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Poi therapy venture spins around the world 

21 November 2022

After falling in love with poi while in the circus, Dr Kate Riegle van West packed up her life in the United States and headed to New Zealand to chase a hunch that playing with poi had health benefits. Conducting the world’s first scientific study of poi and wellbeing as a PhD at the University of Auckland, under the supervision of the Centre for Brain Research and the School of Dance Studies, her clinical study proved benefits in grip strength, balance, and the ability to sustain attention for healthy older adults after just one month of practice.  

In 2019 Kate was the overall runner up of the Velocity 100k Challenge, a competition part of the University’s entrepreneurship development programme delivered through the Business School’s Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE). With the support of CIE’s mentors, Kate developed a business case for SpinPoi, a social venture dedicated to working with poi to improve health and wellbeing. She ultimately won $15,000 seed capital and a place in CIE’s VentureLab programme where she was supported for six months to bring her venture to the world. 

Upon graduating VentureLab, Kate set off on a tour of New Zealand delivering workshops to the community and to healthcare and aged care staff, and worked with a team at the hospital to implement poi as a permanent therapeutic tool on the wards.  

Not only do people get the proven benefits of playing with poi, the social and emotional benefits are apparent too. Global Therapeutic Recreation Leader, Orquidea Tamayo Mortera says, “Poi could potentially be one of the most affordable, simple and effective interventions globally to alleviate the growing amount of depression, loneliness and isolation in older adults.” 

Kate has had various exciting opportunities with the media including appearing on Māori Television and speaking on BBC World News. She also received the ‘Future Leader’ award from the Royal Society of New Zealand and was named one of the University of Auckland’s top 40 under 40 inspiring alumni in 2021.  

“It’s not about getting recognition but it was very exciting. My PhD journey and running SpinPoi as a solo founder can be quite lonely. Sometimes I feel like I’m operating in a void because what I am doing is new and a bit unusual, so that external validation does go a long way.” 

Recently, Kate’s focus has been delivering online courses, training people to become certified SpinPoi instructors. “I was receiving a crazy number of requests from people all over the world wanting me to visit their aged care facility to teach poi, but there is only one of me, so I realised very early on that I needed to expand with a group of people who are trained in working with poi as a therapeutic tool.” 

SpinPoi instructors, now covering five continents, learn a pedagogy for teaching poi as a therapeutic tool, as well as learning about poi as a Māori taonga. 

Prior to the Covid 19 pandemic she had been delivering certification courses in person but when lockdowns hit, she needed to shift them online. “It actually translated really well online, and it opened the course up to people from all around the world, giving SpinPoi further reach and more people getting to experience its benefits.” 

Being stuck at home also inspired Kate to try something new; SpinPoi for kids. “I started thinking about everyone at home and I wanted to make something that would be useful, this is where my idea for easy, fun, follow-along SpinPoi music videos came about.” 

Coming from an academic background with research only in older adults, she had been hesitant about branching out to different age groups. However, she realised that in the world of business, people take risks. Being transparent about her qualifications, there was no harm in engineering things so more people could enjoy it.  

After making the first video in her bedroom, she headed to a studio to level up the production. “I have to say, making videos for kids was so fun. There is a certain level of silliness and a little more room for creativity.” 

With support from NZ On Air and Creative New Zealand, Kate also collaborated with a local school to create a SpinPoi video with some students, featuring original waiata. 

“For kids it’s more about play based learning, practicing rhythmic movement and fine motor skills, whereas for older adults it’s about keeping muscles and bones healthy and strong to sustain quality of life.” 

Continuing her mission to share poi’s benefits with the world, Kate is looking forward to getting back into travel next year to deliver workshops and training sessions in person. Heading to Australia and Bali in February next year, she’s delivering exciting four-day certification courses in Melbourne and then the Bali Flow Temple.  

University of Auckland wins international award for entrepreneurship education
University of Auckland wins international award for entrepreneurship education

21 November 2022

After falling in love with poi while in the circus, Dr Kate Riegle van West packed up her life in the United States and headed to New Zealand to chase a hunch that playing with poi had health benefits. Conducting the world’s first scientific study of poi and wellbeing as a PhD at the University of Auckland, under the supervision of the Centre for Brain Research and the School of Dance Studies, her clinical study proved benefits in grip strength, balance, and the ability to sustain attention for healthy older adults after just one month of practice.  

In 2019 Kate was the overall runner up of the Velocity 100k Challenge, a competition part of the University’s entrepreneurship development programme delivered through the Business School’s Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE). With the support of CIE’s mentors, Kate developed a business case for SpinPoi, a social venture dedicated to working with poi to improve health and wellbeing. She ultimately won $15,000 seed capital and a place in CIE’s VentureLab programme where she was supported for six months to bring her venture to the world. 

Upon graduating VentureLab, Kate set off on a tour of New Zealand delivering workshops to the community and to healthcare and aged care staff, and worked with a team at the hospital to implement poi as a permanent therapeutic tool on the wards.  

Not only do people get the proven benefits of playing with poi, the social and emotional benefits are apparent too. Global Therapeutic Recreation Leader, Orquidea Tamayo Mortera says, “Poi could potentially be one of the most affordable, simple and effective interventions globally to alleviate the growing amount of depression, loneliness and isolation in older adults.” 

Kate has had various exciting opportunities with the media including appearing on Māori Television and speaking on BBC World News. She also received the ‘Future Leader’ award from the Royal Society of New Zealand and was named one of the University of Auckland’s top 40 under 40 inspiring alumni in 2021.  

“It’s not about getting recognition but it was very exciting. My PhD journey and running SpinPoi as a solo founder can be quite lonely. Sometimes I feel like I’m operating in a void because what I am doing is new and a bit unusual, so that external validation does go a long way.” 

Recently, Kate’s focus has been delivering online courses, training people to become certified SpinPoi instructors. “I was receiving a crazy number of requests from people all over the world wanting me to visit their aged care facility to teach poi, but there is only one of me, so I realised very early on that I needed to expand with a group of people who are trained in working with poi as a therapeutic tool.” 

SpinPoi instructors, now covering five continents, learn a pedagogy for teaching poi as a therapeutic tool, as well as learning about poi as a Māori taonga. 

Prior to the Covid 19 pandemic she had been delivering certification courses in person but when lockdowns hit, she needed to shift them online. “It actually translated really well online, and it opened the course up to people from all around the world, giving SpinPoi further reach and more people getting to experience its benefits.” 

Being stuck at home also inspired Kate to try something new; SpinPoi for kids. “I started thinking about everyone at home and I wanted to make something that would be useful, this is where my idea for easy, fun, follow-along SpinPoi music videos came about.” 

Coming from an academic background with research only in older adults, she had been hesitant about branching out to different age groups. However, she realised that in the world of business, people take risks. Being transparent about her qualifications, there was no harm in engineering things so more people could enjoy it.  

After making the first video in her bedroom, she headed to a studio to level up the production. “I have to say, making videos for kids was so fun. There is a certain level of silliness and a little more room for creativity.” 

With support from NZ On Air and Creative New Zealand, Kate also collaborated with a local school to create a SpinPoi video with some students, featuring original waiata. 

“For kids it’s more about play based learning, practicing rhythmic movement and fine motor skills, whereas for older adults it’s about keeping muscles and bones healthy and strong to sustain quality of life.” 

Continuing her mission to share poi’s benefits with the world, Kate is looking forward to getting back into travel next year to deliver workshops and training sessions in person. Heading to Australia and Bali in February next year, she’s delivering exciting four-day certification courses in Melbourne and then the Bali Flow Temple.  

 


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