Seven leading experts have joined the judging panel for C-Prize 2017. We’ve asked each of them the same five questions, so that you can get to know them better.
Richard Snow is the Founder & Managing Director of VX Sport, New Zealand’s leading sports tech company. Their system combines wearable devices with PC and cloud-enabled software, and is in use by professional athletes and coaches from numerous sporting disciplines, all over the world. Callaghan Innovation are delighted to have them on-board the judging panel for C-Prize 2017.
- Why is your organisation involved?
Well this year’s theme is about as relevant to us as anything could be! I believe that VX Sport are the oldest and longest-established wearable technology company in New Zealand and we’re arguably the most successful. We now work with everyone from the All Blacks and the Black Ferns, to the New Zealand Defence Force, RedBull, and Quiksilver.
As one of the pioneers in NZ in this market, we feel it's a perfect fit, and that our experience will really benefit those who reach the finals. After this initial judging round, I'll be heading to the Wearable Technologies Conference in San Francisco, to see what’s new on a global stage.
- What advice would you give to someone who has an idea for a wearable technology, but doesn’t know how to get started?
It would be the same advice I'd give to all start-ups: be realistic about what they can achieve with the technology and understand the business model for that. And that means recognising that there is a big difference between a project and a product. Ideas often start out as projects, but you need to adopt a business mindset to turn it into a viable product. So, a start-up should have more than just tech people – they also need a business person and a marketing person as part of the team. I think that without that, you’re going to greatly diminish your chance of success.
Another thing I’d say is that a key hurdle for wearable technology is making it truly wearable – that comes with questions about longevity, size, weight, and usability for a range of users. And it’s important to think about that right from the get-go.
- How do you think NZ stacks up internationally on the development of wearable tech?
I think New Zealand is as good as anywhere in the world. We have a very strong background in innovation, with a lot of smart institutions and businesses, and an established culture of entrepreneurship. I don't think it's quite as refined as it needs to be, but we’re certainly ahead of the curve.
Another wonderful thing about establishing a start-up here is the collaborative, open-door environment that exists. When we were getting started, we consulted with a lot of people to see who we could collaborate with – that’s how I met Jamie Tout, who is now our Sport Performance Director.
While NZ’s size really helps in the initial stages of setting up a business, arguably it can be a barrier when you start looking to scale-up manufacturing. Lots of companies then look to China, but our market can often be too small for those facilities. So, we buy in some of our components, but mainly manufacture our devices here.
- What impact do you hope (or think) that wearables could have on life in New Zealand?
Honestly, it’s hard to say precisely, but they seem poised to play a role in improving our understanding of health through work and play. If we look back to how VX Sport got started, the elite sport market wasn’t our goal – obviously, we knew the tech would have application there, but we’ve always been more focused on the wider ‘wellness’ question. That’s still the case, and I think that wearables could have a subtle but significant impact there.
We’re also very interested in applying our tech to rehabilitation, and this is certainly a growing focus for other wearable companies. We’ve worked with the military on wearables for training, but I think an oft-forgotten population is the elderly – they could hugely benefit from simple, robust wearable devices. If I see any C-Prize entries that focus on that area, it would certainly pique my interest.
- What excites you most about this competition?
You can't ever know what you don't know in terms of creativity, so I can’t predict exactly what we’ll see in the entries. But what I'm really looking for is lateral thinking linked with practicality.
With so many companies now working on wearables, it’s very difficult to truly break new ground in this area, but I always live in hope that someone out there will have either a piece of technology or a sensor that is just is so left-field that it is genius.