You will get an understanding of the realities of starting your own business, meet other students interested in starting up, network with fellow entrepreneurs and business people, attend workshops, get advice, and hear about other support and opportunities for budding entrepreneurs in Dunedin, New Zealand and internationally.

You will develop fantastic new skills, meet new people, it looks great on your CV and you’ll be in to win money and prizes to get your business off the ground. Last year, competitors shared in a jackpot of $40,000 in cash, services and other prizes to help them start-up – what have you got to lose?

How does it work?
Those entering the Audacious competition are required to submit a business idea, a detailed business plan and pitch their idea to the Dragon’s Den. Check out the Programme page for further details. Throughout the competition, students attend a range of start-up workshops and have access to a Business Coach for one-on-one advice.

Who is it for?
Audacious is for students of all disciplines at the University of Otago and Otago Polytechnic – not just business students.

No matter what you study, if you are creative, energetic and keen to expand your horizons – Audacious could be perfect for you. If you are worried you lack business skills, or any other skills, we will do our very best to help you find team-mates with the skills you need.

Individual entrants must be current University of Otago or Otago Polytechnic students. If you are entering as a team, at least one member of your team must be a current student and that person must be your nominated main contact when submitting your ideas.

But you don’t even have to enter the competition, if you are thinking of starting up, you’re welcome to join the community – attend Audacious events, hang out in the Audacious space, speak to our Business Coach or simply ask for help!

To organise the wide range of ideas submitted every year, and to compare apples with apples, Audacious is split into five categories. In your Round One submission you will be required to nominate the category in which you think your idea fits, but they become more important in Round Two. As you can see, any idea can be a winner!


Don’t play safe, think long term. Bold ideas that are relatively untested and may have a long development phase, but could find worldwide success.


Get out there and make it happen. Ideas that are relatively straight forward, low risk and easy to bring to market.


Look after people and planet. Ideas that benefit society – for social entrepreneurs, not-for-profits, sustainable ventures and the like.


Think outside the box. Ideas that are innovative in the design or marketing that is leading edge and provides a competitive advantage.


Ehara taku toa i te toa takitahi; engari, he toa takitini; our achievements are a collective endeavour, not a solitary effort. For Maori students and those with a Maori-focused business idea.

Read the Audacious Challenge rules 2014. Competitors must agree to these rules in the submission process. Entries can be submitted via the Challenge section of this website. Any questions regarding these rules should be directed to [email protected].

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Audacious > Blog

Posted by kari.petroschmidt

At the Audacious business competition launch on Tuesday, everyone agreed – Dunedin needs more businesses if we want to keep young, talented graduates from flying off to brighter prospects in Wellington, Auckland, or overseas. The University of Otago is aware of the problem, and has thrown its weight behind the Centre for Innovation, as well as Dunedin’s three contrasting (but not competing) business incubators, each of which has a unique way of fostering new businesses. Critic attended the Audacious launch and shared a wasabi vodka shot with Dunedin’s entrepreneurial hotshots.

Audacious, the most well-known of the three business incubators, is an annual competition in which students come up with a viable business idea and submit a two-page formal plan. If the judges deem your idea worthy of progressing to round two, you get $500. If you come up with the next big thing, you could be in line for the grand prize of up to $25,000.

Kari Schmidt, “Head Storyteller” for Audacious and editor of the its official blog talked to Critic about the goals behind the competition: “It’s about helping students to start businesses. We want to promote Dunedin as a city where people want to stay, where economic activity is happening. It’s about showing students that this could be an option for them, because a lot of people feel that business is just for finance students or marketing students or economics students, but it doesn’t have to be.

“With the economy being as bad as it is, with there not being as many job opportunities for students as there used to be, with degrees not meaning as much as they used to, this is another option for people that can be really special.

“It’s trying to change a culture of thinking. I know that in other countries like America there’s a really strong culture of students coming out and starting their own thing instead of going to work for someone else and making their way up.

“There’s lots more exciting events for the rest of the semester, to help people write out their submission, to get excited about it and learn more about what the process of Audacious means. It’s also a great chance to network.”

“Do it.” 

Julien Van Mellaerts is one of the many success stories to come out of the competition in recent years. Runner-up in 2011, he has successfully distributed his “Namida” Wasabi Vodka to five different countries, and is set to conquer the USA later this year. Critic caught up with him for a shot of Namida, which, despite initial fears, turned out to be pretty drinkable. Van Mellaerts has two words of advice for potential Audacious competitors: “Do it.” Through his involvement, he met local lawyers and accountants who helped him cut through the red tape and export his product overseas. Now he’s the director of his own company and the winner of three international awards.

David Frame is a banker with ANZ, board member of the Chamber of Commerce, and a member of the Audacious judging panel. He describes the winning idea from the 2011 competition: “It was a guy who had cardboard headgear for rugby fans to wear. He would get someone to pay to put their sponsorship on it, then he would hand it out at the games. On Friday night, the rugby league test in Auckland, he gave away 10,000 of those, which were all paid for by sponsors.”

“The cool thing about Audacious is just the networking, meeting other people your age. People have different struggles … it’s good to have people around you who have been in the same boat.” 

Competitors who make it through to round two will appear before a “Dragon’s Den” of business mentors. But you don’t have to win the competition for your idea to be a winner. Frame says, “there are some pretty big success stories about people who haven’t made the finals but whose businesses have done really well. For example, [a personal finance software company based in Dunedin and Auckland]: they lost out, [but] their product is now used by countries around the world.”

Jeff Scofield, the owner of “Surfin Slices” on George Street, made it to the finals before kicking off his business. “The cool thing about Audacious is just the networking, meeting other people your age. People have different struggles … it’s good to have people around you who have been in the same boat.”

Scofield found the Dragon’s Den process valuable: “We were thinking about going into malls, but one thing they raised to us was that if you open up in a mall, you’re beholden to that mall. You can’t be open til 3 in the morning if the mall’s closed. It’s good to have another set of eyes.”

Upstart is a business incubator that runs on a completely different model from Audacious. CEO Steve Silvey describes it as “a bit of a gym for startups – it’s a much more structured process than Audacious. It tends to involve clear programs of work to get through to establish a business, so it’s a different flavour. But we’re all trying to achieve the same thing.  “People are starting to realise they can start their own business. It’s a great alternative to working for someone else.” Upstart is owned by the Dunedin City Council, the University and the Polytech, with additional funding from NZ Trade and Enterprise. 

Upstart has its own share of success stories, such as, an online marketplace for study notes that received an Upstart grant. According to Chris Toma, the founder of Noteboat, the programme was a big part of his success. “Upstart has provided me with a personal business mentor, Rueben Skipper, who has helped me with everything from business plans to marketing strategies. Upstart has also provided seed funding for NoteBoat to take off in Otago, Auckland and Australia. The environment at Upstart is also extremely supportive and perfect for building NoteBoat into a successful student business.” Interestingly Noteboat seems to have the tacit blessing of the University through its support of Upstart, in stark contrast to the University’s combative rhetoric directed at rival note-sharing website in Critic last month. Scandal? We’ll save it for another time.

“People are starting to realise they can start their own business. It’s a great alternative to working for someone else.”  

The downside of Upstart is that it’s a bit tougher to take advantage of their services – to be eligible, your business concept must have “market potential to achieve in excess of $3m sales within 3-5 years of startup.” The Distiller is the final piece in Dunedin’s business incubator jigsaw. Dave Strydom, one of the Distillers head honchos explains: “Audacious, Upstart, the Distiller – we’re all in the same boat, all aiming for the same goal.

“Upstart’s really serious, and I don’t want to say we’re not serious, but most of the people in the Distiller are in full-time jobs and do their Distiller projects part time. We’re all about networking, we’re all about helping each other out, sharing resources, sharing skills. 

“The Distiller is an incubator that is about community, it’s all about the people. It’s about making those connections, and that’s where the heart of the Distiller lies.” 

“There’s no scripting, there’s no process. We’ve got a room in the Centre for Innovation on the second floor called the Distiller. But most of it happens at our Sprint meetings, where we get our largest turnouts. It’s an hour-long meeting, every two weeks you basically say ‘on my project I want to focus on the following and get the following achieved’, and everybody knows what you’re doing so they can help you out.

“We do have a little bit of a focus on people with technical skills. We have a lot of iPhone developers, a lot of web developers. [Web design company] Loop Solutions is a great success story of a company that came through the Distiller and very quickly landed on their feet.

“There are a lot of people who just walk in the room and say ‘I’m not sure what I want to do, I want to learn to code, I want to be a web developer.’ We find them projects to work on: paid, unpaid, or for equity.

“The Distiller is an incubator that is about community, it’s all about the people. It’s about making those connections, and that’s where the heart of the Distiller lies.”

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