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Making science serious fun: The venture empowering young Kiwi innovators and critical thinkers

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19 May 2021

Educational start-up Kiwrious is empowering the next generation of innovators and critical thinkers through the Kiwrious Science Experience. Founded by Suranga Nanayakkara, an Associate Professor at the Auckland Bioengineering Institute (ABI), they aim to spark inquiring minds by giving Kiwi students the tools they need to take scientific measurements of the world around them. 

The Kiwrious Science Experience is a low-cost kit containing six sensors, an inquiry editor platform, and resources for teachers. It challenges students to explore scientific phenomena by making observations, presenting their findings in creative ways, and discussing them with their peers. The kit provides students the ability to engage in scientific inquiries in and out of school, regardless of socioeconomic background. 

The research and development of Kiwrious began at ABI’s Augmented Human Laboratory (a lab founded by Suranga in 2011 when he was an Assistant Professor at the Singapore University of Technology and Design). Suranga then connected with Associate Professor Dawn Garbett from the University of Auckland’s Faculty of Education and Social Work. Dawn, who is now Director of Kiwrious, teaches Science to school teachers across New Zealand. This made her the perfect person to design, test, and “generally mastermind” the resources for teachers. She also ensured that the kit is aligned with the New Zealand science curriculum.

The resources were so positively received by schools across the country that Suranga enlisted Sonia Dupuch, who also has a background in engineering, to create a spin-off company from his research. They brought their idea to the Business School’s Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship seeking access to mentors and support with validating their business model. They were encouraged to enter Velocity, the University of Auckland’s entrepreneurial development programme, and went on to win the social category of the Velocity $100k Challenge.

Suranga says, “The guidance from our mentors through the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship has been invaluable in shaping our offering and defining our customers. We were able to create a robust submission to the $100k Challenge which helped us win the social entrepreneurship category. Since then, we have been meeting on a weekly basis with our mentor, Ken Erskine, who is digging deeper into ensuring our initial business concept is valid, and guiding ways to secure donations that ensure we are sustainable in the short term and able to meet our long term goals.”

This month, Kiwrious distributed 70 kits containing approximately 10,000 sensors to 35 schools across New Zealand, at no cost to the schools. They plan to visit the schools in person and measure the impact that their kit has on students. This will also be an opportunity to record students engaging with the kits to help secure sponsorship to fund their next round of production.

Behind Kiwrious is a multidisciplinary team of University of Auckland students and staff who are passionate about inspiring the next generation of inquisitive minds. Suranga says, “I always look for people with good values. It is relatively easy to find people with various skills but it’s harder to find people who also possess values that align with your own. Talking to someone face to face helps to get a good ‘gut feel’ about a person, and once you’ve built a core team, it gets easier to grow because you can get them to interact with a potential recruit to gauge if they’re a good fit.”

Moving from a background in engineering and technology into the world of entrepreneurship wasn’t without its challenges and learning curves. Suranga says, “I used to focus a lot on product design and technical development, as that’s the area I have experience in. However, I quickly learned the importance of building a strong understanding of business and strategy.

“Rolf Dobelli indicated in his book ‘The Art of Thinking Clearly’ that we can sometimes overestimate our success ‘because triumph is made more visible than failure.’ This is something I’ve tried to keep in mind while navigating the world of innovation and entrepreneurship. However, I believe there are a number of things you can do to get on the road to success: develop a strong skill, talk and learn from entrepreneurs at all stages of their path to success, and make sure to build a strong support network that can help you on this long, but exciting and fulfilling, journey.”

Suranga hopes that Kiwrious will not only have a direct impact on New Zealand’s scientific future, but by inspiring the next generation of critical thinkers and fearless problem solvers, affect the country’s economic future too. He says, “New Zealand intermediate school children are disengaging with science. Lack of funding, limited resources, and reduced teacher confidence in teaching science subjects are leading to low levels of scientific enquiry. Kiwrious offers students a fun and engaging learning experience that can transform their understanding of the world in which they live, and ignite scientific curiosity that they’ll carry with them through the rest of their lives. It all starts with ensuring that science is serious fun!”

Velocity Team 2020
Velocity Team 2020

social media

19 May 2021

Educational start-up Kiwrious is empowering the next generation of innovators and critical thinkers through the Kiwrious Science Experience. Founded by Suranga Nanayakkara, an Associate Professor at the Auckland Bioengineering Institute (ABI), they aim to spark inquiring minds by giving Kiwi students the tools they need to take scientific measurements of the world around them. 

The Kiwrious Science Experience is a low-cost kit containing six sensors, an inquiry editor platform, and resources for teachers. It challenges students to explore scientific phenomena by making observations, presenting their findings in creative ways, and discussing them with their peers. The kit provides students the ability to engage in scientific inquiries in and out of school, regardless of socioeconomic background. 

The research and development of Kiwrious began at ABI’s Augmented Human Laboratory (a lab founded by Suranga in 2011 when he was an Assistant Professor at the Singapore University of Technology and Design). Suranga then connected with Associate Professor Dawn Garbett from the University of Auckland’s Faculty of Education and Social Work. Dawn, who is now Director of Kiwrious, teaches Science to school teachers across New Zealand. This made her the perfect person to design, test, and “generally mastermind” the resources for teachers. She also ensured that the kit is aligned with the New Zealand science curriculum.

The resources were so positively received by schools across the country that Suranga enlisted Sonia Dupuch, who also has a background in engineering, to create a spin-off company from his research. They brought their idea to the Business School’s Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship seeking access to mentors and support with validating their business model. They were encouraged to enter Velocity, the University of Auckland’s entrepreneurial development programme, and went on to win the social category of the Velocity $100k Challenge.

Suranga says, “The guidance from our mentors through the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship has been invaluable in shaping our offering and defining our customers. We were able to create a robust submission to the $100k Challenge which helped us win the social entrepreneurship category. Since then, we have been meeting on a weekly basis with our mentor, Ken Erskine, who is digging deeper into ensuring our initial business concept is valid, and guiding ways to secure donations that ensure we are sustainable in the short term and able to meet our long term goals.”

This month, Kiwrious distributed 70 kits containing approximately 10,000 sensors to 35 schools across New Zealand, at no cost to the schools. They plan to visit the schools in person and measure the impact that their kit has on students. This will also be an opportunity to record students engaging with the kits to help secure sponsorship to fund their next round of production.

Behind Kiwrious is a multidisciplinary team of University of Auckland students and staff who are passionate about inspiring the next generation of inquisitive minds. Suranga says, “I always look for people with good values. It is relatively easy to find people with various skills but it’s harder to find people who also possess values that align with your own. Talking to someone face to face helps to get a good ‘gut feel’ about a person, and once you’ve built a core team, it gets easier to grow because you can get them to interact with a potential recruit to gauge if they’re a good fit.”

Moving from a background in engineering and technology into the world of entrepreneurship wasn’t without its challenges and learning curves. Suranga says, “I used to focus a lot on product design and technical development, as that’s the area I have experience in. However, I quickly learned the importance of building a strong understanding of business and strategy.

“Rolf Dobelli indicated in his book ‘The Art of Thinking Clearly’ that we can sometimes overestimate our success ‘because triumph is made more visible than failure.’ This is something I’ve tried to keep in mind while navigating the world of innovation and entrepreneurship. However, I believe there are a number of things you can do to get on the road to success: develop a strong skill, talk and learn from entrepreneurs at all stages of their path to success, and make sure to build a strong support network that can help you on this long, but exciting and fulfilling, journey.”

Suranga hopes that Kiwrious will not only have a direct impact on New Zealand’s scientific future, but by inspiring the next generation of critical thinkers and fearless problem solvers, affect the country’s economic future too. He says, “New Zealand intermediate school children are disengaging with science. Lack of funding, limited resources, and reduced teacher confidence in teaching science subjects are leading to low levels of scientific enquiry. Kiwrious offers students a fun and engaging learning experience that can transform their understanding of the world in which they live, and ignite scientific curiosity that they’ll carry with them through the rest of their lives. It all starts with ensuring that science is serious fun!”


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