2021 is drawing to a close and once again we saw a range of stories showing that despite a second year of challenging times for businesses nationwide, entrepreneurship and innovation is alive and well in Aotearoa. Below we present our Editor’s Picks for 2021 – a selection of ten stories from our annual innovation series chosen by Richard Liew. Richard shares his thoughts below.

So Innovation Nation 2021 is over.

70+ entrepreneurs from approximately ten regions around Aotearoa, and over 100 scholarships contributed to help support our next generation of entrepreneurs in 2022 through our Startup NZ Entrepreneurs Programme.

And yet in so many ways it feels like we are only just getting our teeth into it.

If you were able to check in online or via our social media channels this year, thank you and we hope you were as inspired and proud as we were to learn about some of the great work going on around this little land-of-the-long-white-cloud we call home. To our supporters and all the entrepreneurs and organisations who took part this year, ka pai and kia kaha!

Needless to say there is inspiration and entrepreneurial lessons to be found in every one of this year’s stories. If you’re an entrepreneur or a supporter of entrepreneurs by way of educating, mentoring, or investing, I highly encourage you to take some time to check out even just a few of the stories. As any one of them could be just the thing to strike a chord, provide a timely voice of encouragement, or trigger a breakthrough insight for an entrepreneur you know.

Before I get into our Editor’s Picks for 2021, I’d like to quickly make a few things clear about how this list was arrived at.

Firstly and most importantly, this is not a “Top 10” list. Rather it is simply an attempt (probably an impossible one) to present a selection of participating stories that to me, provides a wide and varied snapshot of innovation in New Zealand in 2021.

For example, if an enlightened race of extra-terrestrial beings barged in in the middle of a Zoom meeting, and asked me, “What does innovation look like on these islands in the infancy of their habitation at this current juncture in space-time? You have 30 Earth seconds to justify our continued tolerance of your existence.” I would say, “Well, take a look at these humans here and what they are working on. And please leave your gravity jandals at the door next time.”

With that in mind, in no particular order it is my pleasure to present our Editor’s Picks for Innovation Nation 2021. Do check them and all of this years stories out right here.



A device that anyone can use to give themselves a professional haircut in minutes. What could possibly go wrong? This story caught my attention the moment it hit my editors desk. Partly because I too, like the Wisp founder, dislike the hassle of getting my haircut. But also because the technology involved just seems so futuristic. Read the story here.



Staying on the technology vibe, this story is about a startup working on a waste receptacle that not only sorts rubbish from recycling, but actually aims to teach the depositors which is which. Thus reducing the amount of “wish-cycling” – a phenomenon whereby well meaning citizens wrongly put rubbish that they hope could be recycled into recycling bins, resulting in recycling contamination which leads to the whole lot being unrecyclable. Read the story here.



It wouldn’t be Innovation Nation without a story about a farmer, a classic Kiwi shed, and a dog. This story has all three. A fantastic example of the innovation that can arise when we look to solve a challenge or frustration we have personally encountered. It reminds us that if there is a problem keeping you awake at night, there’s a good chance it might be keeping others awake too! Read the story here.

Westlock Concrete


Hot off the back of COP26, climate change and rising sea levels causing coastal erosion and inundating low lying nations are rightly a topic of global consternation. The elegant simplicity that underpins this story is one of those that makes me think, why has no one thought of this before? Read the story here.



From solving environmental issues, to solving societal issues, I take my hat off to entrepreneurs behind businesses like The WAN. Because creating a good product or service is hard enough. But changing buyer and seller behaviour is another matter altogether. We’ve heard a lot about New Zealand’s housing crisis and lack of accommodation affecting the ability of businesses to attract seasonal workers – will rental home owners and room providers be willing to put helping out local businesses ahead of the Air BnB and “weekender” holiday market? Read the story here.



I love stories about entrepreneurship that involve life partners, spouses, better-halves… because in many small Kiwi businesses this is often the reality. I’ve been there myself and as many will tell you, running a business with the person you love most is not for everyone. But when it does work, it can be one of the most rewarding experiences a couple can go through. Read the story here.

Altitude Conservation

Altitude Conservation

This story is a classic example of entrepreneurial tenacity and determination – where one persons vision and determination to make a difference in their chosen field surpasses even the biggest of challenges. Even cancer. Read the story here.



Increasingly entrepreneurial thinking is popping up in all manner of fields to fill the gaps overlooked between government and commerce, and social entrepreneurship is booming. Innovative funding models, lean startup thinking and community activation are hallmarks of a new generation of social enterprises like this one looking to secure financial sustainability outside of just donations. Read the story here.

Smart Machine/Oxin


As we like to keep pointing out, innovation happens in all industries, in businesses of all sizes and all ages. This story is notable in that it’s a good reminder that a lot of innovation happens not because someone has gone out to create a new market of customers, but in order to better serve an existing market – or in this case – a single customer. Read the story here.



What are you prepared to put in to see your entrepreneurial vision come to life? Money, time and sweat are one thing but what about the emotional price of going all in, sometimes against the advice or wishes of the people who love and care about you? The young duo in this story are a classic case in point. Read the story here.

Read all these stories and more in Innovation Nation 2021.

Richard Liew is founder and editor at NZ Entrepreneur Magazine

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