Meet our innovative finalists

We are so proud to announce our top three finalists for the much anticipated New Zealand Innovator of the Year Award

(Updated 1 April 2022)

Whakamihi to our innovative winner Dr Mark Sagar, co-founder and CEO of Soul Machines.

Mark is a fantastic example of the global impact a Kiwi innovator can have and we’re thrilled to show our support for him. "I'm not interested in doing what's already been done. I want to push the limits of what's possible. We're based in NZ but Soul Machines is competing with the biggest companies in the world. From a scientific, technological, business and entrepreneurial point of view we're doing what no other company is. We're hungry like that"  - Mark.

We're so proud of all three of our finalists and wish them all the best on their innovative journeys.

The judges had a tough job looking at our inspiring semi-finalists for the 2022 Te Pou Whakairo o te Tau (Trade Me New Zealand Innovator of the Year Award).

Presenting, in no particular order, our top three finalists for the Innovator category in the much anticipated 2022 New Zealander of the Year Awards.

Here at Trade Me HQ we live by four values

Customer Aroha, There’s no ‘I’ in Trade Me, Don’t be a dick, and Hunger like Ed Hillary. You can meet our Values Squad for yourself right here.

Curious about the minds of our finalists, we had a chat with each of them to find out how our Trade Me values resonate with their own mahi. Read on to find out more about what inspires and motivates them.

Winner Mark Sagar

Mark Sagar Ph.D. FRSNZ

Mark Sagar is a thinker of extraordinary vision, imagining our future integrated with artificial intelligence (AI). The co-founder and CEO of Soul Machines, Mark and his team are pioneering new technology to create virtual humans with virtual brains.

With a bio-engineering degree under his belt and a history of painting and drawing portraits, Mark has combined his interests to create Soul Machines.

Mark, a two time Academy Award winner, spent a lot of time in the film industry pioneering technology to bring computer generated faces to life. He began to wonder… what if those same characters came alive with the ability to live in their own sense?

Mark saw for himself that if he put computer graphics, neuroscience and artificial intelligence together as they were at the time, he had the opportunity to create a lifelike digital brain. With that lightbulb idea Mark left his job and started a new lab which later formed Soul Machines as it is known today.

Mark identifies with all of Trade Me’s values in the work he does. With a focus on Customer Aroha, Soul Machines wants to make technology that empowers, engages, entertains, and helps the people that use it. For example, developing Florence, a digital health worker for the World Health Organisation to help combat smoking and Covid-19 misinformation.

Doing the right thing for others is absolutely critical to Soul Machines as they acknowledge the impact of AI technology. For this reason, they are one of very few AI companies with an active ethics board and policy.

Part of Mark’s mission to humanise AI comes from a desire to better humanity. When it comes to humans in the real world, Mark believes that in order to relate to one another better it’s important for us to be as aware as possible of all of the factors that influence someone’s choices and behaviours.

He says that true empathy comes from understanding where someone else is coming from on multiple levels. Mark thinks so many factors influence human interactions including how someone’s day is going, their energy levels, and what’s been on their mind. Mark believes that life is always giving us different pressures and surprises but that, when it comes down to it, the vast majority of people have their heart in a good place.

Finalist Cameron Smith

Cameron Smith

Cameron Smith is the Founder and CEO of Take2, a company changing the face of the tech sector. Take2 runs 12-month web development training courses for New Zealand prisoners, connecting them with internships at leading tech companies.

Cameron believes that innovation occurs when new ideas are applied to old problems.

At Take2 this begins by understanding the nature of a problem, what has and hasn't worked, how the problem is being tackled on a global scale, and learning from those examples to develop solutions in Aotearoa.

Using the tech sector to lower recidivism rates in prisoners

Cameron feels that all of Trade Me’s values are closely aligned to how Take2 operates. Much like Customer Aroha, Manaakitanga (hospitality, kindness, generosity, support) is one of Take2's core values. He believes this is vital in order to foster a space for vulnerability and growth.

Take2 sees eye to eye with Trade Me when it comes to ‘don’t be a dick’, as it’s already part of their kaupapa. The men entering Take2’s programme often feel heavy with a feeling of failure. To foster mutual respect in the classroom, Take2 encourages students to see those ‘failures’ as exciting opportunities to become better than ever before, just like pioneer Ed Hillary.

Cameron’s work is never about his own needs. Instead, Take2 is on a mission to serve others. This motivates Cameron and his team on tough days. Once they remind themselves of the struggles their students will be experiencing inside prison, Take2’s mission becomes more important than ever. Cameron says that having this higher purpose in his work is what motivates his team to keep on keeping on even when they face challenges that seem insurmountable.

Finalist Saia Latu

Saia Latu (Sierra, Alpha, India, Alpha)

Saia Latu is the founder and CEO of TROW Group, New Zealand’s leading deconstruction company. TROW finds innovative ways to salvage and repurpose hundreds of tonnes of construction materials that would otherwise end up in landfill. TROW uses these materials to build schools, social housing, community centres and churches across New Zealand and the Pacific.

The inspiration that sparked TROW Group as it is today was a little kaumatua (elderly woman of status) with one big question. After speaking for an hour about Saia’s own work at a marae, a woman raised her hand from the back of the room to ask a pātai. Struggling to hear her, Saia crossed the room. The woman said “Ka pai, beautiful son. So… what have you done?”

This small but powerful question sent Saia on a journey of self enquiry to find out what had he really done? This quickly turned into, what did he want to do going forward?

There’s a waste problem in this country

When the TROW team looks at waste, they see opportunities. They use technology to redesign that waste into buildings that benefit New Zealand taxpayers like social housing.

To Saia, TROW Group isn’t just about saving waste from landfill, it’s also about creating jobs and changing the lives of Māori and Pasifika communities. TROW Group is on a mission to do so much more than deconstruction, they’re creating well paying jobs that teach employees about circular economies, social innovation and environmentalism.

Innovation is about people, he says, and for that reason he identifies with all of Trade Me’s values, especially Customer Aroha. Everything that TROW Group does comes directly from the voices of the community, it’s the people that guide their values, designs and the strengths of their projects.

Saia’s personal motto is, “don’t be a business person, be a good person with a business”. He believes that one puts money first, and the other puts community at the forefront. For that reason, he spreads the message everyday that if you go looking for money you’ll never find it, but if you go looking to help others, everything will fall into place.