Five minutes with…. Jesse Keith

Jesse has been involved in the C-Prize since its earliest days. We sat down with him to chat about the contest, and what it could mean for the winners

Jesse Keith is the Group Manager of the National Technology Networks (NTN) team at Callaghan Innovation, and is a central C-Prize team member. His background is in product design and creative strategy, and he loves bringing clever design solutions to the market.

What’s your role in the C-Prize?

I manage a group of technology leaders who play a pivotal role in choosing the direction of the C-Prize. We were behind the drones theme for the 2015 contest, and I was one of the original people to scope up the wearables theme for this year.

I am passionate about technology translation and storytelling, finding new capabilities, and creating new ecosystems, here in New Zealand. Really, the key question that drives me and my colleagues in the NTN team is, how can we showcase R&D capability? Whether that R&D expertise comes from a student or a business, how can we get them in front of the right industry representatives? The C-Prize is central to all of that.

Why wearables?

We really wanted to pick a hot topic, but also one with a lot of breadth that allowed as many people as possible to be part of it. It actually started off much narrower this year – our original idea was to focus only on sports tech wearables.

But after many internal discussions, and several external workshops, we decided to broaden the scope, which is what led us to the three tracks we have today – Play Smarter, Live Healthier, Work Safer. I think this final one is particularly interesting – NZ has a pretty poor history in workplace safety, with too many accidents per capita. So, I hope that we see some interesting tech come out of the prize under that theme.

What lessons did you learn from the 2015 contest?

I think the biggest thing that came out of it was that the format worked! Can we run a technology challenge? Can we get people interested? Can we get people to register, submit ideas and then commit to the whole program? The answer to all of those was ‘yes’. We had a couple of teams that turned into companies too, and that's a pretty powerful recognition of the contest’s success.

Another thing we realised was that we needed to do more around the intellectual property strategy for teams, as some people were reluctant to take part because they feared losing their IP. The key thing to say is that Callaghan doesn't take any ownership over it, and this year, the finalists will also get access to stage one of the Callaghan Innovation IP programme, which is incredibly valuable.

What would you say to those deciding if they’ll enter the contest?

Just do it! What’s being set up as a pretty powerful platform for people to build their ideas from, and it will be very exciting to go through that whole journey. In terms of tips? I’d say that people need to be creative about their application. It needs to come from a mix of technology perspectives, so be sure you have a team from diverse backgrounds

At this point in time, the application is a conceptual one – we don’t need a fully functioning prototype right from Day 1! We’re looking for a great idea, a strong team, and an achievable plan of how they’ll turn that idea into a prototype.

The opportunity being offered to finalists is amazing. The amount of resource that's being pulled together, the prize pack, the boot camps… they will offer a really powerful learning and development experience. They’ll get access to experts, and they’ll build a network that they didn't have before. I don't think there are any downsides!