Alumni Stories – Ultimate Bowls Championship

No one would have anticipated a lawn bowls tournament to be the next venture success story to emerge from the University of Auckland.

Except, that is, for PhD student Rebecca Jelley. While she is studying Chemistry, she is also a long-time lawn bowls enthusiast.

Her involvement in the development of a new format of the game was assisted by participating in a number of programmes delivered by the University’s Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.  

The trans-Tasman Ultimate Bowls Championship competition, or UBC, is now a televised event, its first event attracting more than one million viewers.

It boasts the most prizemoney in the sport of lawn bowls, an incredible $500,000 AUD annually, and is broadcast in 22 countries on channels including FOX Sports Australia and Sky Sport NZ.

The UBC held its first tournament in New South Wales in April, attracting some of the best players in the sport, who competed in 24 teams from New Zealand, Australia and China. Two further tournaments are scheduled for 2019.

“At our first event we hit the million viewer milestone which has just been incredible,” Rebecca says.

As a UBC co-founder and director, Rebecca works in conjunction with the CEO to oversee many aspects of the company in New Zealand and Australia.  

The UBC format is more fast-paced and spectator-friendly than traditional lawn bowls. It features quick 25-minute matches, and every bowl has the potential to score points.

Scores are displayed in real-time on electronic scoreboards, using UBC-developed software, making the games more exciting to play and entertaining to watch.

“This has been a massive hit for the UBC, truly a point of difference from other lawn bowling events, and something we are very proud of,” Rebecca says.

“I really believe in the UBC product and what it could do for the sport, especially at a time when lawn bowls clubs around the country are closing as memberships decline.”

Meanwhile Rebecca is working full-time as a Research Assistant at the University and completing her PhD part-time. Her doctoral research looks at the synthesis of new biodegradable materials from wine industry waste, a technology she entered in the University’s Velocity entrepreneurship competition last year.

“I really had no experience or even interest in the world of business before going through the Velocity Challenge. But it was while I was in this programme that I developed the necessary skills and passion for commercialisation.”

Rebecca was fortunate to be accepted into the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship’s Founders’ Hatchery programme to develop her skills as a budding entrepreneur and work on specific aspects of the business through mentoring, workshops and access to meeting rooms and technology.

“Given I had no experience in business I made the most of all opportunities – seminars, workshops, courses, and presentations –  to gain as much knowledge as I could,” Rebecca says.

“It has been brilliant to work with other like-minded people and make use of business resources and mentors.”

Rebecca, an Auckland title-holder in the sport of lawn bowls, is from a well-known sporting family. Her Great Uncle, Arch Jelley, was John Walker’s coach during his medal winning Olympics campaign in the 1970s, and still competes in lawn bowls at the age of 96.

The next UBC tournament will take place August at the Deer Park Club in Melbourne.

Stuff article: Auckland student’s twist on lawn bowls draws in a million spectators