From zero to Xero this Waikato-born virtual assistant and her creators are ready to help millions

Donnamaree Ryder and Wintec IT graduate Elysia Wanakore celebrating the launch of Tania.ai with whānau

Celebrating the launch of Tania.ai to world, CEO Donnamaree Ryder (centre left) and Chief Customer Officer and Wintec graduate, Elysia Wanakore (centre right) are surrounded by whānau. Photo supplied.

 

On 3 July 2021, a voice-activated accounting service, Tania.ai went live in New Zealand, Australia and the United States, a dream come true for a small Kiwi company and its employees, including Wintec IT graduate, Elysia Wanakore.

Ngāruawāhia-based Wanakore, (Ngāti Maniapoto) a single mother of six and grandmother of four, had five children living at home when she decided that for everyone to do well, she had to lead.

She’d held a few factory jobs, worked in hospitality and a seafood outlet, but she wanted more, so she signed up for tertiary study with her sights set on a degree in Information Technology (IT).

“I felt like a Jack of all trades and a master of none. So before I started my degree at Wintec, I sat my kids down and said, ‘this is what I have to do, it’s not forever, it’s a three-year journey and I’m going to need your help to get through’. I wanted to set an example and prove that just because I am a single mum, that was not the path I intended to be on forever.”

Her journey into the online world started at Te Wānanga o Aotearoa on a basic Level 2 computer course before she enrolled at Wintec to study a Bachelor of Applied Information Technology.

“Back then I didn’t have an active email or know how to use one, like I do now. I knew my kids were growing up and they were going to be doing stuff online and I wanted to be able to help them, so I had to go back into learning mode.

“At Te Wānanga o Aotearoa, I met up with other tauira and we quickly became whānau. I was basically a sheep and I followed them. There were four of us that continued to Wintec. Without them, that journey would have been really hard. But as a whānau, we supported each other through our school mahi and our crazy home lives. I know for a fact I couldn’t have done it without them and I am so grateful to have journeyed together on the same waka.”

At Wintec, her whānau found support through the Māori Achievement team and Blaine Rakena, officially Team Manager at Wintec Centre for Information Technology and unofficially referred to as “Uncle” by the group. Rakena supported them and an extended version, “Te Whānau”, Toni Smith, Jon Sun, Stevie Berryman, James Brooks, Philippa Kahotea and Elysia Wanakore – played to their strengths and were successful, including developing a waiata app for Wintec.

“Elysia was one of our mana wāhine who, like many of our mature Māori students, wanted to provide a better life for her and her whānau and to change her course to be financially self-sufficient. Her tenacity, commitment and dedication showed continuously throughout her studies with us here at Wintec,” says Rakena.

“I’m so proud of her and what she has done.”

A turning point for Wanakore was landing an internship at Vexecute, a Māori-led company that developed Tania.ai a voice-activated reporting assistant.

In March 2021, Wanakore graduated from Wintec with a Bachelor of Applied Information Technology and landed a job as Chief Customer Officer at Tania.ai.

“I love taking on whatever I can and working to do things differently. There is always an opportunity to learn and everyone at Tania.ai brings something different to the table.

“I enjoy learning and feeling accomplished. Study was tricky for me as there was a lot of reading, and programming math without numbers….don’t get me started... I’m more of a hands-on learner, meaning, if you just show me, I will learn easier and faster.”

Her first task as an intern at Tania.ai was to build a skill for Alexa, Amazon’s voice-based AI-powered digital assistant app called ‘Know your numbers’. Now, as Chief Customer Officer, she is working on the company’s CRM setup (an inbound marketing and sales platform) and Customer Support Model.

“I have been assigned to be our ‘Customer Guru’ and am currently setting up a webinar campaign for Tania.ai. I’ve never done any of this before, but I will do it, one foot in front of the other, and I will get there because the team is so supportive.”

Tania.ai is the brainchild of Vexecute and Tania.ai CEO, Donnamaree Ryder, who wanted to give back to whānau and the business community, by replicating her skills into a virtual assistant for small-medium businesses.

When her passion to help small and medium organisations understand their financials got the better of her, Ryder gave up her day job as Project Manager at Fonterra.

Her dream was to create a world-leading voice-activated personal reporting assistant. By supporting Wintec and University of Waikato IT students with work experience, she’s achieved it, while sharing her knowledge and creating opportunity along the way.

“The answer is finding what people are good at, so I try to match interns with areas they will excel in. If they land in an area that makes their heart sing – that’s the magic, and then we all get results… if they fail, then we fail.

“Elysia had never developed a voice app before but she has now built a voice-activated learning portal.”

Ryder who is from the Waikato and based in Hamilton, is no stranger to a challenge. She is the first Māori to graduate with a master’s qualification in Finance from Victoria University and is excited most of her staff are Māori too.

“I am passionate about Māori in business, but only 2 percent of our tech workforce are Māori. Tania.ai shows we have the capability within our own people."

Initially Tania.ai was going to be developed to support New Zealand businesses, but she soon realised there was potential to make her globally available.

Ryder says “you don’t have to be financially literate to use Tania.ai, because the virtual financial assistant explains the mysteries of accounting and finance. She is downloadable onto a mobile device and links up with Amazon Alexa devices”.  

“Tania.ai works by crunching more than 6,100 possible combinations of financial data and presenting 1,500 commentary pathways driven by 45,000 algorithms.”

Recently Ryder shared a NZ Herald story on Tania.ai on LinkedIn which says a lot about why she engaged IT interns like Wanakore to help create Tania.ai. She believed in them so much, she employed them on her journey.

“Sometimes we can let where we started out in life define us to limited opportunities and a stifled future, OR we can embrace it and use it to drive us forward. Thanks to my Mum and her exceptional foresight, we used where we came from to excel us into a world of opportunities, where we made the impossible possible! You define where you end up.”

Wanakore says that as much as she values the supportive whānau environment she had to study, she also credits her extended whānau in Ngāruawāhia, “who have been, and still are an amazing source of support”.

 “I love the community feel where I live, and I am blessed with such a great support network here. My Scottish whānau the Doyles, have played an important part in my study journey as they live nearby and helped out with watching my kids whenever they could,” she says.

“I could never have imagined myself being where I am now, I didn’t even finish high school.”

“I might be the first in my family to have a degree. They probably thought I’d be the last one with all my children. Thanks to my friends and whānau, it was made possible.”

Find out more about studying Information Technology at Wintec.

Watch the launch video to get an overview of Tania.ai.

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