In Founder Focus we introduce entrepreneurs and change-makers working on innovative startups, social enterprises and SME’s around Aotearoa New Zealand.

At a glance

Founder: Shanon O’Connor

Business: Tōnui Collab

Founded: 2019

HQ: Gisborne

Can you tell us a bit about your business?

Tōnui Collab is a specialist bilingual education partner dedicated to creating innovative STEMM learning opportunities. Tamariki and rangatahi are invited to explore the diversity of STEMM – Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths and Mātauranga (Māori knowledge) – through experimentation with animation, engineering, 3D design, robotics, game development, virtual reality and more!

We strive to address the digital inequity that exists and to remove the barriers of access so that whānau may have adequate devices and connectivity in their homes, that they might understand the opportunities to study and pursue careers in STEM fields, and to create space for tamariki and rangatahi to collaboratively explore, learn, create and thrive with technologies.

Tōnui Collab partners with marae to create STEMM wānanga, inviting haukainga alongside us to share pūrākau relevant to the tamariki, inviting Māori in Tech to share their career journeys with the tamariki, inviting whānau to celebrate what their tamariki create with our support over a number of days and to learn more about study and career pathways. Thanks to funding partners, these STEMM wānanga come at no financial cost to the tamariki participating.

Tōnui Collab also supports teachers in the impactful adoption of digital technologies by creating learning experiences for the tamariki in our specialist lab or in their classrooms and through professional learning and development partnerships.

What’s the backstory for your business idea?

I had worked in the tech industry as a web developer and in the education industry as a primary school teacher before moving into the specialist digital technologies education space. While excited about the offerings for some schools, I was concerned about the inequity.

Tōnui Collab embraces kaupapa Māori practices in the designing and facilitation of STEMM Wānanga and uses pūrakau Māori (storytelling) as the foundation for STEMM exploration. Collaboration is fundamental to the kaupapa and Tōnui Collab partners with marae, industry, and education partners to create equitable and empowering STEMM learning opportunities for tamariki and rangatahi.

What programmes, learning or mentoring, or resources have been of assistance so far?

  • Mentorship has been crucial. Frances Valintine from AcademyEx planted the seed for Tōnui Collab in Te Tairāwhiti and her encouragement has been fundamental. Glenis Philip-Barbara has been a wise friend and a constant supporter, problem solving over many a cup of tea. Albie Gibson’s guidance and support have been invaluable with his mātauranga, his experience, and his willingness to wānanga with us about pūrākau.
  • Hapori (community) has also been informative, we are members of Te Matarau – the Māori Tech Association, and through these collective we have established relationships with Māori working in the tech space, inviting them to share their stories with us and our tauira so that the pathways into tech are more visible.
  • I participated in Homeward Bound, a global initiative to grow women leadership in STEM, the sharing that has taken place with women from across the globe has been informative and encouraging.


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