Seven Aussie entrepreneurs score $50,000 each to turn their ideas into reality

Optus Future Maker Winners and Judges

Seven social impact entrepreneurs have scored $50,000 each to turn their ideas into reality at telecom giant Optus’ new early-stage accelerator program.

The Future Makers program chooses entrepreneurs with social impact ideas around the country to participate in a four-month accelerator that culminates in a 180-second pitch event, with winners walking away with $50,000 in grant money.

Brisbane-based winner Rhianon Vichta was one of the top seven and scored her prize in collaboration with Kids Helpline.

Vichta is leading the development of the Youth Wellbeing Checkin app that could help 300,000 young Australians facing problems like homelessness, poor mental health and drug abuse.

“We are working with highly vulnerable young people and our project is to develop an app that integrates with youth worker case management systems,” Vichta tells StartupSmart.

Vichta’s platform will promote and measure beneficial wellbeing outcomes to make these services more effective for clients.

In the months leading up to the pitch, Optus took Vichta and fellow competitors through some intensive workshops, exposing them to startup ideology and lean growth methods.

She experienced for the first time how agile workspaces operate alongside quick-thinking, fast-moving founders.

“They grab a new idea, run with it and back themselves to turn it into a reality,” Vichta says.

With a goal to wow investors with just a three-minute pitch, Vichta says she and her team were forced to really figure out what their priorities are, the key benefits of their solutions, the core business model and how their ideas would be sustainable and feasible enough to be beneficial.

“When you do a normal grants process, you tend to write down 1000 words of what it’s all about,” she says.

“Having it distilled down to 180 seconds meant focusing on the key elements.”

The whole experience has equipped Vichna with what it takes to make a compelling pitch.

“Engage people in a way that touches their personal experiences,” she says.

“Give people a story that they can feel emotionally invested in.

“Be very clear about the priority outcomes, don’t try and tell the whole story.”

She believes this final point is what separated the winners from the rest.

“The idea is critical but it’s only the starting place so it’s important to be able to translate an idea into something that’s feasible,” she says.

“Try and get from the judges what their criteria is and really shape your pitch to meet that.

“Make sure that you are confident in telling people why you’re the best person to do what you’re trying to do.

“Make sure to include a call to action so it’s not just we can do this, but we need your help in this way, you can make a difference.”

Programs like Optus’ are crucial to making sure good ideas aren’t wasted, Vichta says.

“The world is full of great ideas that don’t go anywhere,” she says.

“The challenge is shaping an idea into something that will have real impact.”

The other Future Makers grant winners

  • The iWareness app by New South Wales-based Penny Harnett seeks to prevent domestic violence by providing information to young people to help them recognise, respond to and change attitudes
  • Teleport by Melbourne-based Marita Cheng enables young people with spinal cord injury or debilitating disease to attend school or work remotely with its affordable tepresence robot.
  • The Biz app by Melbourne-based Marina Paronetto is a peer­to­peer platform to give teenage girls of all backgrounds equal opportunity to learn about business and boost confidence, skills and employability.
  • The Game Change software by Sydney-based Dr Rowan Tulloch helps gamify university and school classrooms to drive up engagement and motivation, particularly, among students marginalized by traditional teaching methods.
  • The Wellbeing Coach app and web portal by Brisbane-based Brian Collier improves communication in counselor-client relationships and creates better access to information and resources for young people.

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Dinushi Dias is a journalist at StartupSmart and multimedia content producer. When she’s out of the office, she works on social projects with her We Love It Productions family and buddying filmmakers.