Building the Museum of Tomorrow – Insights from the launch of Mahuki, Te Papa’s Innovation Hub

Tui Te Hau, Te Papa Tongarewa, New Zealand


For almost two decades, Te Papa has challenged expectations of what a museum can be. This year we pushed out even further with the launch of Mahuki, our culture-sector Innovation accelerator. A structured entrepreneurial program, Mahuki is run annually over 5 months where up to ten teams (or 40 individuals) work on sustainable solutions for challenges facing cultural institutions globally. Through Mahuki, Te Papa has made a bold investment, recognizing that innovation is experimental and higher risk than core business. Even though we undertook extensive market research, Mahuki has still been a lesson in trusting our instincts and building a program iteratively. Now that we have completed our first program, our instincts proved right and we are reaping rewards. Some of which were unexpected, like the deep insights and research the teams have uncovered and shared with us. The longer term impact of Mahuki in terms of sustainable business development and contribution to the wider cultural sector will take longer to present. Our choice to take equity in the teams will also take time to see if we realize a financial benefit. Mahuki has also challenged traditional perceptions of the role of a museum. We saw the potential for Te Papa to play a new role and leverage its assets, international brand and networks to contribute to our nation’s economic and creative prosperity.

Keywords: innovation, business model, role, entrepreneur


Since its inception, Te Papa has offered a bold, innovative experience and challenged expectations of what a museum and art gallery can be. This global leadership was reinforced with the launch of Mahuki, the world’s first innovation accelerator for the cultural sector.

Mahuki is a Maori word that means perception and the wellspring of inspiration.  It epitomises the need for vision and to see beyond the existing and usual in order to innovate successfully.

The purpose of Mahuki is to support the development of innovation solutions for the global culture and heritage sector.  Backed by Te Papa Tongarewa, it is located in a purpose built facility in New Zealand’s National Museum.

Mahuki is part of a growing trend amongst museums and cultural institutions to partner with industry / entrepreneurs in order to fast track innovation and adapt to a dynamic and increasingly digital world.

Our bold goal for Mahuki is to provide innovation leadership and support to the global culture and heritage sector and to unleash the assets of New Zealand’s national museum to contribute to New Zealand’s future social, cultural and economic prosperity.

Mahuki Overview

Mahuki comprises three work streams; an accelerator programme (our core programme), graduate programme and tertiary / outreach engagement.

The accelerator supports up to 10 start-up teams who are based on site for 4 months to develop and validate their proposed solution for the cultural sector by supporting them to validate their market opportunity, build early product versions, win initial customers and prepare them to secure external funding.

Mahuki provides $20,000 to each team to enable them to focus their time and effort on the programme to accelerate their activities.  This funding also helps us attract a diverse range of teams that reflect the diversity of New Zealand.   In exchange for the value of the programme, Te Papa has an option to take 6% equity in the teams.  Over time this could contribute to the sustainability of the programme.

Our graduate programme continues to support the most promising ideas / teams from the accelerator programme.

The outreach programme is where we run a series of short duration innovation events with tertiary students, the entrepreneurial community and special interest groups.  It also encompasses an active intern placement programme and in-depth research. Our outreach programme helps us to identify future talent to participate in our accelerator programme.

The cost of the entire Mahuki programme is offset by sponsorship raised.  In addition, the physical space has enabled Te Papa to earn additional revenue through commercial hire in the accelerator programme downtime.

How we set up Mahuki

Te Papa considered a range of models prior to setting up the Mahuki programme.  This included business incubation, an in-house innovation unit and co-working.  We also undertook extensive market validation with over 300 entities in the innovation and start-up eco-system throughout New Zealand to understand the market landscape and need. This included contracted research and workshops with other NZ and international accelerator / incubator programmes.

Based on this research we determined that despite the number of general accelerator programmes operating in NZ our goals would be best met by a dedicated programme committed to generating sustainable outcomes in our sector.

Challenge Areas

When we talk to entrepreneurs about the opportunities in the culture and heritage sector we emphasise our interest in experience and enterprise solutions.  Innovation that will help us tell our stories in new and exciting ways and others that will help us run our businesses more efficiently.

The experience opportunities include gaming, animation, virtual reality, mobile design and 3D modelling. Enterprise solutions are significant and include content management, digital storage and surfacing, ticketing, insights and analytics, collection inventory and storage and so on. There are also opportunities in the learning innovation space as museums and libraries in particular are playing a greater role in the delivery of educational content.

During our market research we identified that many entrepreneurs were building solutions for small problems or problems that didn’t exist.  Given this, and our desire to inform entrepreneurs about the challenges / opportunities in the culture and heritage sector, we issued a list of challenges and asked teams to identify how they addressed one or more of these.  Our initial twelve challenges were:

  1. Create new museum experiences – How can we use new technology to create brand new experiences that bring our collections alive?
  2. Create personal visitor experiences – How can we use innovation to tailor the experience to different individuals?
  3. Reflect our increasingly diverse society – How can innovation and creativity help us to reflect our diverse society in new ways?
  4. Create innovative connections to support learning – How can we help connect schools and tertiary institutions with the curatorial and scientific work we do so that New Zealand’s biodiversity is more accessible to students and all the public?
  5. Inspire young people in science and technology – How can we connect young people with the expertise, knowledge and collections of Te Papa to inspire young New Zealanders, especially girls and Maori and Pasifika, to engage more deeply in science and technology.
  6. Achieve a “create once, publish everywhere” approach to content delivery – How can Te Papa streamline its content creation and publish it in a central location that allows that content to feed into all the formats we use, including audio guides, wall labels, social media, interactive digital displays, apps, web page content, books, etc?
  7. Create a virtual Te Papa – How can we build a virtual Te Papa experience for New Zealanders living outside Wellington?
  8. Connect Maori with taonga (treasures) – How can Te Papa connect iwi, hapu and whanau (indigenous communities) with taonga, tangibly or intangibly, to revitalise culture and heritage as well as support collaboration and reconciliation?
  9. Support artists and enable creative responses – How can we utilise new technologies to support creative responses from artists and visitors both inside and outside of the gallery experience? How might this be used as a template by other museums/galleries and the education sector?
  10. Share our collections in a virtual world – How can we make our data, research, collections available in a virtual world to support learning, sharing of knowledge, and access to our content and collections in new ways (e.g. 3D visualization and printing, etc.), and do so in a user-friendly and scalable way?
  11. Enrich the museum experience for less mobile, hearing or visually impaired people – How can we use innovations in technology to deliver a full sensory experience for these visitors?
  12. Increase visitor access to museum content – How can we create new and relevant ways for visitors to access the content and interpretations of our science collection?

In our second year, we added to these challenges with the following:

  • Audiences – we are interested in solutions that address issues of accessibility and inclusion, improve the experience for families, help us reconnect with disengaged millennials and support our activities in promoting STEM learning subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics)
  • Technology – we are open to supporting teams who are pushing the boundaries of technology e.g. VR and AR 2.0.
  • Sports – in partnership with the NZ cricket museum we issued two sports specific challenges; How can we use new technology to create experiences that bring our sports history alive? How can we share our sports collections to inspire the next generation of New Zealander’s?

Lastly, we recognised that teams may have other ideas that we haven’t thought of.

Selection of Teams

We take a portfolio approach to the selection of the teams.  We would like a mix of for-profit and social enterprise teams and are open to applications from student teams.

The key criteria for selection of teams is the calibre, resilience and ability of the team to execute.  It is highly likely that many of the original ideas the teams came in with will change once they have more understanding and knowledge of the sector.

Profiles of our 2016 and 2017 teams are included as Appendix One.

The Programme Delivery

We took a lean / agile approach to the development of the Mahuki programme where we were iterating and adapting the programme as we were delivering it.  This enabled us to be responsive to the needs and progress of the teams and enable us to incorporate opportunities as they arose.  It meant that we were problem solving on the run and operating within a high degree of ambiguity.

This is out of step with traditional museum practices, which are by nature driven to present a highly polished and completed outcome prior to external participation / presentation.   We consider this approach to be appropriate in an innovative / entrepreneurial context and provide the greatest chance of producing enduring success as opposed a durable solution – as we are constantly adapting and responding to changes and variations in teams, ideas and market conditions and so forth.

Why an Innovation Hub?

Overall, cultural entities are complex businesses with difficult operating environments and many are undergoing digital transformation.  In order to stay relevant, the cultural sector needs to adapt and innovate. Changing consumer experiences have resulted in audiences increasingly demanding experiences ahead of products, and placing more importance on social relationships and personalized services that meet an individual need and are delivered en masse.

Technology has never been more prevalent and accessible. Simultaneously, the Experience Economy is booming, with cultural institutions like Te Papa looking to increase their participation. Mahuki brings these variables together, finding the best ways to engage with entrepreneurs and suppliers to deliver sustainable business benefits rather than bespoke service contracts.

The outcomes of Mahuki support cultural institutions like Te Papa to: speed up the innovation process, meet visitor expectations and remain relevant in an increasingly digital world; keep delighting our audiences when they visit in person or digitally and enable them to go deeper into our collections – beyond what is on display; achieve operational efficiencies and identify commercial outcomes and new revenue streams; build the innovation capability of our staff; and provide leadership and solutions to other NZ museums.

The original objectives for establishing Mahuki were:

  • To be a source of innovation and transformation for Te Papa and the culture and heritage sector in New Zealand and globally
  • Lift the understanding and capability of vendors we work with and increase the potential pool of vendors
  • Capture the value from projects so that they can be easily replicated if appropriate as opposed to numerous bespoke projects
  • Identify and support commercial outcomes for Te Papa, the teams, the culture and heritage sector
  • Recognition of opportunities for future Wellington wide collaboration e.g. Peter Jackson’s Movie Museum that will be built across the road from Te Papa

Te Papa has a mandate and obligation, under the Te Papa Act, to lift the capability of the institutions in New Zealand’s culture and heritage sector. Mahuki is a sustainable way for Te Papa to address their transformation and audience engagement challenges through innovation that is distributed through the creative tech business sector in our communities.

This is complimented by our goals at Mahuki to: lift the capability of New Zealand firms by leading the development of New Zealand’s first entrepreneurial programme targeting the cultural sector, we aim to lift the capability of New Zealand firms to better deliver and meet the needs of this vertical in New Zealand and beyond.

We also endeavour to support the wider New Zealand GLAM sector. The GLAM sector is undergoing digital transformation.  Many have limited budgets, can be slow moving and have traditionally not been viewed as being ready for transformation by external vendors / businesses.

Through the Hub we can help lift the digital capability of the New Zealand GLAM sector as a whole and support other New Zealand cultural institutions to access innovation and firms they can use who understand their needs and have been vetted through our programme. The Innovation Hub also builds new skillsets for Te Papa staff including business skills, mentoring and coaching of teams, entrepreneurial programme development and management, investment and so on.

The first programme of Mahuki influenced Te Papa to accelerate its digitisation programme in order for us to fully engage with VR, AR and other technologies.

How do we measure success?

At a macro level, Mahuki has resulted in two key outcomes for Te Papa; Firstly, the creation of an ecosystem where dozens of entities and hundreds of individuals have been motivated to think about Te Papa’s and the sector’s needs and innovation goals.  This ecosystem will grow in size and value every year. Secondly, the creation of new, valuable networks for Te Papa for example with the investment community and new types of engagement with existing communities.

The key that indicator of positive return on investment is the number of deployable solutions developed as a result of the programme.  Seven out of ten teams from our first programme have a commercial agreement or pilot with an anchor customers and two of the teams have raised private investor funding so far.

At a programme level, Mahuki has attracted significant cash and in-kind sponsorship support and we were successful in securing funding through Callaghan Innovation, New Zealand’s innovation agency.

The longer term impact of Mahuki in terms of sustainable business development and contribution to the wider cultural sector will take longer to present.  Our choice to take equity in the teams will also take time to see if we realize a financial benefit.

Three years is the international benchmark for assessing the value of these types of programmes.  Te Papa has committed to this timeframe as well as rigorously assessing the impact and value on an ongoing basis.   The results of year one in terms of deployable solutions, the impact on our culture and capability and the opportunities to provide value and leadership to the wider NZ cultural sector, exceeded our expectations.

What did we learn?

Te Papa’s winning aspiration is to be a center of innovation for museums and galleries. Standing up an innovation unit within core business is difficult.  Our approach to this has been to think about organizational innovation in terms of strategic horizons. In Horizon One, the work we are doing is optimising the core business.  In Horizon Two, we are looking for adjacencies – either bringing current business value to a new set of customers in a different manner, or new value to the same customers.  Horizon Three is about looking further ahead to the innovations that may be a game changer for our business in future. At Te Papa we’re working across all three horizons with Mahuki focused on horizons two and three. Mahuki has enabled Te Papa to pursue innovation that would not occur under business as usual.

Doing something new is inherently risky, because you don’t know what the answer is – you have to work it out as you go along, and that inherently feels uncomfortable.

Organisations succeed in surfing change because the organisation’s leadership were prepared to take risks to try something new; because their people were empowered to apply their expertise to a different kind of problem; because they could spend less time and money getting to the right answer, because they discovered a new way to create and extract value.

The learning outcomes from Mahuki are diverse.  Mahuki has influenced Te Papa to accelerate its digitisation programme to future proof our ability to incorporate virtual, augmented and mixed reality in future activities.  We thought this was a couple of years away but realised from the Mahuki teams that it is imminent.  Mahuki has spotlighted many of the barriers for Te Papa to easily incorporate innovation in our business such as decision making cycles and we have begun work to address these.  At the same time, Mahuki has inspired and motivated Te Papa staff and got them excited about new technology platforms and so forth.  We are constantly refining the Mahuki programme to ensure it continues to add value to Te Papa and the teams that participate.


Through Mahuki, Te Papa has made a bold investment, recognizing that innovation is experimental and higher risk than core business.  Even though we undertook extensive market research, Mahuki has still been a lesson in trusting our instincts and building a program iteratively. Now that we have completed our first program our instincts proved right and we are already reaping rewards.  Some of which were unexpected, like the deep insights and research the teams have uncovered and shared with us.

Mahuki has also challenged traditional perceptions of the role of a museum.  We saw the potential for Te Papa to play a new role and leverage its assets, international brand and networks to contribute to our nation’s economic and creative prosperity

With its first year completed, Mahuki has proven the demand for an accelerator programme for creative technologies focused on the culture and heritage sector that offers tangible pathways to customers, national and international markets.

In Mahuki, Te Papa has gone out on a limb – but we also did that 20 years ago when we imagined a new bicultural museology unseen in the world before. To reap the rewards of innovation, you have to be prepared to take risks.

Stay in touch

For further information please contact –  and


 Mahuki Year One – 2016


Providing 10cm accuracy for indoor positioning

Our vision is to change the way organisations think about the possibilities of location based services. We do this through our centimeter-accurate indoor positioning solution. We want to work alongside innovative partners, who are passionate about delivering world-leading digital customer experiences.

The Breadcrumb positioning solution enables applications across two broad areas – enhancing customer experiences and enhancing organisational performance.

Cultural institutions such as museums and art galleries need to meet changing visitor expectations and stay relevant. The Breadcrumb platform opens up exciting opportunities to deliver smart, location-aware digital experiences. Our solution also provides cultural institutions the ability to enhance operational efficiency through visitor data insights. Understanding visitors is crucial, and deep insights don’t come just from old fashioned paper surveys.


Craftmapper revitalises indigenous culture

Craftmapper is a social enterprise that encourages indigenous communities to protect their unique cultural heritage by providing livelihood opportunities. We are proud to partner with Te Papa Tongarewa, Museum of New Zealand to offer unique, authentic craft to international museum shops and other high end outlets around the world.


Makes making interactives easy and fun

Curio is an online publishing platform that lets Museums, Galleries, Libraries, etc make their own digital interactives, without needing specialist suppliers. Curio is especially suited to creating object-based interactives, typically presented on a touchscreen. All you need is an object, or a collection of objects, and some stories to tell about it that will fascinate your visitor. If you have those, then you’re ready to start!

Curio is free to try and you’ll need to buy a license to publish the interactive to a screen, so you can check it and so your visitors can start interacting. After that, you can monitor how successful it is and make changes as often as you like.

Find out more: 

Dot Dot

The Empathy Machine

DOTDOT are interactive content specialists working in both augmented and virtual reality. With backgrounds in film, gaming, education and performance, we bring together content, hardware and software expertise to create the most compelling experiences possible.

Learn more at


Your window to discovery

Excio displays meaningful and stimulating images on the home screens of mobile devices. This company’s mission is to enable people to explore the amazing world around them without having to actively or consciously do so. To achieve this mission, Excio works with people and organisations around the globe to bring their artworks, photographs and collections to life. Excio is looking for the most interesting and unique content to be exhibited on the home screens of thousands of mobile devices that will engage, educate and change the lives of others.

Download Excio from Google Play:


Making Learning Fun and Effective

Gamelab creates scaffolded learning activities and resources that educate young people in a fun and engaging way through making their own games. The Gamefroot platform makes learning playful and effective for young museum visitors by empowering them via user friendly software and culturally enriched resources, in partnership with the GLAM sector.

Koha Technology

Cultural collaboration, digital innovation and human interaction

Let indigenous culture truly speak. For indigenous cultures who have precious treasures, Koha Technologies understands the cultural architecture which enables indigenous peoples to preserve their digital treasures. Our team understand the processes needed to engage, store, build and portray indigenous experiences.

For Koha Technologies, we are committed to supporting indigenous peoples with the digitization and telling of their cultural stories, building the digital asset base allowing indigenous cultures to store, access and convey their cultural stories, providing a platform for the dispersion of cultural digital stories globally and, creating new innovative ways to display and interact with indigenous cultural treasures.
Find out more:

Open Window

Immersive virtual gallery experiences

Open Window is creating a platform to promote, preserve and pre-visualise art by allowing artists to experience their art collection through virtual reality. We work with galleries and museums to upload their digital content, curate, and publish exhibitions using 360 capture and virtual walkthroughs.

Point Zero

Inspiring young people with 3D visualisation

Point Zero’s purpose is to create, unique digital experiences that connect brands with people. Ranging from the programming and design through to promotion, we produce cutting edge hologram, virtual reality, mobile applications that wow your customers.

Point Zero creates interactive holographic displays for the museum space that simply convey complex ideas in science and technology. The product is Holospace, the only display technology that combines 3D holograms with interactive content to educate and inspire audiences. Providing a new way for museums to share their stories in an immersive and visually exciting way.

Mahuki Teams Year Two – 2017


Collaborate is a platform for matching volunteers skills with opportunities in community and cultural organisations like museums and charities.

It functions much the same as popular dating sites but instead matches young people and skilled professionals alike with opportunities to use their skills for good. By making connection fast and easy the collaborate app boosts volunteer engagement, especially amongst the missing millennial demographic.

Organisations can tap into this talent by posting opportunities and viewing the profile of interested volunteers; which includes users volunteer history and feedback tracked through the app.

Collaborate empowers communities by making it easier for volunteers to give and grow their skills on projects they care about, and increasing the capacity and capability of organisations.


ContinUX brings together software development, user experience research, and culture and heritage sector expertise to create intelligent software that supports the delivery of personalised visitor experiences for galleries, libraries, archives, and museums.

Our first product MORPH will generate unique experiences for museum visitors by:

  • engaging with visitors through use of identification and user segmentation,
  • tracking interactions and activities throughout the museum and exhibit hotspots,
  • capturing and archiving interactional data in warehousing and archival storage facilities,
  • massaging the captured raw information to work with MORPH’s predefined behavioural models and data structures, and
  • carrying out data analytics to turn raw information into actionable insights.

MORPH’s customers will use these insights to create tailored exhibitions and marketing campaigns. These same insights will be used to generate personalised visitor experiences, in real or near-real time. In this way, MORPH becomes an experience engine for the institution.

I Want to Experience

I Want To Experience uses immersive Virtual Reality to take users into the intimate worlds of explorers, innovators, curators and scholars. Passionate experts tell you what they are most curious about –what they’ve spent their lifetimes’ studying. We provide an avenue through which cultural Institutions can unlock their human treasures, reach geographically unbound audiences and deepen the learning experience for their visitors.

We’re using the skills we’ve mastered creating content for blockbuster Hollywood films at WetaDigital to pioneer a new genre of information interchange that is only now, with the release of consumer-oriented VR technology, becoming possible.

Local Flair

LocalFlair enables institutions to activate the creative communities around them through retail. Galleries and museums all want to support local creatives, but in order for the work to also support the institutions they must do 3 things.

  1. Provide commercial benefit
  2. Relate to the current exhibitions
  3. Improve standing with the locals

Finding work that fits all three criteria is very time intensive. This pain is amplified every time the exhibitions change, making working with a diverse range of local artists even harder to sustain.

We help by mapping out the local art community and connecting organisations with the right products and people.


ScimitAR is a team of game designers and visual artists who aim to enhance experiences through augmented reality. We boast a strong skill base in 3D graphics, 3D Modeling, animation and tech/programing.

We want to encourage and drive engagement with the cultural sector, particularly within the younger generations; creating a link between technology and the creative arts by using virtual reality, game theory, and aesthetic to refresh and renew interest with culture, history, and nature.

Imagine being able to explore a museum interactively, following clues about exhibitions and seeing the virtual interspersed with reality to form a unique experience within the museum.

Imagine being able to see the vast amounts of art, culture, history, and nature that can’t be presented in the front end for various reasons, simply through your or the museums devices.


SimplyFi are a team working to streamline the current lending and borrowing process between institutions. This system will act as a digital hub for documentation during this process.

Borrowers can apply and receive updates in real time similar to google docs. Building reports, insurance details and other information will be stored for future loan applications to assist in reducing process times. Information will be fed and borrowed from current Collection Management

Systems like EMuand Vernon to create alerts for the required parties that a loan has progressed to the next stage of authentication.

Their goal is create an equal playing field for institutions of all sizes so artifactsand exhibits can be better showcased to every corner of the globe.

Tide Talk

TideTalk is a digital learning tool that will help to preserve the languages of Oceania, especially for second and third generation immigrants who are losing their cultural heritage.

Unlike other language tools, TideTalk learning is scenario based and customisable -so you gain vocabulary and sentence structures that are immediately relevant to you. It is also social and immersive, and so engaging, you won’t even realize you’re learning.

Best of all, while you’re learning language skills, TideTalk earns about you. The tool not only keeps track of your progress, it also picks up your learning style and habits so it offer helpful tips and suggest lessons you might like.

But with every word or phrase you master, you’ll rescue another gem of cultural knowledge that you can then pass on to future generations.

TideTalk… brings your language to life.

Vaka Interactiv

VakaInteractiv is a team of four Pasifika and Māori co-founders who are passionate about sharing their culture using impact communication.

They recognise the cultural sector is aimed at helping people appreciate culture in a way that changes lives for the better. Their initial focus is centred around building ethno-cultural empathy, or an understanding of culture from the culture’s perspective.

To achieve this, the team have entered Mahuki with interactive portrait technology that provides a medium through which museum visitors can experience ethno-cultural empathy via two-way communication.

Cite as:
. "Building the Museum of Tomorrow – Insights from the launch of Mahuki, Te Papa’s Innovation Hub." MW17: MW 2017. Published February 2, 2018. Consulted .

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