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C-Prize 2019 challenging NZ innovators to tackle environmental problems on a global scale

open this image in new window: C-Prize coastline

This article was published on 17 October 2019

Devising a tech-based solution with the power to slow or reverse negative human impacts on climate is one of the challenges being set for New Zealand innovators in this year’s C-Prize competition.

Delivering smarter use of finite resources or cleaner waterways are the two other areas of environmental impact that C-Prize 2019 teams are being called on to tackle with their entries.

“Right now, we’re facing massive environmental challenges but we’re also seeing unprecedented advances in the application of different technologies, including artificial intelligence, internet of things, advanced materials and biotechnology, that have the power to help solve many of these problems,” says Callaghan Innovation chief executive Vic Crone.

Crone says New Zealand already has its share of environmental innovation exemplars including companies like LanzaTech, Avertana, Mint Innovation, but should be vying for a much greater share of the investment in environmental innovation, which last year reached US$29.6 billion worldwide.

“We want to use C-Prize to inspire New Zealand innovators to see the massive opportunities offered by environmental innovation and to get involved.”

Launched in 2015, C-Prize is Callaghan Innovation’s biannual competition which challenges New Zealand innovators to devise tech-based solutions to complex problems.

Teams compete for cash prizes and one of ten places on the C-Prize Development Programme, an intensive mentored programme of technology and commercialisation bootcamps, and the chance to take out the grand prize of $100,000 cash plus $50,000 in ongoing support and services.

Minister for Climate Change James Shaw, who is speaking via video at tonight’s event, says he is delighted to officially launch a technology challenge that is focused on developing solutions to solve our global environmental challenges. 

“It’s wonderful to see C-Prize 2019 supporting our Government’s plans to tackle climate change, and reach our target of becoming net zero for greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.”

C-Prize’s call to develop solutions to clean waterways is also timely given the release today of the marine report by the Ministry for the Environment and Statistics NZ. The report highlights the major challenges New Zealand’s marine environment is facing, including threatened marine species, increased sedimentation and significant declines in shellfish populations in some areas. In addition to the environmental fallout, the report points to the economic risk to the marine economy which in 2017 was valued at $7 billion and employed more than 30,000 people. 

Mint Innovation CEO and founder Will Barker, who will speak at tonight’s C-Prize launch event, says it is becoming increasingly clear that we are facing a climate emergency and while action at an individual level is important, environmental innovation must be part of the solution.  

“Environmental innovation increases the rate of positive change and we need much more of it to mitigate the catastrophe we are facing.”

Barker, who worked with LanzaTech and Hot Lime Labs before founding Mint Innovation, says while there is a perception that environmental innovation is expensive with a long lead-in to market, he doesn’t see it as being different to other sectors and the impact is typically exponentially higher.  

“With an evolving recognition of the climate emergency coupled with a maturing ecosystem leading to better investment opportunities and a better equipped workforce, now is a great time to get involved in environmental innovation.”

Callaghan Innovation’s Energy and Environment Group Manager Richard Quin says the C-Prize challenge presents a massive opportunity for entrepreneurs, researchers, engineers and scientists to develop their solution with mentoring and R&D support, and to kickstart their commercialisation journey.

“C-Prize offers innovators a way to advance their idea with a broad range of support and less risk. The programme we’ve built around C-Prize offers a unique opportunity to spend time with like-minded teams and individuals in a fast-paced and supportive learning environment.”

Entries for C-Prize close on 8 December 2019, when judges will select up to 10 teams to participate in the C-Prize Development Programme and compete for the grand prize.

“The judges will be looking for solutions that have the customer clearly in mind and employ a convergence of technologies across areas such as advanced materials, additive manufacturing, artificial intelligence, biotechnology and IoT,” says Quin.

C-Prize entries need to be submitted by a team of two or more people and provide the concept for a solution that can deliver a positive impact in one of three areas:

  • Climate change – Slowing or reversing negative human impacts on climate
  • Fresh clean water – Cleaning up our waterways
  • Resource use – Smarter ways to use and preserve our planet’s finite resources.

C-Prize is being officially launched this evening, 6pm at the Sustainable Coastlines Flagship Education Centre, Wynyard Quarter, Auckland. To see full entry categories and requirements and to download the C-Prize entry kit visit