BBC to give away computers to get kids to code: could it work here?

3:36AM | Friday, 13 March

The BBC is set to give away a million Raspberry Pi-style computers to British school students to encourage children to take up coding.   The BBC reports the program will see the British national broadcaster hand out the small computers, known as Micro Bits, in a bid to replicate the success of the BBC Micro B computer in the early 1980s in teaching kids how to code.   The program aims to fill a skills shortage that will see the UK need to find an additional 1.4 million digital professionals over the coming years. A number of leading tech giants including ARM, Microsoft and Samsung are also involved.   Microbric managing director Brenton O’Brien told StartupSmart the Micro Bits program is “a fantastic initiative” that should be replicated in Australia.   Late last year, South Australian-based Microbric smashed a crowdfunding target for its Edison Lego-compatible robots, which it began shipping in the lead-up to Christmas.   “There’s no doubt there’s a lot more demand for people with programming skills not just now but into the future, so it’s a fantastic program. The problem with getting tech into schools has always been affordability. Companies supporting an initiative like this can remove the cost burden from schools and increase the uptake,” O’Brien says.   “If you look at the names supporting this, it’s pure capitalism. The companies see that they will need tech workers in the future, and governments aren’t doing what they’re supposed to.   “Just this past week, [Federal Education Minister] Christopher Pyne was talking about scaling back the tech curriculum because it’s ‘too hard’ for teachers. The thought that someone would question the need for tech education in this day and age is absolutely absurd. So it’s great to see the sponsors putting their money where their mouth is.   “It would be an absolutely fantastic thing to see Australian school kids exposed en masse to tech in a similar way. Coding is the new literacy… Their ability to make computers do what they want them to do is vital to the future of the economy.”   However, Macquarie University’s Professor Michael Heimlich warns that while programs such as Micro Bits are well intentioned, they “don’t tell the full story to kids”.   “I don’t want to dissuade people from putting tech into the classroom, but you need to make the connection about how kids are going to make a career out of STEM. Otherwise it will be something they leave behind in junior high school,” Heimlich says.   Heimlich is helping to organise the FIRST Robotics Competition (FRC) Australia Regional Event, a competition aimed at high school students, which runs at the Sydney Olympic Sports Centre on March 13 and 14.   “FRC is quite unique because, if you look at the surface, it’s a robotics competition. But what makes it unique is that it works a little like a startup incubator. So the program rewards things like going out to the community to raise money for their team, getting mentors, social media, website development and gaining skills.   Heimlich says that along with raising STEM skills, it fulfils the important role of educating kids about STEM careers.   “It’s really not a long step from a first-world to a third-world country. Just think about having a power grid that’s maintained, clean drinking water and trains that run reliably. When people tend to focus on the glitz and glam of the iPhone and Mars – even without an Australian Silicon Valley or space program – STEM has a big impact on the economy. Being a first-world country is underpinned by engineering,” he says.   Follow StartupSmart on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Start-up storms into the recruitment market with hyper-local offering

8:51AM | Wednesday, 14 August

Just as Australian recruitment upstart companies such as Seek sounded the death knell for newspaper employment classifieds, a new niche of recruitment start-ups are emerging to take a share of the jobs market.   Jonny O’Brien is the managing director of On Tap Recruitment, a local employment platform start-up for hospitality and retail jobs.   He told StartupSmart the recruitment market was in a phase of rapid change and ripe for disruption.   “There is a real shift occurring in recruitment right now,” O’Brien says.   “The overarching statistics for jobs ads are declining, but we don’t see ourselves in the same market as Seek for example. We’re focused on a sector of transient workers and employers who can have 500% turnover each year.”   They currently have two precinct platforms: and   Launched in February this year to coincide with university O-Week, the On Tap Recruitment website crashed as 2000 aspiring employees (mostly university students) began signing up and uploaded their resumes. The website added its 100th employer this month.   “The value we have is a pool of current candidates so employers can quickly search the candidates and know they’ve got the necessary skills,” O’Brien says.   Aspiring employees sit a 15 minute test on basic English and commercial maths, as well as some experience-based questions for retail work, or responsible sale of alcohol tests.   “The tests are there to check their competence, but also their commitment. Employers can see how many questions they answered in 15 minutes, and how they scored,” O’Brien says.   The platform is co-owned by equity and start-up development group Kingston Development. O’Brien says they’re focusing on growth only at this stage and still working out the business model.   O’Brien says they’re leaning towards a fee for the candidate to appear to ensure the candidate pool stays relevant and current.   “If we started charging at the beginning, we’d only get a weird subset of jobseeker market, those who were willing to pay for an untested idea,” O’Brien says. “The decision not to charge employers at the beginning was a bit of a no-brainer, we can’t provide value until we reach a certain size.”   O’Brien and precinct manager for melbourneCBDjobs Amy French spend a couple of days a week on the street handing out flyers and engaging employers.   “Our growth comes from time spent on the ground. We’ve found once we get the platform in front of employers, it’s easy to sign them up but that’s hard to do without the leg work,” O’Brien says,   They will be launching a seed funding round soon, and plan to be nation-wide the end of next year.   “Businesses don’t really work if they don’t work everywhere. I wouldn’t want to finish rolling out Victoria without launching in Sydney first,” O’Brien says. “It’s about validating the idea, and we’re looking at maybe Geelong or Ballarat by the end of this year.”

Nielsen’s new ShopperLAB lets start-ups test concepts

5:53AM | Thursday, 2 May

Start-ups will have the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of consumer behaviour and test concepts at Nielsen’s newly-launched ShopperLAB research facility, located in Sydney.   Nielsen, which provides information and insights into what consumers watch and buy, launched the facility at the company’s inaugural Pacific Consumer 360 conference in the Blue Mountains.   The ShopperLAB, which is now fully installed in Nielsen’s Sydney head office, claims to be the first full shopper experience lab to be built in the Pacific region.   It will enable retailers and manufacturers to better understand shopping behaviour, and test new concepts through observation, interviews, eye-tracking and neuroscience.   The facility – aimed primarily at marketers, category managers and sales directors – promises to deliver in-depth insights into how shoppers react to packaging, point of sale, range alterations, layout changes and aisle activation.   According to Rachel Shaw, associate director of Nielsen’s shopper practice, 25% of new products fail in the market so there is a real need to facilitate proper testing.   “Shoppers generally spend just 15 seconds interacting with a product category so brands need to know how, when and where to communicate their strongest messages,” Shaw said in a statement.   According to Nielsen, 99% of behaviour is subconscious, meaning what shoppers say does not necessarily equal what they do.   The ShopperLAB encourages brands to observe and analyse shopping behaviour in real-life situations, enabling brands to test concepts without encroaching on a working retail store.     It uses a range of technologies to gain a better understanding of shopper behaviour, including neuro technology to understand what shoppers think.   Eye-tracking equipment is used to determine what shoppers see, while virtual shopping devices comprehend what shoppers do when faced with different products and shopping conditions.   “How shoppers feel when they interact with products can even impact on buying rates,” Shaw said.   “Designs based on neuro shopper research have seen uplifts of up to 7% just by making point-of-sale marketing friendlier to the human brain.”   According to David O’Brien, customer marketing manager of Wrigley, the ShopperLAB has allowed the company to explore the shopper psyche in a new level of detail.   O’Brien commended Nielsen on its “unique approach and cutting-edge technology”. But Nielsen isn’t the only company helping start-ups test concepts.   Squeeze1, based in Perth and led by 18-year-old James Billingham, is a website where entrepreneurs and companies can test their ideas before investing in them.   With the tagline “Anything could happen”, the site centres around non-official petitions – called “limes” – and “squeezes”, which refer to signups.   “ will be a great platform for entrepreneurs to help them understand what the people want,” Billingham told StartupSmart in February.   “Whether you have a start-up that’s been going for years or you haven’t launched yet, Squeeze1 could help you with big decisions.”

Three green trends from clean tech competition finalists

9:25AM | Thursday, 6 September

Seven finalists have been announced for the 2012 Australian Clean Technologies Competition, with a range of ideas covering everything from green manufacturing to improving crop care.

Clean tech start-ups peer through carbon tax gloom

7:41AM | Monday, 2 July

Clean energy start-ups are gearing up for the potential opportunities provided by the newly-imposed carbon tax, despite widespread uncertainty in the business community over the rising costs associated with the scheme.

Jumping the gun with clients

2:03AM | Monday, 20 February

Negotiating with real estate agents isn’t most people’s idea of fun, but one business found out the hard way how to deal with the industry in a profitable way.