We tackled some big topics this week, from the worst red tape for start-ups to five myths about scaling a business to how Australia can overcome a fear of failure many believe is holding the start-up ecosystem back. We heard from a successful start-up about how it took nine years and a massive fallout among the founders to become profitable. We also heard from a start-up that’s raised $250,000 from the federal government’s venture capital arm, one who is completely redesigning the mobile phone for older users, one that’s rolling out 3D body scanners across the country and discovered why this founder is launching a business in a crowded marketplace. In community news, 15 organisations have launched a social enterprise manifesto, the Awesome Foundation is seeking crazy ideas to back, a Melbourne co-working space has combined forces with a charity for cancer advocacy, and an international start-up mentor has warned the Perth community about the need to unify. In training news, 10 start-ups have graduated from a Queensland accelerator program, Melbourne University’s start-up internship program has been declared a success, and we found out why only 28 of the 80 applicants to join the University of New South Wales Startup Games were accepted. We also shared a wide range of advice including how to protect your intellectual property assets, how to turn a mistake into a marketing opportunity, and five personal branding tips from Kyle and Jackie O. We also heard from a start-up that gathered their first 50,000 users without spending a cent, and learned how to turn your blog into a business, as well as what steps to take to not get fined under the new privacy laws.
The Awesome Foundation, a worldwide initiative that holds monthly pitching evenings and gives $1000 to the best idea, has passed over half a million US dollars donated. Every month, 10 chapter members chip in $100 and back the best idea with a $1000 grant. There are no rules how the money is used. The foundation includes chapters in Melbourne, Sydney and the Victorian town of Maldon. The Melbourne team is having a “mega grant month” in March and will be giving away $3000. Chapter member and Learnable product manager Kyle Vermeulen told StartupSmart it was a movement to inspire great ideas and creativity. “We look for all kinds of different things in the projects we support. Each team member gets excited about different things, so we’ve backed a range of really funky projects so far.” They’ve previously supported beekeeping facilities on rooves in St Kilda, National Boat Day and helping schools in Kenya. “$1000 isn’t a whole ton of money but can get some good ideas off the ground,” Vermeulen says. The Melbourne chapter includes Tamsien West, Judy Anderson, Amantha Imber, Nick Jaffe, Cameron Neil, Rez Intoumos, Bonnie Shaw, Kyle Vermeulen and Julian Waters-Lynch. Sydney chapter member and Blue Chilli founder and chief executive Sebastien Eckersley-Maslin told StartupSmart it was a great way to give back to the community. “It’s just so much fun. I deal in venture capital and serious business on a day to day business, so the awesome foundation is a great way to do something light-hearted that makes our city a better place.” He adds there is no rhyme or reason to the ideas they pick. “It’s completely random. One guy wanted to buy $1000 worth of Lego to build a replica of Sydney in his garage. It didn’t win that night as there was a more awesome idea, but really we just want someone who can make something cool happen with a thousand bucks.” The Sydney chapter is also commencing its 2014 program this month with the standard $1000 pitch event in March. Projects backed by the Sydney chapter include a rooftop garden for refugees and asylum seekers, a pop-up ping pong hall and a weekly 80s-themed aerobics night. The Sydney chapter includes Claudia Barriga-Larravierre, Melinda Garcia, Tom Butlin, Sebastien Eckersley-Maslin, Suzie Graham, Steve Hopkins, Kim McKay, Nicholas Melville, Doug Millen, Avis Mulhall, Marcus Ross and Claire Salvetti.
Venture technology accelerator Blue Chilli is acquiring digital agency and incubator The New Agency as part of its plans to grow. Blue Chilli founder and chief executive Sebastien Eckersley-Maslin told StartupSmart Blue Chilli was thrilled to welcome Jones and Burrett to their team. “We have similar mindsets and philosophies, with the same passion for growing the ecosystem. They have an incredible amount of experience that will add a lot to Blue Chilli and my plans for growth,” Eckersley-Maslin says. “We both believe in selling before you have, in testing and market validation, spending the bare minimum of money to prove a concept. We also all believe in discipline and structure in the organisation.” Blue Chilli has previously engaged The New Agency team as expert consultants for a couple of years. Negotiations for the talent, assets and database acquisition began a few months ago. The New Agency co-founders and partners Alan Jones and Tony Burrett will join the Blue Chilli team as chief growth hacker and chief operations officer respectively. Eckersley-Maslin says the similar approaches has made the partnership their most seamless acquisition so far. Jones and Burrett will continue to work with their agency clients for a transition period of four months, by which point they should have wrapped up their major projects. Jones told StartupSmart they had launched The New Agency as a third way to support new start-ups, distinct from the Pollenizer and Blue Chilli models. “We launched a third way, a lean enough agency model that founders could afford with their measly budgets,” Jones says. “We looked hard for a while at the question of do we raise our own fund and become a direct competitor to Pollenizer and Blue Chilli. Gradually over time it’s made more and more sense to not be a third force and join someone who can use us well.” Jones adds that combining the two companies’ different approaches has been an enjoyable challenge, foreshadowed by his own connection to Eckersley-Maslin, who he first met at the Awesome Foundation. “A few of the people in the foundation are hipster alternative types. Seb came in all straight-laced and businessy, asking about goals. We didn’t immediately gel but over time we realised we had similar values, and we were in this game for the same reason,” Jones says. The agency’s fee-for-service model means The New Agency has learned to be very flexible to work with as many clients as possible, whereas Blue Chilli turns away over 95% of the ideas pitched to it. “There are definitely cultural differences between the two organisations. Sometimes it feels like the best thing ever and sometimes it’s a bit scary and weird for both parties,” Jones says. “We’re learning their procedures and frameworks, and they’ve had to adapt to our ability to introduce them to new ideas and concepts going forward.” Jones adds the commute into the Sydney CBD from Newport on the Northern Beaches where The New Agency is based is likely to be their biggest challenge, although they have every intention of continuing to tweet photos of the beaches with the #suckitsurryhills hashtag.
A start-up that seeks to utilise city rooftops as locations for bee-keeping has become the first recipient of a grant from The Awesome Foundation.