The Young Innovator Awards challenges Western Bay of Plenty students from years 7 to 13 to come up with an innovative product or service that solves a problem.

In its 10th year, the event has undergone a dramatic transformation due to the global pandemic.

"We were starting to think realistically it was only a matter of time before schools are going to close, people are going to work from home, so it was no good trying to run this thing using face-to-face launches, meetings and events," said organiser Andrew Howells.
"We may as well try and adapt to the situation we're in."

Instead of running for most of the school year, the competition has now become a five-week innovation sprint.

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"Knowing that students and parents are going to be at home, there's actually an opportunity there too and that's what YIA's all about. From a problem arises opportunities."

And it's that attitude that meant cancelling this year's awards was never an option.

"I suppose we could have done that but that wouldn't have been in the Young Innovator Awards' spirit to be perfectly honest. It's all about innovating and that includes the competition itself," said Howells.

For Year 12 Otumoetai student and previous winner Sarah Latus, the shortened format doesn't faze her.

"Sports and things are cancelled. You have time anyway to put into it so I don't think it's that much of an issue."

But working remotely is taking some getting used to.

"I would definitely rather be in a physical group," said Latus. "It's just easier that way. But we have this technology to do things online and I think it still works, but personally I just prefer physically talking, just being with one another."

But for the judges, not much has changed.

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"It's going to be based on a unique idea," said one of the judges, Reuben Woods. "How they have collaborated with other people if they have collaborated, how they've solved that problem that they have identified in the most innovative, unique way possible, that they've done their research to make sure an idea like this doesn't exist

This year's theme is, unsurprisingly, Covid-19 and the judges say they don't know what to expect.

"I'd like to say I'm not too sure. There are going to be some unique ideas that are going to come from this. It's going to be problems that have been found at home, even the way that people are living at home during this lockdown period. Or innovative ways of communicating with others."

One thing's for sure, this year's awards won't be like any others, and it will test the very limits of innovation.

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