Last updated June 6, 2017 at 10:21 am
Take a fabulous new idea, lots of passion and a few STEM skills and you’ve got the makings of a great start-up. Angela Lush reports on some of Australia’s youngest and most exciting new businesses and the people behind them.
Founders: Solange Cunin and Sebastian Chaoui – cuberider.com
Solange and Sebastian, who both have a deep love of space, met while interning at a satellite company. Six months later, Cuberider was born. Like so many successful start-ups it’s based on an idea that no-one had tried before: to support and inspire high school students in STEM subjects by helping them design and code experiments for testing in space.
The start-up’s historic first mission launched in December, last year, carrying the experiments of 1000s of students on the first-ever Australian space mission to the International Space Station (ISS). “Cuberider and a whole bunch of high school students managed to beat some of Australia’s top minds in aerospace and space engineering to the ISS!” Sebastian explains proudly.
- RELATED VIDEO: Launch Success for Cuberider – our interview with Solange
The Cuberider program is based on nanosatellite technology – tiny satellites that orbit the Earth and can be used to observe and record what’s going on in the surrounding environment. Cuberider nanosatellites include 12 unique sensors that allow students to design and build experiments to measure just about anything. Some students participating in this first mission are trying to prove or disprove Einstein’s theory of relativity. Others are looking to create art from the data they collect in space.
Sure Cubrider has had setbacks, but Solange and Sebastian don’t see them that way. Early last year the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket scheduled to carry the Cuberider payload to the ISS exploded during a pre-launch test fire. Thankfully no one was hurt but Cuberider’s payload was destroyed. “That’s space,” Solange says. “You’ve got to deal with rockets exploding – that’s just the nature of it.”
Fortunately Cuberider secured space on another rocket and this year plans to extend its program to as many students as possible. “If you like problem-solving, or if you love real, proper exploration – that’s what STEM is,” Sebastian says. “Just go and do it and grab it by the horns, because it will be an adventure. It will be something that will last with you forever.”
Founders: Sebastian Pedavoli and Dan Nolan – proxima.io
What Proxima does is best explained by giving you an example. But first, here’s the jargon. Proxima is a software development company changing the way businesses interact with customers. Its latest product, Iris, is a “supervised artificial intelligence (AI) and workflow system” that uses Twitter to engage with customers in real time.
Co-founder Sebastian explains what that means by using the example of a client, the retail outlet Myer, which used Proxima’s technology at a recent fashion show.
A video of each outfit was tweeted and customers were prompted to retweet if they wanted to find out when outfits became available in store. Through Iris, Myer could track who it was reaching with its brand and customer preferences. It meant Myer could also send them back a personalised tweet when outfits became available. Other brands that have used the technology in Australian campaigns include Microsoft, McDonald’s and Coca-Cola.
“That’s probably the biggest highlight for us… working with Twitter directly, to actually roll out AI for different brands around the world,” Sebastian says. It is also one of his team’s greatest challenges as they now work across five different time zones through Europe, India, Asia-Pacific, the United States and Australia.
Mentorship has been a big part of Proxima’s success so Sebastian’s advice for those starting out is not surprising: “Find someone who is willing to be a sounding board for you and ask questions. Be a sponge – take as much from them as you possibly can.”
Image courtesy of Proxima
Founders: Melanie Perkins, Cliff Obrecht and Cameron Adams – canva.com
Canva is still considered a start-up but its income and staff numbers show that it’s also already a hugely successful business. It’s an online graphic design platform that is now valued at $345 million and has more than 100 team members in 12 countries and 12.5 million users. And yet when Melanie, Canva co-founder and now CEO, was starting out and trying to raise funds and find tech talent she received hundreds of rejections from potential investors and team members. “Starting a business, especially one with crazy big plans, always involves overcoming resistance,” she says.
As a software business, STEM skills are integral to Canva. “One of the most exciting elements is that technology makes geographical borders almost irrelevant,” Melanie says. “We’re based in Sydney and have users in 179 countries – from our first day we were seeing tweets and blog posts in all kinds of languages.”
It is individual stories that Melanie finds most inspiring. She tells of a sheriff using Canva to make Wanted Posters in the United States and a woman who reconnected with her birth mother after placing a Canva-created poster online.
Melanie’s advice to anyone with an idea that they want to turn into a career? “Just get started,” she says. “I’m a big believer in just-in-time learning, and the best way to get the career you want is to just jump into it and be open to learning as much as you can.”
Image courtesy of Canva
TRIPLE T AND ASD
Founder: Hamish Finlayson – tripletandasd.com
Hamish first learnt to code in year three and hasn’t looked back. At just 10 he created LitterbugSmash; a multi-media, multi-channel educational tool, game play and fundraising initiative designed to protect oceans and save turtles. His next project is the app Triple T and ASD. It’s been designed to help people, like him, who have autism and to raise awareness about the disorder, which, among other things, affects the way a person relates to other people.
Hamish’s work using ICT skills to improve the lives of others led to an innovation grant from the former United States Ambassador to Australia, John Berry. And it also brought an invitation to attend former President Obama’s 2016 Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Silicon Valley, in the United States. After crowdfunding his travel costs, Hamish made it to America and says the trip was fantastic. He got to listen to the President, have gelato at the Apple Campus and visit Facebook’s headquarters. Hamish is now connected with people from around the world, including entrepreneurs in China’s biggest city, Shanghai, academics from Stanford and Duke universities, in the United States, and many others interested in using technology to make the world better.
All that and Hamish is still only 12! He’s now working with Global Scribes – a non-profit organisation that fosters peace through essays and other forms of writing. He’s recently lodged a bid for 100&Change, a competition for a $100 million grant to solve a significant problem. Hamish’s bid, which is called Hamish’s Autism Moonshot, is focused on helping people with autism spectrum disorder.
Image courtesy of Triple T and ASD
LUV UR SKIN
Founder: Isabella Dymalovski – luvurskin.com.au
Isabella became frustrated when she couldn’t use her mother’s beauty products to remove her makeup after dance competitions because they were too harsh for her skin. And so she developed her own natural skin care line for tweens. It’s called Luv Ur Skin and is now sold in Priceline stores across Australia.
Last year, at the age of just 14, she appeared on Fortune Magazine’s 18 under 18 young entrepreneurs list. Isabella’s biggest challenge has been getting older people to listen to her. “I’ve learnt to really draw the focus to me and show them that I know – this is my brand and I know what I’m doing,” she says.
Image courtesy of Luv Ur Skin
EQUALUTION, MY TASTE GUIDE
Founders: Jade Spooner and Amal Wakim – equalution.com
Jade and Amalcreated their own tailored, flexible nutrition plans to help prepare for fitness competitions. They were so successful that they went on to create plans for other people with the start-up Equalution and are now developing the app My Taste Guide, to grow this business further online. Jade says that one of their biggest challenges has been understanding the technology they needed to scale-up their business. “Accept that you can’t do everything and ensure you have the right people behind you to execute whatever you’re trying to do,” she says. The team recently won Seedstars (Australia) – a tech start-up competition – and will represent Australia in Switzerland this year in the global competition.
Founders: Mark Fletcher and Paul Jones – cohortsolutions.com
Cohort Solutions was developed to help international university students save time and money.
Co-founder Mark first started the financial technology business to offer online international money transfers at student rates. But he quickly recognised new opportunities and now helps students across their entire study experience. That includes organising flights to their new country, comparing health insurance policies and providing SIM cards. Mark worked as a lawyer and then moved into banking before starting Cohort Solutions. His advice? “Realise that you have an opportunity to create value yourself rather than just following the age-old line of going into a profession,” he says.
Founders: Darren Hudson and Tomonori Hu – miriad-tech.com
Image courtesy of Miriad
Darren (left) and Tomonori (far left) began as teacher and PhD student in a research group exploring the properties of light at the University of Sydney. Now they work together as business partners. Their start-up Miriad Technologies is based on a unique ultra-fast spectrometer that they developed and built. A spectrometer is used to record and measure different types of light but the Miriad version can do it every three milliseconds, much faster than any others. Darren says their distinctive spectrometers are mainly used to characterise lasers, but chemists are also using the technology to analyse reactions as they happen. Darren says the best aspect of being in business is working with Tomonori. “We really do step A to step Z, and doing it together with a co-worker that you have a lot of fun working with, is one of the best things,” Darren explains.
Founders: Tom Clarke and Daniel Vassilev – f6s.com/mates.today
Image courtesy of Mates Today Meet Smart
Tom (left) found that hectic university timetables made it hard for him to catch up with his friends.
And so he and Daniel (far left) created Mates.Today, an app that connects friends and schedules meet-ups in an instant. They are now building on their idea with Meet.Smart, a similar app but for businesses. This works in with scheduling programs across other platforms, and acts as a personal assistant when people want to connect. In any start-up, Tom says, it’s essential to validate your idea. He explains: “You have to speak to people, do surveys, interviews and make sure what you’re trying to build is actually worth building.”
Founder: Bella Tipping – kidzcationz.com
A family holiday inspired Bella Tipping to start Kidzcationz, a holiday venue review platform for kids. At 11, Bella was too young to put reviews on TripAdvisor, but her experiences were often very different to those of her parents. “As kids we are often ignored,” Bella says. “I think that my site has helped the tourism industry understand that kids are part of the decision-making process when families plan holidays.” Now the world is taking notice. Bella was recently listed at number nine in Fortune Magazine’s list of the 18 most influential business people under 18.
Image courtesy of Leetina Smith Shaw
Angela Lush is a former senior research scientist with a PhD in ecology, she is founder and director of the specialist science communication business Lush Logic, based in Adelaide.
Originally published in Ultimate Careers magazine. Read the magazine and find your Ultimate Careers here.