Nicole’s prize-winning business idea to make scholarships more accessible

23 June 2017

Nicole Calderwood

Nicole Calderwood, 2017 DIGMYIDEA Māori Innovation Challenge winner

A $10k prize will help make University of Waikato Management School student Nicole Calderwood’s business idea a reality.

The fourth-year Marketing and Strategic Management student, who descends from Ngāi Tahu, entered as an individual in the 2017 DIGMYIDEA Māori Innovation Challenge with the concept of Scholar+, a web-based platform for students to search and apply for scholarships from multiple tertiary institutions.

Nicole describes it as an innovative approach to a process that’s been traditionally paper-based and sporadic. “My hope is that Scholar+ will make scholarships more accessible to all students, especially in Māori communities, and inspire young New Zealanders to pursue educational and cultural opportunities.”

She says the idea, which started from her own struggles to find available scholarships, finally came to fruition when she won the University of Waikato Start-Up Scholarship, spending a summer working alongside other budding entrepreneurs and mentors. By the time she entered DIGMYIDEA, a lot of the groundwork had been laid.

DIGMYIDEA is a national competition for upcoming Māori entrepreneurs that aims to stimulate interest and involvement in New Zealand’s innovation ecosystem. After being selected as a finalist, Nicole attended the DIGIwānanga workshop in May. Ten finalists from around New Zealand gathered at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa in Auckland to perfect their business pitches, work with established mentors, deliver their pitches to the judges and answer questions to compete for two prizes of $10,000 each to take their ideas to the next level. At the end of the weekend, Nicole was surprised to have received the top prize in the youth category.

“I was genuinely shocked to win. I really liked all of the other contestants’ ideas. They were all centred around helping people and could really benefit Māori communities,” says Nicole.

The judges were impressed with Nicole’s extensive market research and how her idea would help the Māori communities and the wider New Zealand landscape. “They said I really identified a pain-point; a need that could help change the lives of people in the community. I had done a lot of research into things like demographics and asking if people related to the pain-point, asking if people would use it if this solution was to exist.”

For Nicole, the next 12 months will be a whirlwind as she decides how to allocate her prize money to most effectively reach her goal of getting Scholar+ out into the market. She has to consider the costs of mentorship, technical development and legal considerations such as IP protection and patents. She admits this project will be somewhat challenging, especially juggled with her degree and two part-time jobs, but she is glad to be doing something she had always thought about and is excited for the journey ahead.

“This year I am stepping outside of my comfort zone. Although I have always been aware of my heritage, I have had little immersion into the culture. This year, my goal is to reconnect with my culture and develop Scholar+ into something that helps Māori and non-Māori communities.”