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The Australian: Start-up program could prove a cash cow

The Australian
3 October 2012

Program director James Alexander, left, student Alex Stamp and mentor Randal Leeb-du Toit are working on a cattle trading start-up at the the University of Sydney.

 ALEX Stamp wants to sell cows to farmers. Six months ago, it would have been virtually impossible for the electrical engineering student to turn his vision into a reality.

But, as the University of Sydney launches its first program to develop start-ups, he’s one step closer to realising his dream.

“We’re hoping to get the (online cattle trading) to the stage where you can feel confident buying a cow without ever having seen it,” Mr Stamp says.

“It’s a quantum leap in thinking for farmers, but they have adapted well to lots of other technological innovations.” It’s entrepreneurship like this that the founders of Incubate hope to nurture into potentially multi-billion-dollar companies.

Incubate is funded by the University of Sydney Union and will provide $5000 equity-free business grants, working space and free mentoring services to eight successful applicants.

It is believed to be the first not-for-profit, university-run start-up development program in the country.

“Start-ups in Australia are going to boom and get just as big as overseas examples,” Incubate co-founder Mina Nada says.

“There’s already been money thrown at us to expand the program because there’s a desperate need for it and there are a lot of people pushing to get on board.”

Mr Nada and program director James Alexander were inspired by a similar start-up program at California’s Stanford University.

Both young men want to change the way start-ups are developed in Australia.

“There isn’t a strong culture of entrepreneurship (in Australia) and unfortunately even business schools breed students to go out and become employees, not to be entrepreneurs and to start up their own things,” Mr Nada says.

“A lot of people tell us they have a great idea, but ‘I don’t know what to do or where to go. That’s where you need a mentor who can provide that important advice.”

Randal Leeb-du Toit has worked as a venture capitalist for 15 years and is taking on the role of Incubate mentor.

He says it is an exciting time to get involved with start-ups.

“This is the strongest I’ve ever seen the entrepreneurial fervour in Australia; it seems to be a global phenomenon,” Mr Leeb-du Toit says.

Mr Alexander wants to create a similar environment for members as Silicon Valley — home to many of the world’s largest tech corporations — and hopes other universities will be inspired to follow suit.

If Mr Stamp’s cattle trading idea is successful in gaining a grant, he’ll use it to connect with the right people.

“I’d appreciate the chance to get together with people who have experience encoding web platforms,” he says.

“I don’t necessarily have much experience in that myself. I’d love to learn more and I’m hoping that Incubate will really help.”

Successful applicants will have 11 weeks to foster their ideas over the summer break before showing off their product at next year’s O-Week.

The program is open to all university students, researchers and recent alumni.

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