Second-time Imagine Cup winners take on malaria

29 May 2011

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A Business School-backed team of engineering students from The University of Auckland has won the 2011 Microsoft Imagine Cup with a software weapon to fight malaria. Team OneBuzz's winning concept harnesses technology to inhibit the spread of the disease.

The team is developing a collaborative platform that helps visualise the extent of malaria by mapping information aggregated from a range of sources, including satellite images and mobile phones. The approach is designed to help coordinate and improve the effectiveness of government and health agency responses to malaria outbreaks.

The OneBuzz crew includes two competition veterans. Vinny Lohan and Kayo Lakadia were part of Team OneBeep, which won last year's New Zealand final with a project to improve access to education in Third World countries. OneBeep went on to take third place at the worldwide final in Warsaw, Poland.

Lohan is in no doubt about the important part played by the Business School, and especially Spark - the School's entrepreneurial development programme and business planning competition - in the success of both teams.

"Spark is massive for us. One of the reasons we came third and not first last year is that we entered Spark after the 2010 Worldwide Imagine Cup finals and not before," Lohan says.

"We have learned that succeeding is not just about having a powerful idea, it is about the execution. Have you got the money? The partnerships? The right people?"

Engineers often create a product, then look for a market, he says.

"This time, we nailed a real-world problem first and then created a solution. So we knew from the outset that the demand for our software platform was there."

Lohan says he and his OneBuzz teammates received "priceless" help from the Business School, including mentoring and skills development, business introductions and participation in events and programmes that form part of the School's evolving entrepreneurial ecosystem.

Andrew Eberhard, a senior lecturer in the School's Department of Information Systems and Operations Management (ISOM), runs the local University of Auckland Imagine Cup and was "very involved" with OneBuzz and OneBeep, says Lohan, helping to polish both teams' presentation skills and identify shortcomings.

The Business School's Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning Director, Geoff Whitcher, provided mentors and contacts and created an opportunity for Lohan to join a two-day Global Sales workshop recently held at the School by Professor Ken Morse, the former director of MIT's Entrepreneurship Centre.

"The workshop content was unbelievable and I made some really useful contacts there," he says.

Professor Don Sheridan, ISOM's Director of Education and Learning also helped out, not least by getting Lohan to Portugal as a keynote speaker at the EdMedia 2011 conference. The trip will enable Lohan to take care of other business in the country - OneBeep's involvement in a Portuguese contract to supply the technology to help connect almost a million laptops there.

"Geoff and Don have been phenomenal. Everything they have done has helped build our momentum."

Lohan and the OneBuzz team are now creating a video presentation which, if accepted by judges, will be the team's ticket to this year's New York world finals in July.

The Microsoft Imagine Cup is a global student technology competition that encourages students to apply technology to some of the world's toughest problems. Each year more than 300,000 students from 100 countries take part.

View video: OneBeep presentation at Warsaw (20:09)