Spark launches 5G Starter Fund: Kiwi innovators rallied to crack the next big 5G idea that will transform New Zealand

With the Government’s 5G spectrum auction weeks away, Spark is calling on local innovators to bid for half a million dollars to build new 5G enabled technology that will benefit the country, disrupt an industry or provide an immersive experience, through the Spark 5G Starter Fund.

Spark has been working with local innovators through its co-lab space since July 2019, with hundreds of hours invested in co-creating future 5G use cases that will transform the way we live and work. The Starter Fund ups the ante just as the country gears up for its 5G roll-out.

One innovative company already working on a game-changing 5G initiative is the Patience Project – a not-for-profit that uses technology to connect kids with long-term illnesses with their teachers and classmates when they can’t go to school. This currently works via a special 360-degree camera in the classroom, that the kids can use remotely as their eyes and ears.

But after working in the 5G lab, the charity is now developing a robot embodiment of the 360-degree camera, that will sit in the child’s place in class and be their ‘robot self’ – so they can interact with their classmates from the comfort of their bed, at home or in hospital.

“When we asked the kids how they wanted to stay connected with their class and friends, they all wanted a robot. We think their classmates will also interact more with the robot versions of their friends – I mean what kid hasn’t wanted their own robot?” says Ben Martel of the Patience Project.

“This hasn’t been possible without 5G, because the way our cameras currently have to work is reliant on a school’s network infrastructure, so the child is tethered to the classroom. With their own 5G robot, they will be able to join their mates on the playing field and on school trips.

“Additionally, we’re currently only able to deliver a one-way experience, so the next step is to have a two-way communication link allowing the child to interact in real-time with their teacher and classmates. 5G will make this possible wirelessly.

“The opportunity to understand and experience 5G technology with Spark has absolutely been the key driver in our development for the future as it gave us the opportunity to ask ourselves, how can we do things better?”

Spark CEO, Jolie Hodson, says launching the fund is about fostering kiwi ingenuity and getting ahead of the curve with new use cases for 5G.

“5G is going to be game-changing for our country. But this technology is bigger than us – so we want to invest in other Kiwi businesses and enable our innovative thinkers, like Ben, to show us what this technology can do.

“There is no shortage of ideas in this country – businesses in our lab have tested and refined driverless car technology, worked on future payment solutions using facial recognition, and tested an ‘eye in the sky’ security solution using drone technology. We have even helped Emirates Team New Zealand get 5G on the water. Now, we want to unleash this potential early in the 5G journey so New Zealand can realise the benefits this new technology can offer, faster.”

The 5G Starter Fund will support up to three companies, with the 1st prize winner receiving $250,000 and the two second prize winners receiving $125,000 each. All three winners will receive business and tech mentoring, a trip to New York to learn from the some of the best in global 5G tech, as well as access to technology and equipment to test and build on Spark’s 5G network. Applications for the 5G Starter Fund open on 18 March. Please visit