Student creates start-up while recovering from car crash

Annabelle Collins reckons a car accident on Auckland’s northern motorway was one of the best things that ever happened to her.

Annabelle Collins says creating gaming pieces in the University's Unleash Space was like a form of therapy.

The 24-year-old University of Auckland PhD student suffered a severe concussion after her car aquaplaned during a torrential downpour and hit the car in front at full speed.

The unfortunate accident was the catalyst in a string of events which led to her starting her own business.

Modular Realms is set to launch via Kickstarter the month, selling magnetic pieces for role playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons and Warhammer.

Annabelle designed the pieces in the University’s Unleash Space while recovering from her injury.

“After the accident my brain just didn’t work the way it used to”, Annabelle recalls. “I could no longer read or write well, or watch TV without suffering nausea and headaches. My personality changed too, I became a real grumpy git,” she says.

“Going to Unleash Space was a form of therapy for me. It engaged the spatial part of my brain which wasn’t damaged in the accident.”

Prior to the crash Annabelle was a promising doctoral candidate in the University’s Faculty of Science, where she was developing new antibiotics for tuberculosis using enzyme modelling.

However on doctor’s advice Annabelle had to shelve her PhD, and eventually withdraw altogether.

I would never in my wildest dreams have imagined I’d be working on start-up and presenting to investors.

Annabelle Collins Modular Realms

“I’ve never been good at doing nothing and I’ve always been good with my hands so I started making terrain for role playing games at home,” Annabelle says.

“I made all these terrible pieces out of polystyrene. Then one day I wandered into Unleash Space and within a matter of hours I was holding a 3D printed piece just as I had imagined it would look in my hand. I was absolutely blown away."

Unleash Space is free facility for University of Auckland staff and students to explore an idea for a business start-up. The space is equipped with 3D printers, laser cutters, routers, electronics, vacuum formers, sewing machines, craft and art supplies as well as design tools like CAD software.

It is part of the Business School’s Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which also provides business expertise and mentorship. Here Annabelle was able to learn about business planning and how to pitch to raise investment capital.

She also spent months thinking through the design of her pieces to enhance the gaming experience for players. The end product is a collection of highly detailed, magnetic, interlocking, reversible terrain tiles that are easy to transport to other people’s homes for role playing gatherings.

“Going to Unleash and doing all of this has changed my world. I would never in my wildest dreams have imagined I’d be working on start-up and presenting to investors. The idea of being in business was something that was unobtainable. I would never have done this without the accident catalysing that change.”

Visit Modular Realms website

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Danelle Clayton | Media Adviser
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