Third Tech Cluster Session – 29. April 2019

For our third Tech Cluster on 29. April at the Library of Whangarei Boys High we had an excellent turn out. So far we have been able to get over 100 Northlanders and visitors interested to join our tech cluster events since we started earlier in 2019.

This time we probably had the most exciting line-up of Northland talent than ever before. This included the speakers and the patrons.

Visitors from as far as the United States, Wellington and Auckland, were matched by amazing talent from Old Paroa Road, Whau Valley Road and Lower Dent Street.

Sheldon White, a local inventor and alumni from WBHS, kicked us off with an amazing rollercoaster ride through one of his inventions. He developed from an initial idea a kiwi fruit packing robot. The way Sheldon approached the technical challenge of picking up plastic crates and separating them automatically from each other was amazing.  He started with a small suction fan, added light detection sensor, built numerous jigs to test his approach, discarded the not working setups, pivoted and came up with new ideas. This iterative innovation process led to a robot which is now  helping to pack thousands of Kiwi fruit everyday. And this is only one of the cool projects Sheldon is working on.

Over the years I have been to a few Better-by-Design, UX design and other customer empathy workshops. What Sheldon explained to us within 15 minutes was more hands-on and practical as those combined. A big thank you to our local star, Sheldon.

The next speaker, Justine Amundson, was no less inspiring. Over twenty years ago Justine started a humble call centre in Whangarei by solving a local business problem. Today A&A employs over 70 locals and is serving customers from as close as Northpower in Whangarei to international hotels, banks, insurances in places like Singapore, London. Justine has developed an onboarding process to bring in unemployed and first time employees into her call centre. Buddying up the new talent with experienced staff, teaching etiquette, the latest customer processes, systems and tools are only some of the strategic training approaches. Justine’s team uses a wide suite of customer relationship management tools including SAP, Salesforce to next tier CRM’s. Latest ICT technology allows serving multiple digital channels from voice-over-IP telephony, email, social media, as well as a seamless handover with artificial intelligence chatbots. Once the local talent has outgrown the A&A call centre, Justine assists them to staircase into bigger opportunities. Her Whangarei talent is working in big organisations around the country and overseas, and some have started their own businesses. She doesn’t call it like this, but A&A looks almost like a textbook tech talent incubator. What an inspiring Northland story.

Maggie Buxton, a recent Whangarillian like myself (only after twenty years or more you are a proper Whangarillian,  I am told …), inspired all of us to get involved in this months pop-up digital project in the Strand Arcade. Please check out StrandLab for more information and get involved. This is one of the many Tech Week 2019 activities happening all around Aotearoa.


We then kicked off our short Lightning Talks:

Will Pearse from Christchurch shared his story how a six week contract in Whangarei turned into a seven year time in the sunny North, two businesses started and running remote IT projects for national and international projects from a lifestyle block in Whau Valley. He shared his highs and lows, insights on how to make friends when you are new up North, as well as how his views on Whangarei and the amazing potential it holds changed. His business IpadHire and other business opportunities are growing for him and his wife. Another worthwhile insight shared.

Ant Backhouse, CEO of the charitable trust “I Have a Dream”, encouraged the audience to get involved and assist the local dreamers to reach their potential. “I Have a Dream” is looking for after school homework assistants, one-on-one mentors for local talent. You can find more information on their programmes in Whangarei on the I Have a Dream website. Please get in touch with Ant, Joby and the crew based at Tikipunga High.

Last, but by no means least, Andrea Ross and Anthony explained how People Potential is assisting locals to upskill into higher value roles. Anthony told his compelling story from starting as a security guard to becoming a cyber security IT expert and tutor. He started with People Potential 14 years ago as a student. His aspiration was to get the job of his tutor. At the beginning it seemed only like a bit of boys banter, but he ended up getting his tutor’s job and then rose within the organisation. By now he has designed and built their multi-campus IT network, has established and improved several of their IT courses, has onboarded new tutor talent and is still teaching new cohorts of local IT talent. Anthony, Andrea and their team are passionate about up- and right skilling Whangarillians. People Potential now employs over 100 locals and is helping thousands to find meaningful roles in Northland.

It is pretty impressive what today’s speaker lineup of this tech cluster session have achieved in terms of positive socio-economic impact.

We will be digging further to share more untold local success stories.

Again, many thanks for those who presented and shared their stories, as well as those who participated in the lively discussion afterwards. A big thank goes to Allister Gilbert, Deputy Principal and Josh Clark, Old Boys Coordinator from WHBS, to host the tech cluster again. You guys rock !!! Thank you for having us.

Please let us know if we missed anything or mis-stated some things.

Many thanks for joining us and we hope to see you at our next tech cluster event on 5. June.

Martin, Dave & Crew


Second Tech Cluster Meeting – 18. March @ Whangarei Boys High, Library

We had a wonderfully diverse group of about 30 tech enthusiasts and interested people joining our second Northland Tech Cluster Meeting on 18. May .


Here the agenda for the day:

5:00 PM  Welcome and Tour of WHBS Labs including CNC machine – Allister Gilbert

5:20 PM  Possible impact of  Hawaiiki Cable and ultrafast broadband for Northland Tech – Duncan Hamilton (Chorus)

Lightning Talks (5 min max!)/ Panel Discussion

Maori Digital Arts & Technology – Te Piha Tipene (InnoNative Business Hub)

Multimodal Transport Demo in Whangarei end of this year – Martin Knoche (Vision Zero, N3T)

Technology Education and Development in Whangarei – George Norris (Developers Institute)

Technology Eco-System in Tai Tokerau – Matt Keane

Creative Technologies in Northland – Maggie Buxton

Inventors Club – Dave Bennett

6:20 PM – Drinks, Nibbles and networking

7:00 PM – Closing

If you enjoyed the event, please tell two new people, bring your partner and friends next time to have a lively discussion on how technology can be an enabler to mobilize more innovation from Tai Tokerau.