTOBER: Bootcamp #2

With just six weeks to go until the teams were due to stand in front of the judges, Bootcamp #2 buzzed with excitement. The teams each shared the challenges they were facing, and took advantage of the opportunity to brainstorm with their Callaghan Innovation buddies. The teams also got to visit AUT Millennium’s research labs, and met with Commonwealth Games swimmer, Laura Quilter.

In the afternoon, attention turned to the stories behind their technology, and the teams were put through their storytelling paces by Callaghan Innovation staff. They heard more about the ongoing support that each team would each receive, regardless of the outcome on 1st December, and everyone left feeling excited for the future of their ideas.

NOVEMBER: Judging Day

The 24th November saw the finalists come face-to-face with our panel of judges for the first time. They each had 20 minutes to pitch their idea, share their motivations and future plans, and to demonstrate their prototypes to seven leading experts in health, sport and workplace wearables.

The quality of the pitches highlighted just how far the teams had come in four short months. Judging Convenor, Blythe Rees-Jones, admitted that he was grateful he didn’t have to make the decision alone, and said, “The calibre of the ideas and presentations was staggeringly high.” It was clear that the judges faced an incredibly tough decision.

DECEMBER: Awards Night

The competition culminated on 1st December. Callaghan Innovation staff, industry experts, the C-Prize judges, sponsors, supporters, and representatives from each team all made their way to AUT Millennium for a very special Awards Night. There, we heard from Hon Dr Megan Woods, Minister of Research, Science and Innovation, who told the finalists that they were “key to New Zealand’s future.” The finalists were also treated to motivational video message from Paralympic champion sprinter, Liam Malone, in which he congratulated them on solving important problems faced by real people.

Attendees learned more about each team in two panel sessions, including the fact that one left their precious prototype behind at Bootcamp, and that magnetic fields are rather more complicated than you think. After being presented with a printed version of their Journals, the teams then had a nervous wait to find out which one of them would be taking home the Grand Prize. Callaghan Innovation CEO Vic Crone took to the stage to announce that the winners of C-Prize 2017 were…Uri-Go!

Their wearable sensor uses radio waves to detect how full a person’s bladder is, and Uri-Go co-founder Brendon Hale explained to The Spinoff “(it sits) roughly along the pubic bone belt line, and sends a bluetooth signal to your cell phone for the user to interact with the device… effectively, all user interaction with the device will be through an app on the phone.” Uri-Go’s innovation could change the lives of millions of people living with spinal cord injury, Parkinson’s disease or numerous other conditions.

And they’re only just getting started – as winners, they were awarded $50,000 in cash, along with ongoing support from Callaghan Innovation and NZTE. Their next steps involve forming an advisory board, growing their technical team, and strengthening their IP position, all with the aim of attracting further capital.

Challenge prizes have long been used to find innovative solutions to big problems, but in many cases it’s their legacy that has changed the course of history. Through C-Prize, we brought together a group of innovators, who each wanted to solve a specific challenge that would improve the lives of people everywhere. Sir Paul Callaghan once asked, ‘What greater sense of fulfilment can there be, but to make a difference to the community in which you live?’ Making a difference to the community in which you live, what better legacy can there be for all the finalists of C-Prize 2017