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Source: MIL-OSI Submissions
Source: University of Canterbury

Until quite recently, University of Canterbury graduate and Kiwi entrepreneur Guy Horrocks was living in New York helping launch a new data management company, Solve. But, as the number of Covid-19 cases in the city climbed, cafes closed and business meetings were cancelled, he realised it was time to go.

He and his wife, Rose (also a UC graduate), took their five-month-old daughter home to New Zealand, to hunker down at a friend’s house on Waiheke Island.

Horrocks, who graduated from the University of Canterbury with Law and Commerce degrees in 2007 and won the university’s Entré Startup Challenge competition in 2006, is relieved to be home but hasn’t been taking it easy.

Wanting New Zealand to act quickly to avoid the situation he saw unfolding in New York, he set up an entrepreneur group to lobby the Government for a lockdown. He also began voluntarily helping UC’s Student Volunteer Army (SVA) mobilise a national volunteer response to help people affected by the Covid-19 lockdown.

“It’s a great story of entrepreneurs from different backgrounds coming together to help. For me personally, it’s a really cool, meaningful project that’s very rewarding,” Horrocks says.

His expertise, along with input from other entrepreneurs-turned-advisers including Sam Halse and Adam Jones, helped the SVA build a call centre, payment system, and shopping website that allows volunteers to deliver medicines for people who are unable to go to a pharmacy, provide childcare for people working in essential roles, and work with Foodstuffs to deliver groceries to the elderly and vulnerable.

“We’ve built the basics for a technology platform that will allow them to scale up their offering and service those requests,” Horrocks says. “It’s a little bit different to what the SVA has done in the past and has the potential to be on a much larger scale, so it’s quite a different challenge.

“I haven’t seen many teams get something out this quickly. It happened in about seven days – building a full commercial shopping website with links into supermarkets, payment system, call centre and training volunteers. It’s pretty remarkable and I take my hat off to the people in the team. Most people at this stage would still be standing around a whiteboard arguing about stuff. For a not-for-profit to be able to run like this is pretty cool,” he says.

“My focus now is trying to help with arranging funding and partnerships to make sure they can keep the service going.”

Horrocks says the mentoring he received from former UC Vice-Chancellor Dr Rod Carr, after he won the 2006 Entré competition as a student in his early 20s, set him on a path for success. And he’s keen to return the favour, working alongside Sam Johnson, who founded SVA after the Canterbury earthquakes.

“Rod is a very smart, generous guy, he’s helped me a lot and now I’ve got enough experience myself to give back to UC in a different way.”

Johnson says a number of skilled UC graduates, such as Horrocks, are giving SVA their help.

“There’s been a whole lot of extra support – there’s a nice UC community out there. It’s been amazing for our student volunteers to be working with leading alumni, and learning and gaining great work experience.”

He says about 1000 students have already joined SVA’s lockdown volunteer response which has a strong safety focus and allows them to support those who need help while still practicing social distancing.

Horrocks’ first startup was a blood spatter analysis company, which used software to analyse crime scenes. He started the world’s first iPhone app company, Polar Bear Farm, and then moved to New York eight years ago with his mobile agency Carnival Labs, which had a client list that included CNN and Dreamworks. He also co-founded a mobile marketing startup, Carnival Mobile, backed by Google, which was acquired in 2016 by Sailthru.