Two burglaries, two engineering students and one competition

Not many people can say their business took flight after their house was burgled. But that’s how ‘The Hatch’ was born, says University of Canterbury Engineering graduate and Wireless Guard CEO Taylor Howatson.

Howatson and university mate Anthony Lefebvre-Allen were burgled on separate occasions, both due to having a door or window unlocked.

"Christchurch post-earthquake has gone through radical innovation and the city is looking for more talent."
Julia de Blaauw, BlueNotes contributing editor

Spurred on by this life event, they thought there must be a solution in the market to prevent home invasions and automate home security.  It turns out there was virtually nothing – at least nothing within a student’s budget.

They dreamed up ‘The Hatch’ - a small, affordable, door sensor that connects wirelessly to existing home security systems and tells you when your doors or windows are unlocked. You can then connect via your mobile phone or any other device remotely to make sure your house is secure.

Howatson and Lefebvre-Allen entered their prototype into the 85k challenge in Christchurch, an entrepreneurial competition established by student-run company Entre and sponsored by ANZ aimed at helping Canterbury students build their entrepreneurial skillset, improve their problem solving skills and start businesses.

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Wireless Guard: Taylor Howatson, Jacob Kohn, Gabriel Eden & Anthony Lefebvre-Allen. Pic: Supplied.

Winning the 85k challenge started them on a path which has taken them to the United States, to speak with some of the world’s biggest companies.

SOMETHING BREWING

Howatson and Lefebvre-Allen’s story is just one example of the changes emerging in Christchurch since the 2011 Earthquake, according to Dr Rachel Wright from the Centre for Entrepreneurship at the University of Canterbury.

Christchurch businesses were more inward focused and traditional, but “Christchurch post-earthquake has gone through radical innovation and the city is looking for more talent” she says.

According to Alex Hannant, CEO of Akina Foundation, a nationwide incubator for social enterprise, the massive disruption caused by the earthquakes has created space for people to come in and do new things.

It’s these kinds of gaps that make new models of entrepreneurs highly visible according to Hannant. “There’s a movement or a narrative there that “we’re building our future”, he says.

Christchurch is set to host the Social Enterprise World Forum next year – the biggest conference in the city since the earthquake and the first time the forum has been held in Australasia.  But the innovation certainly doesn’t stop there.

“Since the earthquake we are seeing a flourishing of social entrepreneurship and enterprise in Christchurch”, says Hannant, “But we’re also seeing it in Wellington, Auckland and the regions. There is a groundswell across the country”.

Statistics are thin on the ground, but in the last year alone, Akina has supported more than 800 social enterprises at various stages of development across New Zealand, and brokered more than $NZ1.6million NZD through a new impact investment readiness program.

The Ministry of Awesome, an accelerator programme supported by the Christchurch Council are up to their 163rd ‘coffee and jam’ session, where individuals pitch ideas and inspire each other. They’ve also assisted around 300 individuals through their Christchurch activator programme in the last 1.5 years alone.

THE KEY TO SUCCESS

Key to success is the fact innovation is becoming more international in New Zealand.

“The differentiator is not necessarily how many people are seeking to do it, it’s about the innovation infrastructure we put in place to enable more people to succeed” Hannant says.

“We understand how to create the conditions for innovation now, so it comes down to a question of investment – the more we put in, the more successful innovation we’ll get out”.

Structure was something critical to success for Wireless Guard as well. According to Howatson, it was the opportunity to think about the business side of their idea rather than just messing around at uni on the technology side of things that really helped them make Wireless Guard a reality.

“University is the perfect time to start playing around with this kind of thing” says Howatson.  “As a student you’ve got plenty of time, as well as labs and equipment at your disposal. The thing about Entre was it was all wrapped around a business structure. It gave us milestones, goals and deadlines”.

Converting ideas into a commercial reality has required thinking outside the box.

“We originally thought we would go direct to the consumer here in New Zealand but it was evident early on this would be hard to scale” says Howatson.

“The internet of things market is so saturated and there are so many big players. The logical option for us was to focus on our Intellectual Property and our point of difference”.

This way, the Wireless Guard team can look at how the Hatch could fit with the product suites of some of the world’s household brand names like Samsung or Google.

Entre and ANZ

Entre is a student-run, not-for-profit, limited-liability company begun 12-years ago in Christchurch.

ANZ is an ongoing platinum sponsor of Entre, providing sponsorship funds, expertise, networks and financial services. ANZ staff are mentors to some of the competitors and to student members of the Entre executive.

Other Entre success stories include: Polar Bear Farms, the world’s first app development company, and Little Yellow Bird, an ethical corporate uniform supplier. 

Julia de Blaauw is a contributing editor at BlueNotes

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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