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National Demo Day 2014

Entrepreneurs, and the ideas that leap from them, come in myriad shapes and sizes. This was the take-away from INCUBATE’s National Demo Day, held in partnership with Google Australia in their new offices in Sydney on April 11, 2014.

18 startups (full list below) consisting of students and alumni from Adelaide, Bond, Curtin, and Sydney University delivered pitches that touched on fields as varied as sunglasses, dentistry, and crypto-currencies. The “typical” entrepreneur was entirely atypical: a former builder pitched an app, which used 3D technology to visualize residential construction; a mother presented an all-in-one baby-care bag; a pair of software developers wowed the room with intuitive image-clipping technology.

Though several start-ups were propelled by information technology and aimed to disrupt established industries, just as many took niche consumer products and applied equally novel advertising and promotional strategies.

Allen Liao, co-founder of Tzukuri, pitches their new wearable technology sunglasses

The day’s diversity demonstrated the accessibility of entrepreneurship: it’s a space open to anyone with an idea, not just those handy with a computer. Though, experience in tech certainly doesn’t hurt.

“If you can code, you have a much better chance to set up your business,” said Rick Baker, Managing Director of Blackbird Ventures. “Everyone should learn how to code!”

“Google was founded in a dorm room by two PhD students trying to solve the challenge of finding relevant information…Perhaps better than anyone, we know well that bright young people with big ideas can change the world.” – Alan Noble, Engineering Director Google Australia

Indeed, Orawan Limnalong, founder of Makeup Social, spoke on the practical difficulties of having to outsource early infrastructural work in building her start-up.

INCUBATE panelists: Orawan Limnalong (MakeUpSocial), Petra Andren (ATP Innovations), Rick Baker (Blackbird Ventures) and Alan Noble (Google) discuss student entrepreneurship. Full video below.

However, what is essential is a capacity to work tirelessly; and to have an eye that peers just beyond the box. Keynote speaker and founder of Pandora Radio Tim Westergren’s life experiences stand testament to this, admittedly well-worn, proposition.

Pandora Radio, a music streaming and recommendations service, began, in Westergren’s words, as a “music genome project”. He wanted, in many ways, to digitize and quantify the consumption process. Rather than basic, unintuitive models that analysed music through popularity, Westergren’s emerging start-up “wanted to focus on musical similarity, based on algorithms and databases.”

It was a story seeded and repeated in every compelling pitch of the day, big or small.


Ben Thomas, managing director of Vine Collective, thought boutique wine sellers were losing out to mass-retailers and set up an online sales system for producers and consumers. Hollie Gordon founded Milaana, a social business which connects students with cause-driven local projects, in response to a perceived inefficiency in the nearby community.

“We support Incubate because it’s a great idea and a great model. the program is driving a greater connection between students, universities, entrepreneurs and innovative corporations – something that is greatly needed.” – Jason Hosking, Program Co-founder Coca Cola Accelerator

What is perhaps most needed is encouraging a tolerance for and an embrace of failure. It’s a concept that ought to be imported en mass from our friends in the US, indicated panelist and Google’s head engineer Alan Noble. “Unfortunately, we [currently] have a culture of punishing our failed entrepreneurs,” he said.

Pitch panelists; Matt Barrie (Freelancer), Rick Baker (Blackbird) and Paul Hunyor question a startup after their pitch

“When the shit hits the fan, that’s when you really, really learn,” agreed Freelancer founder and CEO Matt Barry. “I learn so much from things going wrong.”

Though the startup community is rapidly expanding, in part thanks to accelerator programs like INCUBATE, it’s still very much a culture in flux. It’s one that relies on people as much it does on technical skills and capital.

“There’s a reason why investors invest in people,” says Westergren. “Ideas tend to change. Ideas are repurposed.”

In a day of over two dozen pitches, it’s tough to discern an idea that’ll gross a million at release, from one that’ll flounder and languish halfway through development. Those that came and pitched and listened and learned will know it’s ultimately less their ideas and more their attitudes that matter.

Entrepreneurs networking outside the pitch venue

Entrepreneurs networking outside the pitch venue

INCUBATE’s National Demo Day brought together start-ups from four universities across Australia that participated in the INCUBATE Summer Program.

INCUBATE is an award-winning startup accelerator and entrepreneur program founded by the University of Sydney Union. INCUBATE fosters a proactive community of entrepreneurs on campus by providing funding, co-working space and mentoring from some of Australia’s most recognised entrepreneurs to accelerate the growth of high-potential startups.

National Demo Day was made possible by INCUBATE’s first National Program Partner, Google for Entrepreneurs.

Article by Justin Penn.


Start-ups that took part in National Demo Day are listed below by university. Full descriptions can be found in the National Demo Day Booklet.

The University of Sydney

The University of Adelaide

The Bond University

Curtin University

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