October 9, 2014
Over a hundred investors, entrepreneurs, students and graduates packed into the University of Sydney’s historic Refectory to hear INCUBATE’s winter crop of entrepreneurs pitch their startups and bid for seed-funding and further support.
Competition for INCUBATE, a startup accelerator provided by the University of Sydney Union, was fierce, Program Manager James Alexander told the crowd.
“Over 50 startups applied for our winter program and we only accept eight,” he said.
For most entrepreneurs, the industry watchword is disruption: the first address of the evening, Ureferjobs, was no exception.
“Seven percent of applications come from referrals,” CEO Mahesh Muralidhar told the audience. “[But], forty percent of hires come from these referrals.”
A veteran recruiter himself, Muralidhar claims the job recruitment industry is ripe for a shake-up. His pitch – an internal, freemium referral system for businesses – would encourage industry specialists to connect their well-skilled peers with prospective employers, to obtain a cash reward in return.
It’s distinct from business networking websites like LinkedIn, which currently derives 60% of its income from recruiters. As an internal system, sold directly to businesses, Muralidhar argued Ureferjobs would provide deeper and richer referrals and build a stronger internal infrastructure.
The INCUBATE winter program places its teams into a 14-week program, which facilitates workshops and upskills its entrepreneurs to deal with strategic, managerial, and financial hurdles involved in the startup scene.
Ron Guan, founder of PicPac and a software PhD in video processing, entered the program with a stop-motion animation
app he had built from scratch. Starting with a modest user base of 20,000, use of his app has more than doubled during his time spent with INCUBATE catapulting the app to No. 3, in its field, on the Google Play Store.
“[But PicPac] is not a one-product company,” he clarified. Guan told the audience he wanted to build a “suite of apps, with a strong focus on animation.”
Similarly, Jacqueline Ariston came into the program as a single founder without any background in tech, and managed to assemble a team in a matter of weeks. Her company, Covet – an online shopping tool designed to give its users comprehensive breakdowns of prices, stock-lists, and available items – is now teeming with software developers and is set to launch a smartphone app in December.
Flipping the script on popular notions of social platforms, Promise or Pay came into the room with skin in the game. Founder Jay Boolkin said the team had themselves invested $100,000 into product development for the project.
It’s fitting given Promise or Pay aims to incentivise its users to stick to their commitments. “If I keep my promise, my supporters donate,” Boolkin explained to the audience. “If I break my promise, I donate.”
The startup’s main selling point is within the self-improvement market, a $6.6bn industry according to Boolkin. When asked by the panel what kind of promises were most regularly made, Boolkin pointed to health and fitness: “exercise, running, meditation and healthy eating.”
The night was not entirely dominated by tech upstarts, however, with a pair of startups targeting public health concerns. The research teams behind Breathe Well and Meerkat Gear identified problems in their fields and proposed carefully-scaffolded solutions, based on their own expertise and observations.
Breathe Well, led by a group of Stanford and Sydney University researchers, sought to improve cancer treatment by stabilising patients’ breathing as they undergo radiotherapy.
Using non-invasive audio-visual prompts, the team sought just over $300,000 to obtain regulatory approval in Australia, Europe, and the UK after having already conducted extensive, in-hospital clinical trials.
Meerkat Gear, pitched a versatile, all-in-one pram and upright carrier to stave off the threat of reflux and flathead in infants. The team, a mix of public health professionals, doctors and biotech engineers estimated with a growing market of 136,000 new mothers each year, they had the potential to tap into a billion dollar industry.
Though still very much in its infancy, INCUBATE Mentor and Managing Director of Blackbird Venture Rick Baker said the program’s Demo Day pitches were “getting better and better every year.”
When asked what kind of pitches were the most attractive to the program, Baker said: “Thinking big and having an idea that people get really excited… is really important. There are a lot of Australian founders who tend not to think big enough.”
Article written by Justin Pen
INCUBATE is building a network of partner universities dedicated to fostering entrepreneurship. There are a limited number of places available for Universities interested in running the Incubate Accelerator Program on their campus this summer. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more details
Winter 2014 Startups: