Ara Institute of Canterbury Articles

Christchurch Mayor introduced to Te Ōhaka

Wednesday, June 9th, 2021

It’s not every day that the Mayor visits campus, so it was a privilege to host Mayor Lianne Dalziel on Friday 14 May as she was given a tour of Te Ōhaka – the Centre for Growth and Innovation at Ara.

This was an opportunity to showcase how Te Ōhaka – a partnership between Ara, The Ministry of Awesome and most recently, ChristchurchNZ – adds value to the local ecosystem, and how it aligns with the aims of the Christchurch City Council to develop innovation in the city.As a base for Christchurch’s start-up community, Te Ōhaka is supporting the regional ‘supernode’ economic development model backed by the Christchurch City Council and Christchurch’s economic development agency ChristchurchNZ. The Canterbury supernodes are grouped into four strategic strength sectors: global health tech, aerospace and future transport, food fibre and agritech, and hi-tech solutions.The visit featured speakers from start-up companies Moover and Datch, which are two of the many companies working within the support systems of Te Ōhaka to contribute to these areas of growth.

Of the 28 start-ups in Te Ōhaka, the Mayor had the chance to chat to Myovolt, who have some of the world’s most experienced innovators in the field of wearable electronics. The Mayor said the tour was “enriching,” and she didn’t leave empty handed, purchasing a product of Myovolt’s muscle recovery technology.

“I had to try it out and yes, I had to buy one! Good luck to Dr Dianne Jones and Steve Leftly as they take on the world!,” she said.


The Mayor Lianne Dalziel

The Mayor spoke to the small audience about how earlier in her career as a Member of Parliament, she was responsible for the Commerce and Small Business Portfolios and this led to her starting to tune into what motivated people to come up with new ideas and learning about the environments that encourage entrepreneurs.

Tracey McGill, Innovation Manager at Ara said, “The learning environment for Ara learners working with start-ups in Te Ōhaka is a recipe for success.”

“We’ve got learners across 17 Bachelor’s degrees undergoing projects with academic supervision who we match to the start-ups. This match provides the specific talent the start-ups need to push their company forward, while also providing Ara learners with an advantage when seeking employment.”


Tracey McGill presents to the room

McGill also talked about how the start-ups connections into Ōtautahi’s innovation ecosystem, paired with their commercial capability, immerses learners into an environment where rapid growth and rapid learning occur simultaneously.

Marian Johnson, Chief Awesome Officer for Ministry of Awesome, the start-up mentor and programme deliverer within the Te Ōhaka partnership, said, “Ara is a critical partner for us at Te Ōhaka because they provide 14,000 students who stream into the talent pipeline, which aids the start-ups in their growth, and the students in their own development.”

Te Ōhaka is part of the wider Christchurch Economic Recovery Plan to grow jobs and talent in the region and reposition Christchurch as a smart, sustainable city. To date Te Ōhaka has contributed 96 new jobs to the city, and through the partnership with Ara will continue to match students and graduates to jobs which best suit their skillsets.

From student to Datacom: How working with startup helped an Ara student accelerate his career

Monday, May 31st, 2021

Arriving in New Zealand as an international student in Feb 2020, recent Ara ICT graduate Gaurav Thantry’s career is flying high after recently receiving an offer from Australasia tech giant Datacom. 

Originally from Bangalore India, Thantry moved to Christchurch in early 2020 to start his Graduate Diploma in Information and Communication Technologies at Ara Institute of Canterbury. As the COVID lockdown quickly took effect in March 2020, classes and workshops at Ara were converted to remote learning. Thantry, and his fellow learners at Ara, had to quickly adapt to an all-virtual learning environment.

This shift to remote learning was the first of many challenges and opportunities presenting Thantry in the past year as he continued his diploma. Building a software product from scratch proved another opportunity that was challenging and certainly rewarding.

When presented with a few different options for his capstone project, Thantry decided that S360 was the most exciting as it provides lots of learning opportunities. Joining a smaller team typically means there is more work to be done, which also means the student needs to get up to speed quickly. With little hesitation, Thantry rolled up his sleeves and got to work. 

Prior to joining S360, Thantry had only done front-end development. The S360 platform, however, required full-stack capabilities which included technologies and frameworks such as React, DynamoDB, and AWS. Caroline Thalund, S360’s Co-founder and Thantry’s industry mentor, and Vinay Varma, the technical mentor, understood Thantry’s concerns and provided him with all the support he needed.

A month into the project, Thantry quickly got up to speed. Combining the willingness to learn and a strong work ethic, Thantry soon proved to be a valuable team member at S360. “It was regular that we’d come in at 6pm on weekdays, sometimes even weekends, to get work done as well as get mentorship from Vinay”, says Thantry. 

A major news came just a few weeks ago, when Thantry received a permanent full-time offer for a full-stack developer role at Datacom, Australasia’s biggest homegrown IT service company. “I was over the moon when I heard the news. It’s any graduate’s dream job!”, said Thantry. 

Despite having to move to Wellington for the role, Thantry still helps S360 on a voluntary basis. “I love the product. There’s always certain levels of attachment when you’ve helped build a product from scratch”. 

Whilst enjoying his new role at Datacom, Thantry reflects on his time at S360. “The experience with S360 is the reason I got the job with Datacom. It wouldn’t have been possible without the learnings I gained at S360 and the guidance from my technical mentor Vinay Varma and my industry supervisor Caroline Thalund. The amount of learning I gained in such a short period has been tremendous.”

Thalund was very impressed by Thantry’s capability as a graduate, “I am particularly impressed by his passion for finding the best solutions. Any challenges we posed have met with determination and enthusiasm in order to deliver the best outcomes.”

Thantry also gives some good parting advice for students who are in his shoes just a year ago, “Don’t just try to complete your hours, the capstone project is your opportunity to learn exponentially fast and surround yourself with the best mentors. Working on real-life projects is your opportunity to apply what you’ve learned in class, so don’t waste it.”

Nigel Young, Head of Department for Business and Digital Technologies at Ara says “Gaurav’s story is a really good example of what we try to achieve with all our students; giving them the skills they need for a tech career and giving them the exposure to industry to show what they’re capable of doing. That work experience can occur in big companies like Datacom or start-ups under Te Ōhaka, they are a really great opportunity for our students. Getting a job at Datacom is an awesome outcome for a graduate new to the sector and a great example of how career transitioning graduate diplomas can be used to get into the tech sector. Ka pai Gaurav!”

Beth Knowles, International Director of Ara Institute of Canterbury says “The capstone project embedded in the graduate diplomas at Ara is what sets them apart from qualifications at other providers.  This opportunity, combined with the close working association with Te Ōhaka on campus at Ara, gives students the unique chance to work alongside start-up companies and Gaurav’s story is a good example of the outcomes we are proud of.  I wish Gaurav every success as his career develops.”

Ara graduate named the Chief Technology Officer of agritech startup YieldTec

Tuesday, March 30th, 2021

Ara EDI student Laurence Gresham, who completed his capstone project with YieldTec, is named as its Chief Technology Officer.

Team YieldTec: Laurence Gresham (left) and Dr. Khalid Salah (right) Photo Credit: Kevin Bills Media

The Te Ōhaka-based startup YieldTec describes itself as a platform that ‘links IoT smart fruit picking bags with mobile bin robots to automate harvest and yield management.’

When the idea was presented to a group of Capstone students from Ara’s Enterprise & Digital Innovation Faculty, Gresham was excited. ‘The notion of building this platform was very intriguing to me as there was a ton of technology involved, not just the traditional software development but also cutting-edge tech like IoT and robotics’, said Gresham.

When joining the company as a Capstone student, Gresham was responsible for front-end development. But as with any startup, there’s always more work to be done and roles evolve rapidly. Gradually he took on more responsibility and became a full-stack developer.

Gresham is currently a full-time employee, which has been made possible by a Callaghan Innovation Experience grant which the Ministry of Awesome startup team helped YieldTec apply for.

“Projects like YieldTec are exactly what the Callaghan Innovation Experience grants were intended for. It is the perfect opportunity for students to get exposure to a cutting-edge research and development project.”, said Joris de Vocht, Business Advisor at Canterbury Employers’​ Chamber of Commerce.

Ministry of Awesome’s Head of Innovation Jacob Varghese, who has been working alongside YieldTec as an advisor over the past two years, highlighted the role that the innovation ecosystem has played in this startup’s journey.

“YieldTec is engaging with NZs biggest horticulture companies, which wouldn’t have been possible without the support from Ara, MPI, the MPI Sustainable Futures Fund team, and Regional Business Partners. We particularly want to thank Vinay Varma, Ara’s Amit Sarkar, and MPI’s Cheyne Gillooly and Natasha Telles D’Costa for their guidance.”

About a year into the startup world, Gresham said the journey has been challenging but rewarding. “It’s definitely a roller coaster. You either learn fast and swim, or you sink. To survive and thrive, you have to be proactive, learn rapidly and execute fast.”

“Working side by side with the founder meant I got to be more than a developer. I am learning how to talk to customers and pitch to investors, which is very exciting. You don’t get that kind of experience working as a junior developer in a team of 20 people”.

“Besides his competency as a developer, Laurence is also a team player who’s also accountable, sympathetic and goal oriented. I believe all these characteristics combined is what makes him a strong CTO,” said Dr Khalid Salah, YieldTec’s founder.

Gresham advises upcoming Capstone students to think deeply about the work environment they want to be a part of. “You will know if you’re the startup type,” said Gresham. “It’s not for everyone, but if you have the guts to take on challenges, you’ll grow fast”.

“It’s fantastic seeing this level of personal growth from Ara learners through the engagement with Te Ōhaka and the success of startups powered by these learners. This is a great example of what can happen when ambitious students are partnered with innovative and visionary high growth startup founders. Stories like this one are exactly the kinds of stories we envisioned when founding Te Ōhaka together with Ara two years ago,” said Marian Johnson, Chief Awesome Officer, Ministry of Awesome.