Diversity in age, gender, language and culture was the theme for this year's Hi-Tech Awards at Horncastle Arena (Photo: The Heather & Doug Records)

At the 2018 Hi-Tech Awards, diversity was the winner on the day

The winners of this year’s Hi-Tech Awards showcased how New Zealand isn’t just good in tech, but good for tech as well, with gender diversity and cultural inclusion taking centre stage more than ever before. 

Whether it’s tall poppy syndrome or just genuine humility, New Zealanders are pretty terrible when it comes to shouting about our own success. But that certainly wasn’t the case on Friday night as almost 800 people – a crowd rivalled only by the Crusaders vs. Hurricanes match right across the road – gathered at Christchurch’s Horncastle Arena for the 2018 Hi-Tech Awards, a night for celebrating the top tier of New Zealand’s fastest growing industry.

As lasers, smoke machines and choir ensembles graced the stage in a display of audio-visual excess, you’d be forgiven for thinking the whole thing was a bit of a ruse for some indulgent fun. But beneath all the glitz and glam was a celebration of something a lot more meaningful as the role of diversity and inclusion in helping enable New Zealand’s burgeoning tech sector was on display for the whole room to see.

Jennifer Rutherford, chair of the Hi-Tech Trust, opened the night with a speech in te reo Māori before urging the audience to consider what they could do to encourage a more diverse tech sector to close the gaping digital divide (“digital inequality is the new measure of poverty,” Minister of Government Digital Services Clare Curran stated earlier in the evening). Vic Crone, CEO of Callaghan Innovation, followed Rutherford later on with a speech entirely in te reo, while Healthcare Application’s Morris Pita (winner of Most Innovative Technology Solution for the Public Good), and Straker Translations’ Grant Straker (winner of Best Hi-Tech Māori Innovation) both extolled the virtues of culture and language.

Callaghan Innovation’s Hemi Rolleston leads a haka in honour of Straker Translation’s win (Photo: The Heather & Doug Records)

There was also a record number of women on stage with Staples VR’s Aliesha Staples (Hi-Tech Young Achiever of the Year), Figure.NZ’s Lillian Grace (Hi-Tech Inspiring Individual of the Year) and tech veteran Claudia Batten (2018 Flying Kiwi) taking home the top individual awards for the night. “What makes me so emotional is that so far tonight, there’s been so much te reo Māori and so many women. It’s so different from 10 years ago,” said Grace during her speech.

The other big winners for the night were Dexibit, which won two awards for its data-driven solution for museums and galleries, and Invenco, which was named Hi-Tech Company of the Year for its self-service payment systems and cloud services.

Invenco was also up for nomination for the Most Innovative Hi-Tech Service Award category alongside Serko’s Zeno platform and Healthcare Applications’ Emergency Q app. But all three nominees were eventually beaten out by Beca’s Beacon System – a real-time post-seismic event alerting service that assesses earthquake impacts on physical assets such as buildings and other infrastructure.

Kiwibank’s Tracey Berry poses with the Beca team after winning the award for most innovative hi-tech service (Photo: The Heather & Doug Records)

Born out of the lessons learnt following the 2013 Seddon and Cook Strait earthquakes and the 2016 Kaikoura earthquake, the win seemed particularly poignant as Christchurch – the epicentre of one of the most devastating natural disasters in recent memory – continues to struggle with the infrastructural impacts of the Canterbury earthquakes back in 2011.

The judges said they were impressed by Beca’s “passion and commitment for dealing with human anxiety in times of great distress. Their digital product provides timely information on the post-disaster status of buildings, modernising and enhancing a traditional service and bringing it into the digital world. Their entry is a case study on how the benefits of embracing new technologies and work practices can move a company forward.”

What all the winners on the night had in common was the way they emphasised how much technology could improve real human lives. Beca’s Beacon System alerts people of the most hazardous areas after an earthquake, while Healthcare Applications’ Emergency Q app makes hospitals faster, better and more efficient. Banqer – which won Hi-Tech Start-up Company of the Year – was praised by the judges for exemplifying this exact spirit, applauding their goal of “educating the leaders of tomorrow”.

Financial literacy platform Banqer wins Hi-Tech Start-up Company of the Year (Photo: The Heather & Doug Records)

Figure NZ’s Lillian Grace put it best during her speech: “I don’t wake up at night worried about my technology. I wake up at night thinking about how we live in a country where people are still cold, still lonely, still disconnected and don’t know what to do with their lives. Our role is [to change] that… because while a lot of the things we build are great and it can be fun to be thrilled by the tech that we build, that’s not why we’re here.”

Tech is infamous for creating solutions in search of problems, but the winners of this year’s awards showcased how New Zealand isn’t just good in tech, but good for tech as well. The industry today is healthier than ever and the continued focus on purpose rather than achievement has a lot to do with that. Inspirational video montages and choral harmonies aside, the Hi-Tech Awards proved it was about a whole lot more than just smoke and mirrors.

2018 Hi-Tech Awards Winners

Xero – Hi-Tech Young Achiever of the Year
Aliesha Staples

Visa – Most Innovative Technology Solution for the Public Good
Emergency Q by Healthcare Applications Ltd

IBM – Hi-Tech Inspiring Individual of the Year
Lillian Grace

ATEED – Most Innovative Hi-Tech Solution for the Creative Sector
Dexibit

Callaghan Innovation – Best Hi-Tech Maori Innovation
Straker Translations (Highly Commended: Code Avengers)

Duncan Cotterill – Most Innovative Hi-Tech Software Solution
Dexibit

Endace – Most Innovative Hi-Tech Hardware Product
Enatel

Kiwibank – Most Innovative Hi-Tech Service
Beca

Quick Circuit – Best Contribution by an Internationally Headquartered Company
IBM

NZTE – Most Innovative Hi-Tech for the Agritech Sector
Gallagher Group

New Zealand Venture Investment Fund – Hi-Tech Start-up Company of the Year
Banqer (Highly Commended: Code Avengers)

Coretex – Hi-Tech Emerging Company of the Year
Ask Nicely

PwC – Hi-Tech Company of the Year
Invenco


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