Young Innovators tackle Covid challenges

The Young Innovator Awards (YiA) are a highlight of the local secondary school calendar. The awards bring together some of the smartest minds of Generation Z and the next generation of innovators, entrepreneurs, and game-changers.

Since 2010, more than 3000 students from across the region’s 11 secondary schools have entered their creative solutions to real world problems, developing their innovation skills to thrive in our rapidly changing world. 

Senior Innovator – Alaya Callinan Photo Credit: Salina Galvan Photography

Head judge of The Young Innovator Awards, Jono Jones (Chief Product & Innovation Officer at Bluelab) said Covid-19 saw the Young Innovator Awards team change the structure of the challenge, with this year’s students tasked with creating solutions to problems created by the lockdown.

“Lockdown created a massive number of social and business problems which in itself created new opportunities for innovation. Of course, added to the mix, was the challenge the students themselves faced by being in lockdown meaning they had to be extra creative when it came to sourcing information. 

“The lockdown saw the normal three month window became a five week sprint for the young innovators to develop ideas. The end result? We’ve been completely blown away by the brilliant and creative solutions to many of those challenges.”

Intermediate Innovator –
Noah Ball
Photo Credit: Salina Galvan Photography

Winners of each category were: Noah Ball, Aquinas College (Intermediate Innovator); Claire Ma, Aquinas College (Junior Innovator); and Alaya Callinan, Otumoetai College (Senior Innovator). 

Reuben Woods, Managing Director at Woods Agency, has been a supporter of YiA since inception.

“The Awards really fit our own vision and culture of creativity and innovation. We have a massive passion for our region; our business community are leaders in innovation, so it’s natural to start looking to the next generation to help teach them the process of being innovative. 

“The calibre of the judges we’ve had over the years is testament to the kudos the awards have built over the last decade. We’ve had big names like Sir Paul Callaghan, Wade Flanagan – innovation developer for Nike, and Andrew McKechnie – creative director at Apple. These brilliant innovators freely give their time because they see the massive value that these Awards bring to our young people. 

Junior Innovator – Claire Ma Photo Credit: Salina Galvan Photography

“I’m humbled by the level of maturity of these young people, the problems they’ve identified and the innovations they’ve ideated. I’d like to see the same model applied elsewhere in the country – and I’m looking forward to the next decade of being involved in the Awards.”

Celebrating its tenth anniversary, YiA was founded by Priority One’s Instep programme, aimed at providing opportunities for budding business and social innovators to connect with some of Aotearoa’s best in sector. 

Andy Howells, Priority One’s Instep Manager says “the YiA programme would not have been possible without the support of local secondary schools, business partners – Woods Agency, Bluelab and Cucumber; and sponsors – Bayfair, Beca Tauranga, Page Macrae Engineering, Robotics Plus, Tauranga City Council and University of Waikato. Success has come about because of collaboration around a shared vision to help support the next generation of innovators in our community”.  

Judges L to R: Claire Swallow, Vaughan Fergusson, Melissa Woods, Dr Rosie Bosworth, Alex McCall, Jono Jones.

The 2020 awards, held at Mount Classic Flyers, hosted 300 students, parents and invited guests. MC for the evening was former Otumoetai College graduate, entrepreneur and founder of Nude Greens, Alex McCall. 

The 2020 judges were: Co-head judge, Jono Jones, chief product & innovation officer at Bluelab, co-head judge, Clare Swallow, human centred business advocate and owner of Mulberry St; Melissa Woods, owner Salt of the Earth Packaging; Vaughan Fergusson, self-professed weirdo and do-er of impossible deeds (and founder of global point of sale company, Vend); and Dr Rosie Bosworth, a journalist, keynote speaker, academic research, entrepreneur and a sleuth of other hats. 


Intermediate Innovator | Patience, Noah Ball, Aquinas College

Second place: The Hand Bag, Amy Evans & Maddie Hunt, Aquinas College

Third place: Chart Check, Cuba Luka, Aquinas College

Junior Innovator | SOAP, Claire Ma, Aquinas College 

Second place: Relax-A-Balls, Holly Van den Borst & Mila Laurie, Aquinas College

Third place: The P.O.D. App, Erin Moore, Aquinas College

Senior Innovator | CheckD, Alaya Callinan, Otumoetai College

Second place: ECOurier Box, Issac Jarden, Aquinas College

Third place: Street Shop, Sarah Latus, Otumoetai College

People’s Choice

Intermediate:The ConnectUS Wall, Monique Faire & Aurelia James, Aquinas College

Junior: Hands On, Jack McClutchie, Aquinas College

Senior: ProtectU, Piper Gregory, Elise Oxenham & Stephanie Samson, Aquinas College

Category Winners

Communication: SOAP, Claire Ma, Aquinas College

Sustainability: ECOurier Box, Issac Jarden, Aquinas College

Creativity: CheckD, Alaya Callinan, Otumoetai College

Research: Street Shop, Sarah Latus, Otumoetai College