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Demo Day Winter 2013

Last week INCUBATE held it’s second Demo Day for the startups in the winter accelerator program. The startups on display were diverse, covering all conceivable industries, and at different stages of development. In front of them sat an appreciative audience of mentors, investors, program partners and students. 

Like many of the INCUBATE startups, Drivelist intends to revolutionise traditional business models through the internet. “When the Subaru BRZ was released for exclusive online sale, it sold the equivalent of its Australian allotment in one day,” explained Shane. Yet online car sales are comparatively small, because potential customers insist on test driving the product.

By delivering test driving services to households, Drivelist aims “to make buying a car online the preferred way of buying a car in five years”. And they are well on the way to realising that vision, facilitating twenty test drives during the twelve week INCUBATE program. Every major brand has expressed an interest in the startup, although Shane conceded that “there are no Maseratis. Yet.”

For Jason Hosking, a mentor from INCUBATE partner Coca Cola Accelerator, these demonstration pitches were a fitting conclusion to the winter program. “We have learned as much from them as they have learned from us,” he said. “And we’re really quite proud, having watched them develop from start to finish.”

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Full house: Students, investors and mentors see the winter startups pitch.

Some participants have developed very quickly. JobsGPS released its first prototype system 24 hours before Demo Day. They instantly struck a chord with students in the room, promising to “revolutionise what graduates do with their lives.” “The problem with SEEK,” explained co-founder Mike Williams, “is that it assumes you know what you want to do.” Sorting personalised user profiles with a powerful algorithm, JobsGPS hopes that users will discover relevant job opportunities and new career paths.

Likewise, Rocketshift has developed a platform to expedite the labour hiring process in the hospitality industry with “intelligent match-making”. Ordinarily, explained co-founder Mitchell Weiss, hiring new staff involves an 18 day ordeal of resume screening and interviews. Rocketshift intends to eliminate that costly process, with some 24 companies and 200 hirees registering interest in the fortnight prior to Demo Day.

The formal scientific and computer training of these INCUBATE participants was a real asset, said Freelancer.com CEO Matt Barrie. “It gives them a distinct advantage over other incubators, with teams of higher quality.” David Tow, a science communicator, thought the same. “I was very impressed,” he said. “Startups like these constitute a second industrial revolution.”

“Startups like these constitute a second industrial revolution.”

Two startups were of a particularly academic pedigree. Speakeasy combined the physics PhDs of its founders with a healthy dose of NSA-inspired paranoia to produce an “easy-to-use” SMS encryption service. “Ordinary people shouldn’t have to jump through hoops to protect their privacy,” said co-founder Felix Lawrence earnestly. They plan to market themselves first to the “core privacy market” – the sceptical, suspicious readers of the tech press and hacker news. After that, Speakeasy has its eyes on the teenage Snapchat generation.

Neighbourhood Networks translated an academic study of local communities into a commercially viable product. They intend to substitute an online classifieds-cum-social network for conventional community noticeboards, connecting residents with local businesses. Small businesses, explained co-founder Rainer Wasinger, constitute over 96 percent of all Australian businesses. Yet fewer than 40 percent advertise online. “It is a radical twist to a proven concept,” said Wasinger, who conducted a trial in the suburb of Oatley during the INCUBATE cycle.

Mike Williams, co-founder of JobGPS pitches on stage

Mike Williams, co-founder of JobGPS pitches on stage

Other startups embraced more socially-minded objectives. The Skytree team proudly presented a “no noise, no maintenance, no experience required” assembly for growing food. Their hope is to inspire “greenhouses in the city” and, eventually, to ameliorate third world hunger. “Supermarkets,” explained co-founder Chris Wilkins, “grow food for appearance, shelf life and nutritional value. At home, you can grow food for taste and ripeness.” The reason supermarkets are dominant food suppliers, he contended, is their convenience. A hassle-free hydroponic stack would undermine that advantage and encourage more intensive urban agriculture.

WhoGives combines a charity index with the functionality of a social network. It allows individuals to find and research recipient charities, whilst increasing the exposure of those charities to potential donors. WhoGives will only charge the organisations for listings, not the private donors, and intends to monetise the data collected.

Less altruist and more egotist, Makeupsocial is no less exciting. A relatively advanced online platform, Makeupsocial crowdsources beauty product reviews and matches them with the “beauty profile” of the user. Beauty product companies can market their products to members, with a promising, self-reported user-to-buyer conversion rate of 19 percent. Enjoying a strong presence on Instagram and Facebook, and with plans to incorporate Youtube, founder Orawan Limnalong confidently declared, “we will be Facebook for beauty.”

Most of the startups on exhibition held wildly ambitious expectations for the near future, but sought relatively modest financial investments. Almost all the teams expressed a desire for ongoing mentorship, partnerships, and specific industry advice. If the last INCUBATE cycle is any indication, that support will be forthcoming. Recent alumni, including SnapDisco, TheBestDay, and Edisse, have secured millions of dollars in investment, admission to innovation hubs, and industry recognition.

Pointing to a photograph of the Space Shuttle at full power, INCUBATE founder James Alexander concluded by looking to the future. “INCUBATE was established to launch promising startups out of university or the garage, and into the world. The teams presenting tonight have made enormous progress over the past twelve weeks, and will do very well going forward.”

“It’s all about the team,” added Jason afterwards. “And these are exceptional, cohesive teams.”

Article by Ben Brooks.

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