The Hack My Van competition, put on for the second year by Mercedes-Benz Vans, reminds me a little bit of the reality TV show Pimp My Ride, where ruined cars were fixed up and renovated into much cooler versions of the original vehicle. The difference is that, instead of trying to revive an old car, Hack My Van invites startups, small businesses, designers, and product developers in Australia and New Zealand to pitch innovative business ideas that could be run out of a Vito van.

Competitors were asked to explain to a panel of judges exactly how the van could be used to grow their businesses. Second and third place prizes are cash grants from RedZed Lending Solutions in Australia, and the grand prize is a new Mercedes-Benz Vito van, so entrepreneurs could “take their ideas on the road.”

“We created this event because we know that when used creatively the Vito can be transformative for a small business,” said Diane Tarr, the Managing Director for Mercedes-Benz Vans Australia & New Zealand. “Once again this year the entries were extremely diverse, and we were so pleased to extend into New Zealand, with three of the six finalists –  including our winner – traveling across the ditch to be part of the event.”

Hack My Van judges

Aside from Tarr, the panel of judges included:

  • Dr. Kate Cornick (CEO, LaunchVic)
  • Nick Crocker (Partner, Blackbird Ventures)
  • Shane Delia (award winning chef and restaurateur)
  • Megan Morton (Australia’s leading stylist)

The Hack My Van site reads, “Calling all entrepreneurs, visionaries, dreamers, schemers, hackers and hustlers. We want you to pitch us an amazing, innovative product or business idea that uses the inside of our van as your canvas.”

Six finalist teams were invited to present their ideas in Melbourne last week, and the teams had access to resources and mentors to help bring their business design ideas to life. The business ideas were helpful and unique, from a health professional delivery service to a business that offered virtual reality tours of tiny homes and another that would host silent discos for school children.

Second runner-up Ruby & Ollie’s Big Days Out received a $2,500 cash grant, while HME Limited’s ThunderPods, the first runner-up, won a $5,000 cash grant. The first place winner was MindKits, which runs educational STEM workshops in New Zealand and was established nearly a decade ago after co-founder Tim Carr noticed a major lack of support for teaching students about physical computing, robotics, and other advanced technology, like 3D printing.

Diane Tarr with MindKits

Carr also realized that the only schools that could participate in the workshops were the ones with monetary resources to buy 3D printers.

Carr said, “So I got thinking, what about the other schools? There are plenty of keen kids that are out there in lower socioeconomic areas without the resources and funds to participate, so this is a way we could take what we’ve been doing and totally democratise the technology and make it available for everyone.”

Taking education on the road with portable resources is a clever idea to bring technology to those who might not otherwise have access, as we’ve seen with the traveling STEAM bus based out of Maryland, a mobile digital arts platform that brings lesson plans, including 3D printing ones, to under-served kids.

“Congratulations to Tim and Fay from MindKits who are already providing such a valuable service to school children in New Zealand by delivering hands-on STEM learning experiences. We cannot wait to see them achieve their dreams of taking their ​workshops​ ​on​ ​the​ ​road​ ​to​ ​more​ ​kids​ ​and​ ​more​ ​schools,” said Tarr in a statement.

[Image: SmartCompany]

In an interesting twist, the educational New Zealand business almost didn’t make it to the pitch competition in Australia after a snafu at the airport.

Carr told SmartCompany, “We were heading over from New Zealand, and the one bag that got lost by the airline was the one that had everything for our pitch in it. And then when they were looking for our bags they asked for my passport so I gave it to them, but then they kept my passport. So we had to hire a car yesterday and drive back to the airport to pick up my passport.”

Once Carr and fellow MindKits co-founder Fay Cobbett made it to the competition, they had to illustrate exactly how they were going to bring their innovative concept to life.

Carr said, “We simulated everything with boxes and life-size tables. We had just five minutes to set up so we were running drills every weekend to make sure we could achieve that. I was just finishing my pitch while Fay was in the van finalising the setup.”

After explaining their idea for a portable educational 3D printing workshop that could be run out of a Vito van and driven to schools that can’t make their own 3D printing labs and makerspaces, the two were thrilled to learn that they’d won a new Vito van so they could take their concept on the road.

“We always had the idea, but we never had the vehicle – quite literally – to deliver on,” Carr said. “It was never quite there. This converts it all into something doable.”

The goal is prove the concept at home first, before expanding. MindKits will refurbish its new Vito van so it’s able to travel to schools around New Zealand, and Carr said they will be able to “run 120 kids through a workshop in one day.”

“Winning the Vito enables us to take our proven engaging STEM workshops and bring them to schools with fewer resources, independent of their wealth and status,” said Carr and Cobbett. “For the business this opens a new chapter and an expanding market, with thanks to Mercedes-Benz Vans.”

Discuss in the Hack My Van forum at 3DPB.com.

[Source/Images: Mercedes-Benz Vans Australia and New Zealand]

 

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