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UNSW CBA hackathon brings together ‘hipsters, hackers and hustlers’ to solve e-commerce problems

11:02AM | Wednesday, 12 November

Wikipedia tells us: “A hackathon (also known as a hack day, hackfest or codefest) is an event in which computer programmers and others involved in software development, including graphic designers, interface designers and project managers, collaborate intensively on software projects.”   On the model of Startup Weekend, Wikipedia explains these are: “54-hour weekend events during which groups of developers, business managers, startup enthusiasts, marketing gurus, graphic artists and more pitch ideas for new startup companies, form teams around those ideas, and work to develop a working prototype, demo, or presentation by Sunday evening.”   Both are phenomenal approaches to giving structure to teams of young, innovative teams in producing high quality projects in short time periods.   As for outputs of these two categories, a hackathon generates working prototypes of new technologies that solve a problem, whereas a Startup Weekend (according to a contact on the inside) generally lacks the time required for strong execution of prototype but does amazingly at validating a problem, solution, business model and performing a pitch at the end of the program.   So what if we could bring the two models together, over a slightly longer period, and judge teams on both work done on external validation of problem, solution and business model, but during their final pitch, ask not only for slides to be presented but also the working prototypes they have coded up?   What if mentors from accelerator programs like (main program partner), SlingShot Accelerator and Venturetec Accelerator, were collaborating in providing world class mentoring and support to these teams?   What if investment groups like Optus Innov8 Seed and Tank Stream Ventures were side by side giving mentoring to teams from an investor point of view?   What if the likes of the founder of high-end tech development agency First Order, Alex North, was a key mentor into the program?   What if a passionate group of entrepreneurial UNSW alumni, led by Jonathan Barouch (who has already built a killer app for the same CBA platform the program is targeting with his startup Local Measure) gave up their time, expertise and skills to support each team as a means of ‘giving back’ to their university?   What if the participants were both local and international students and alumni from a variety of faculty, schools and backgrounds – from the obvious computer science majors but also across many other engineering disciplines, and of course the UNSW Business School (who hosted the event in their new flexible, flipped classrooms on campus)?   Then imagine 15 Commonwealth Bank staff divided themselves into hipster, hacker and hustlers categories and provided another layer of mentoring for the students competing. With my colleague Melissa Ran and her team of 20 volunteers making things go smoothly in the background, it would be difficult to think of a way to improve ‘people power’ for a single program.   This is what happened with the UNSW CBA Hackathon we ran from September 27 to October 2 this year and the results were very interesting. One of the exciting results was that we have ended up with at least three startups with real solutions to real problems and the support of a major corporate who cares: Commonwealth Bank Australia. Some of the teams are already making use of the mentoring from CBA domain experts and access to the brand new CBA Innovation Lab. In addition, the teams are making use of the free incubation services provided by the Student Entrepreneur Development team at NewSouth Innovations.   The amount of $7500 was up for grabs for the nine teams who were competing with a focus on the retail transaction space and leveraging the Commonwealth Bank platforms Albert, Leo and Pi.   Some of the concepts teams developed during the program included:   Tyca: customisable receipts Easy Dining: an entertaining self-service dining application Go Get Goods: an app for buying regular grocery items cheaper and easier Gift: a location gift recommendation app for merchants and shoppers Notify: a queuing systems specifically for the merchant’s Albert device PayRun: an app that allows you to pay faster and save time on waiting   The icing on the cake was the quality and diversity of the judging panel.   A heavy hitter and an amazing fit for this program, Brian Long is both the chairman for the UNSW Audit Committee in addition to being a board director at CBA. UNSW alumni entrepreneurs were represented by Jonathan Barouch and CBA by Dilan Rajasingham, executive manager technology innovation, and senior solution architect Jason Chisholm, who was able to judge on technical viability regarding how the concepts would work in practice with the CBA platforms at hand.   So who were the winning teams?   In 3rd place, and perhaps the most entertaining pitch, was Cabert – an app that allows one device to replace all others in a taxi. Given the controversy of Uber in terms of disrupting the taxi industry, it will be interesting to see how far Cabert can go and what attention they get along the way.   Second place was taken out by ShopLink, a communal network for merchants. It allows merchants using the CBA Albert and Pi platforms to give each other competitive advantage over similar vendors outside of the network.   The winning team was CrowdSauce, a simple yet effective solution that combines self-payment with user ratings. The judges were impressed by the depth of validation the team had achieved in such a short time, particularly the way the team engaged potential customers (who they are still in touch with) and at the same time put together a prototype which was presented to judges during their final pitch.   The lead speaker of the three-person team CrowdSauce, Ishaan Varshney, is completing a computer science degree from the Faculty of Engineering with a minor in actuaries from UNSW Business School.   He said the event wasn’t what he expected.   “It wasn't a typical hackathon. I didn't realise how much I would learn about pitching my product. As someone from the ‘hacker’ category, I now recognise how important pitching is in getting your idea off the ground,” Varshney says.   “I found it really valuable learning to validate a problem with the real world in real time, then follow up by validating our solution and business model. It’s really exciting for us to be able to now access ongoing support from CBA in their Innovation Lab too.”   So was the program a success?   We think so. We have brought together our UNSW startup ecosystem around the new batch of potential entrepreneurs out of the university. We've generated some great media exposure in The Australian, CIO and ComputerWorld for our sponsor CBA, the winning student team and UNSW itself.   For our main sponsor, CBA, as opposed to looking at this program as a way of getting an early view on talent for recruitment purposes, it was more about testing concepts and validating new potential applications for their payment gateway platforms – and feedback has been nothing but positive so far.   The biggest success for me though has been the four or five teams of students who have approached us post-event to continue with their startup ideas beyond the competition. Hackathon, Startup Weekend or pop-up accelerator – however you classify this program, we certainly want to do more of them in 2015!   Joshua Flannery is Student Entrepreneur Development, International Education at University of New South Wales

Lean thinking – how you’re doing it wrong!

9:32AM | Thursday, 25 September

Businesses with digital projects have accepted that lean thinking and agile methodologies provide the best approach for their projects and ventures.   Start-ups use them as a matter of necessity. Commonwealth Bank, Suncorp, Telstra, Fairfax and even the Australian government have realised the value in this new method.   Lean thinking and an agile approach work by taking an iterative, evolving approach to developing an idea rather than the more traditional, stages of plan, develop and deliver as a whole. Lean and agile can shorten product development cycles, reduce the risk of misunderstanding user needs, increase the likelihood you create something that sticks and, if it doesn’t work, decrease the cost of the failed project.   Lean isn’t for everyone and here are six watch outs to think about before embarking on your own lean project:   1. Lean is not the ‘no plan’ plan   Far too often people say ‘we’re running agile, so we don’t write plans or requirements any more’ and the speed and low-cost benefits are used as an excuse not to invest time and money into thinking things through, opening up a project for failure.   Going lean doesn’t mean doing away with planning.   In one instance, we were brought onto a project with developers that had been coding away for months. No one had a list of completed or outstanding tasks. No one had documents, diagrams or mock-ups describing what needed to be done. Management was wondering why there were so many bugs and why things kept being delayed. Things turned around when we put some basic planning processes in place and some unimposing levels of documentation. Simple, but successful.   You don’t need to spend months planning but you still need to plan, do requirements and think ahead to keep stakeholders on the same page. You may even choose to evolve your planning and requirements iteratively.   2. You and your stakeholders must accept things will go wrong   Lean means that you would prefer to try, fail, learn, improve and repeat in small incremental and manageable investments. Failing is part of the process of understanding where things are going wrong.   Demanding that things go smoothly is therefore false economy. Sure, there are mistakes that are avoidable but more often than not, if you have good team and you’re following the process correctly, the errors will be important. Errors mark a need to change approach, re-evaluate or, in extreme cases, kill the project – a much more favourable, low-risk outcome compared to an investment in something that isn’t going to work.   But you need board, senior management, customers and suppliers to buy in. Google does this really well. They brand their products or features as “beta” or “labs” signalling that they’re trialling something and it may go wrong. People accept that these features may have errors because they know it’s part of the process of producing a better outcome for them.   This might sound obvious, but when you’re innovating and outside your comfort zone the temptation to return to the comfortable can be strong, especially when the board or senior management is breathing down your neck demanding to know why things aren’t going smoothly. But if you succumb, you face a much greater risk: a project with the expectations of “lean” but none of the flexibility to experiment and learn.   3. Lean isn’t an excuse not to commit to things With the emphasis on trying, failing, learning and improving it is easy for teams to start avoiding any commitment but you can’t let lean or agile be a scapegoat. At the end of the day, your team is still operating in a commercial environment and results need to be delivered.   4. Accumulating technical debt   Projects that use lean as an excuse to go as quickly as possible without much forethought tend to pile up what engineers call ‘technical debt’ that is an amount of future effort required to fix technical tasks that were done the quick way instead of the right way.   We’ve seen entire systems are thrown away and written again because the quick and dirty approach has been used.   5. Lean doesn’t mean you can always change your mind and expect immediate results   Lean can help move things along faster and can be better at dealing with change when compared to more traditional approaches. This is often how it is sold to management and stakeholders. However, lean and agile don’t mean you can repeatedly change your mind and expect immediate results.   Software engineers make decisions and create logical structures based on the current requirements and future vision of the project. Some changes can easily slide inline with prior decisions and the existing logical structures but other changes may require a significant restructure which in turn results in a significant effort to make changes.   6. Knowing when to move away from lean   The landscape may have changed; you may have thousands of users, new regulation to deal with or greater certainty that the project will succeed. Ignoring more “traditional” planning or risk mitigation strategies may result in missed opportunities or worse, in a damaged brand or fines.   The lean methodology has already brought great rewards and better business practice to many firms, but like any other process, misunderstand it and it can go wrong.   Knowing the things to look out for is half the battle. I hope these tips help in keeping your lean project on track.   Scott Middleton is the CEO and founder of Terem Technologies, an Australian company that specialises in developing custom software and technology solutions for corporate innovations and high-tech ventures.

Emerging markets may be the future for cryptocurrencies

7:44AM | Thursday, 10 July

Some of the world’s biggest emerging markets will skip traditional banking payment systems completely, according to Michael Wallis-Brown chief commercial officer at Guvera, and founder and chief executive officer of Tapp Tribe.   Wallis-Brown was speaking on a panel at the Inside Bitcoins conference in Melbourne, formally on the topic of Moving Bitcoin Forward: Bringing Trust, Legitimacy and Transparency to the Market.   He says it’s important not just to look at bitcoin and cryptocurrencies from the Australian and American perspective, where there is already a lot of banking and payment systems in place, but also in a global context.   “Where was the first share trading on mobile banking in the world? Indonesia,’’ he says, “which has only got a GDP per capita of about $5000 per year.”   He stresses the future of currency and payments is not necessarily in bitcoin, but the protocol that it is built on.   “Half the world’s population sits in Southeast Asia, India, China – these guys are going to skip traditional banking completely,” he says.   “There’s major, major players, not just [Apple], but there’s other big ones that we’re actually working with coming out in China that can bring alternative payments into the world. Banking systems, finance systems, it’s all going to be on mobile and it’s going to accelerate the protocol, in my humble opinion, to the mainstream.”   There’s considerable incentive for a big player to develop a closed economy, bitcoin without the transparency, and Wallis-Brown points to Apple as an example.   “I don’t even have to talk about how much they spend on the app store,” he says.   “But most of that’s done on credit cards – 600 million credit cards.   “Where are the consumers of the future going to come from for the app store? They’re coming out of the big markets.   “There’s only 10 million credit cards in Indonesia. So they are going to be doing virtual currency transactions. It’s happening there today, but the protocol in whatever form it will take, will be threaded through that.   “All the other bits and pieces around developing legislation, developing technology and security, stacks will be built around it.   “It will evolve just like the internet.”   Among those appearing on the panel was Will Dayble, founder of Squareweave. He says the technology that bitcoin is based on has the potential to drastically alter the world.   Dayble says the base technology upon which bitcoin is built enables the fluid transference of ownership.   “The things that can emerge from that kind of understanding is that we can have things like digital transference of property in its broader sense.   “And that in and of itself, at the top of the stack, is incredibly interesting and has nothing to do with money – only to do with transferring ownership.   “And that’s really exciting particularly in emerging markets.   “To think of bitcoin in what it is in comparison to Commonwealth Bank or NAB or something is looking seconds ahead, not years ahead.”

Five-star idea to make reviews more social wins university golden gong

6:03PM | Monday, 23 June

Revuudle wants to turn often mundane social media updates into meaningful reviews.   Founder of the Adelaide-based startup Luke Larsen says Revuudle’s core premise centres around turning people’s opinions expressed on social media, into quantifiable data by letting them share reviews with a five-star rating system.   “What would normally be meaningless sharing of experience becomes a data topic for review,” Larsen says.   “Using the power of social networks you can scale that to people in your area, people with similar tastes to you.   “It will allow you to review things that have never been possible before. You could review not just the movie, but the cinema, the restaurant you went to before the movie, literally the specific dish you ate at the restaurant.”   Last week the startup won the Gold eNVIe at the Flinders University New Venture Institute’s Venture Dorm awards and Innovation Showcase.   Larsen is developing an application programming interface (API) and apps for Revuudle across all platforms.   “I call it the social reviewing network,” he says.   “In the current ecosystem of user reviews there are many, many places for people to leave their reviews, but there’s not much incentive to do so.”   Larsen says there’s the potential to integrate the review platform with commercial websites, and it will be linked with the Facebook and Twitter accounts of users.   The silver eNVIe went to Kick it, an app to help smokers track their habit and quit smoking when they’re ready, while Floragram a service which delivers the best flowers from local markets, was the people’s choice winner.   The judging panel included Vinomofo co-founder and chief executive officer Andre Eikmeier, Adelaide Football Club general manager commercial and community projects Darrin Johnson and Commonwealth Bank private banker Sarah Sullivan.   “I was actually impressed with the quality of the pitches, given how early stage this program is,” Eikmeier says.   “Four or five real standouts for me, and I shall be following their progress keenly.   “The pitches themselves were polished, and most punched through even for the people or ideas I wasn’t as keen on.   “They have honed in on the problem/solution succinctly, which sets a business off on the right path.   “I’m also very impressed with Matt Salier, who is taking a very inclusive feeder approach with NVI, and I’ve got some confidence it will be a valuable contributor to this growing Adelaide startup ecosystem.”

THE NEWS WRAP: Microsoft announces senior executive shake-up

3:56PM | Monday, 31 March

Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella has announced the first major management shakeup of his leadership.   Under the reshuffle, Nadella has appointed Scott Guthrie to his former role as head of cloud and enterprise group, former Nokia boss Stephen Elop is now head of devices, while Phil Spencer oversees Xbox.   “As I said on my first day, we need to do everything possible to thrive in a mobile-first, cloud-first world,” Nadella says.   “The announcements last week, our news this week, the Nokia acquisition closing soon, and the leaders and teams we are putting in place are all great first steps in making this happen.”   CBA calls for greater regulation of finance tech companies   Commonwealth Bank has called for the financial regulations applying to banks to be extended to “shadow banks” and new finance tech companies in a response to the Financial System Inquiry led by David Murray.   It argues that if non-bank entities conduct the same activities as banks, they should be regulated in a similar fashion.   In its submission, the bank also calls on the federal government to take a greater role in lending to startups, which it says find it tough to win bank financing.   Private sector credit grows   Total credit to the final sector grew by 0.4% in February, putting the annual rate of growth at 4.3%, according to new figures from the Reserve Bank.   The figures show business loans grew by 0.4%, up from 0.2% in January, which was less than the 0.5% rise in February for housing credit, although personal lending declined 0.2%.   “An improvement in business confidence and conditions is evident in rising business credit growth. However, shaky consumer confidence is weighing on personal credit growth,” Commonwealth Bank economist Diana Mousina said.   Overnight   The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 16457.7. The Aussie dollar is up to US92.72 cents.

Wallets could be obsolete by 2021 as mobile payments take over

3:11AM | Tuesday, 25 March

Mobile payment technology could swipe out the use of traditional wallets in eight years, a Commonwealth Bank survey finds.   After surveying 1024 Australians the bank forecasts that paying with cash or cards could give way to mobile phones by 2021, according to a report in the Australian Financial Review.   Commonwealth Bank executive general manager of cards, payments, analytics and retail strategy, Angus Sullivan, told the AFR he thinks a digital or e-wallet will become an important part in people’s lives.   “We’re reaching almost to the point of ubiquity around smartphones so I think that’s one big driver,” he said.   “You’re also seeing more convergence around technology solutions – the wide scale rollout of contactless terminals in Australia has been a really big tipping point.”   The AFR reports that mobile phone payments are growing by around 58.5% a year.   Kounta founder and chief executive Nick Cloete says he thinks the prediction of 2021 is too cautious and that change will likely happen much sooner.   “I most definitely agree with the findings but I’d bring that date forward,” he told SmartCompany. “Most countries like Australia now have such a high mobile phone penetration… Because the future of technology is moving so fast, consumers are demanding that they want to do everything on their phone.”   Cloete says with the payment technology his business creates, many businesses are already using it to offer mobile phone payment to customers, but a challenge is building customer awareness in order to increase uptake.   He explains that a typical mobile payment works with a customer logging into a payment App on their phone, choosing the business they are in, and allowing it to connect to the retailer’s computer system. “The future of retail online and the future of online is mobile,” he says.   However, while Cloete and the Commonwealth Bank are confident about consumer uptake, late last year Reserve Bank of Australia governor Glenn Stevens told an Australian Payments Clearing Association conference that elements of Australia’s payments infrastructure are “a bit dated”.   “It is very clear that both individuals and businesses are demanding greater immediacy and greater accessibility in all facets of their day-to-day activities,” Stevens said.   “This includes payments.”   The results of Accenture’s Consumer Mobile Payments survey from 2013 found that many consumers know that mobile payments are an option, but still do not make them.   Once consumers had made a mobile payments, they were much more likely to become converts.   Incentives from retailers or businesses also helped take-up rates. Accenture found 60% of consumers who already make mobile payments said they would probably do so more often if they received instant coupons as a result.   It also found that 36% said they would hand over personal information in exchange for such rewards, while 46% of users indicated that they would increase payments if offered short-term location-based coupons.   Security concerns were found to hold back consumers from taking up mobile phone payments more rapidly.   “While the industry is pre-occupied with the technology roll out, consumers are much more concerned about the security, privacy, convenience and value of using their phones to make payments,” Accenture reported.   This article first appeared on SmartCompany.

Five Australian start-ups to watch in 2014

1:03AM | Wednesday, 8 January

The Australian start-up ecosystem continues to grow rapidly, with hundreds of start-ups and several new funds and incubators emerging last year.   Here’s our pick of five Australian start-ups to watch in 2014.   Pozible (Melbourne)   With crowdfunding taking off across the world and in Australia, this home-grown platform is one to watch as they take their show on the road and start targeting the United States.   Pozible’s communications manager, Reuben Acciano, told StartupSmart in September they’d grown 550% in the last 18 months.   Despite their solid growth and big plans, the Pozible team will also need to keep an eye on their home market with major international competitors such as Kickstarter set up Australian offices and targeted campaigns.   “The nature of start-ups is we have strategies for anything that can happen, we know where we want to be but we need to be a little reactive. When the situation changes, we’re ready to move with it,” Acciano said.   Ollo Mobile (Brisbane)   This start-up burst onto the scene last year, taking out a series of pitching competitions, heading off to Silicon Valley briefly and launching a crowdfunding campaign, all steps in their promotional strategy to build awareness about their alternative to the panic button for elderly or unwell family members.   Now targeting the United States for both consumers and funding, the start-up will begin their international roll out in 2014, tapping into an international demographic trend of ageing populations.   “What we’re doing is a bit different and finding investors with experience in our space and access to the market channels has been difficult here as it is such a small community and what we’re doing is quite specialised,” co-founder Hugh Geiger told StartupSmart.   Your Fork (Sydney)   Despite only being a few months old, this start-up sits amid several trends that could take off in 2014.   A hyperlocal, peer-to-peer network for delivering homemade meals, Your Fork taps into collaborative consumption, internet enabled connections and crowdsourced solutions as well as Australia’s growing interest in foreign and unusual foods.   Launched by brothers and start-up veterans Roshan and Shanu Mahanama, Your Fork is currently overseeing their first alpha test location in Sydney.   The Mahanama brothers aren’t the only start-ups to have connected the trends that could make this kind of start-up take off in 2014. Several other start-ups are exploring the idea and experimenting independently across Australia.   But Roshan says the idea is so new they’d welcome competition from other start-ups to develop the model and public understanding.   “Ironically what we need is more than one start-up attacking this space,” Roshan says. “A big challenge is raising awareness of this emerging market. So if there are more of us we can accelerate it, and consolidation will happen later down the track.”   CoinJar (Melbourne)   Everyone is talking about bitcoin this year, which comes as no surprise to Asher Tan and Ryan Zhou, the founders of CoinJar who have been passionate about the digital currency’s potential since before it was news.   In December, Tan told StartupSmart despite the ups and downs in bitcoin’s value, its time had come.   “A lot of people talk about a bitcoin bubble, but the case is too strong to ignore,” Tan said. “One of the unique draws of bitcoin is totally people-powered. As long as people remain interested, bitcoin won’t die out.”   Experimenting at the forefront of innovation and digital practice has brought challenges to the team, who found their personal accounts at the Commonwealth Bank frozen without warning or explanation in August.   Despite the newness and risk of bitcoin, the AngelCube accelerator graduate recently received $500,000 from Blackbird Ventures. The funds will go towards speeding up their global expansion.   Tan described the investment as a credibility breakthrough for their start-up.   “We’re very new to this, so the investors are bringing legitimacy to our business. A lot of people ask us how do they know we’re not a scam, so having such well-known and respected investors means people will trust us more.”   Ingogo (Sydney)   Launched in 2011, ingogo started life as a taxi booking app and has grown steadily ever since, with chief executive Hamish Petrie telling StartupSmart in August 2013 they had reached 15% of the Sydney taxi drivers.   2013 was a huge year for ingogo, who announced a partnership with ANZ, successful million dollar fundraising rounds in February, August and December.   They also announced a game-changing payment platform via a partnership with ANZ. Not only is the payment system an additional revenue stream from their taxi business, but also has significant potential to be rolled out into other industries.   “A lot of the IP we’ve built up is applicable to other environments that are possibly less demanding,” Petrie said. “We’ve learned a lot about doing payments in a mobile and challenging environment. Taxi payments involve a lot of issues with mobile internet connections, drivers speaking different languages and the need to process payments reliably and rapidly.”   Petrie told StartupSmart the start-up will break even early this year, and shared his plans to list the three year old company on the ASX in 2014.

Bitcoin here to stay and ready to grow: Australian investors back CoinJar with $500,000

12:38AM | Tuesday, 3 December

CoinJar, a Melbourne-based bitcoin exchange and payment system, has raised $500,000 in seed funding from a range of individual investors and the Blackbird Ventures seed fund.   Launched in February by Asher Tan and Ryan Zhou, CoinJar currently has over 10,000 active users in Australia. The company charges a low single-digit percentage fee for each transaction.   Tan told StartupSmart the funds would go towards enabling their global expansion. They’ll be investing in new hires, including support and technical talent such as Ruby on Rails developers.   “A lot of people talk about a bitcoin bubble, but the case is too strong to ignore,” Tan says, adding the investors were compelled by the story behind bitcoin and the use cases.   “One of the unique draws of bitcoin is totally people-powered. As long as people remain interested, bitcoin won’t die out.”   Tan says while they’d welcome regulation around bitcoin to further legitimise the currency, it was important law makers take the time to understand the scene and potential.   He adds creating the right infrastructure and increasing the ease of cashing in and out of the digital currency will boost usage in the coming year.   Tan says the investment is a breakthrough for them as it brings credibility to the nascent technology.   “It’s not just about the money. We’re very new to this, so the investors are bringing legitimacy to our business. A lot of people ask us how do they know we’re not a scam, so having such well-known and respected investors means people will trust us more,” Tan says.   CoinJar received their first funding of $20,000 earlier this year when they took part in Melbourne accelerator program AngelCube.   Blackbird Ventures co-founder and serial entrepreneur Niki Scevak led the investment round. He told StartupSmart it was exciting to see Australian entrepreneurs taking on the emerging bitcoin industry.   “I love the ambition of the team. Asher and Ryan are remarkable people who are creating something special. They’re committed to being the best in the world rather than just the best here, which is very cool,” Scevak says.   He adds while bitcoin is very young and there are significant risks, the founders and the progress they’ve made since launching earlier this year convinced investors.   “This is very, very early on in the life of bitcoin. The majority chances are that bitcoin start-up investments will amount to nothing. A lot of bitcoin companies that have achieved success have been hacked, so that’s a big risk because once you’re hacked you’re dead because the trust is eroded,” Scevak says.   He adds the investors were excited by how effectively Tan and Zhou had iterated on their offerings, and especially about their development of an API strategy. This technology would speed the uptake of bitcoin.   While Tan says he expects bitcoin will become mainstream, but is wary to gaze into a crystal ball and set a date as there are so many variables, with regulation being a predominant one.   “I do welcome regulation, provided it’s informed regulation. Governments will need to ask some hard questions, but we’re all doing this for the first time so it’s important we don’t jump into regulation. We all need to develop considered, well thought out plans about something that could be beneficial to the whole world,” Tan says.   Pioneering a new technology comes with many challenges, with CoinJar battling the Commonwealth Bank earlier this year after their personal accounts were shut down without warning.

THE NEWS WRAP: Disappointing post-election results for Harvey Norman

11:35PM | Monday, 4 November

Harvey Norman has posted a 1.2% increase in sales at its Australian stores during the September quarter, with chairman Gerry Harvey saying an expected post-election boom in sales failed to materialise.   “I don't think the result is good. Sales are up… but they're marginally up," Harvey says.   "We haven't got the kick from the election that we expected. There's been a little bit of a pick-up, it's only small.”   Westpac profit up 14% to $6.8 billion   Westpac has announced a full-year profit of $6.8 billion for the year to September, up 14% year-on-year.   The strong result places it ahead of the $5.5 billion reported by the NAB and the $6.3 billion reported by ANZ, but behind the $7.7 billion reported by the Commonwealth Bank.   “We will continue to remain disciplined, due to global uncertainties and structural change in the Australian economy,” chief executive Gail Kelly says.   “However, I'm encouraged by signs of improving confidence, which we expect to lead to increased lending activity, in particular in New South Wales.”   Reserve Bank expected to hold rates on hold   The Reserve Bank is expected to keep rates on hold when it meets later today, with all 31 economists surveyed by Bloomberg expecting no change.   The cash rate is currently at a historic low of 2.5%.   Overnight   The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 0.05% to 15623.39. The Aussie dollar is up to US95.17 cents.

Arrest of Silk Road founder is good news for Australian Bitcoin entrepreneurs despite the drop in value

10:26AM | Friday, 4 October

The value of online currency Bitcoin may have dropped following the arrest of the founder of online black market Silk Road, but an Australian Bitcoin entrepreneur says the action by US authorities is good for the sector.   “Immediately after the news the market dropped 40% of its value, but that’s natural as people start to freak out and it’s begun to stabilise,” says Nick Trkulja, the founder of Bitcoin exchange World BX.   He says the crackdown on illegal activities relating to Bitcoin sent a positive sign about the emerging industry.   “This legitimises the industry and says to the world that Bitcoin is increasingly a mainstream currency. This will add so much more value to the long-term growth,” Trkulja says. “There will be short-term fluctuations in price, but this makes it clear it’s a serious currency and here to stay.”   The currency fell after Silk Road’s San Francisco-based Ross Ulbricht, who called himself the Dread Pirate Roberts, was arrested by the FBI, which alleges the Silk Road website is a black-market bazaar of illegal drugs and other illicit goods and services. Silk Road users paid for items using Bitcoin.   Trkulja says the increased uptake of Bitcoin by online retailers, such as Reddit and WordPress, is spurring on growth in the Bitcoin industry.   “The Bitcoin revolution was started online, and online retailers will increasingly accept it. This has helped to fuel its growth and spike the price, and we’re beginning to see bricks and mortar retailers follow suit,” Trkulja says, adding a Sydney pub recently hosted a breakthrough ‘beers for Bitcoin’ event.   “This is an exciting space to be in right now. Over the next year in particular, there will be a big shift in the ecosystem as it moves beyond the early adopters.”   Local Bitcoin entrepreneurs are navigating a range of challenges to establish thriving companies, with Melbourne-based CoinJar having their accounts frozen by the Commonwealth Bank last month.

THE NEWS WRAP: Big business still missing the mark on gender diversity

9:38AM | Friday, 27 September

Women on Boards has ranked Australia’s top 200 listed companies, finding that just 16% met gender diversity standards and 31 showed little interest in the issue at all.   Aside from board and management representation, the survey also ranked companies on promotions for women, paid parental leave and gender diversity.   Commonwealth Bank, Aurizon, Telstra, Stockland and Woolworths performed the strongest in the survey, with the mining and pharmaceuticals sectors performing poorly.   “The largest percentage of companies that have the fewest women on their boards are headquartered in Western Australia,” says Women on Boards executive director Claire Braund.   “It's really important for the country that when you have people and when you have trained them up that you don't simply lose them because they did something as simple as having a baby.”   Abbott government’s Christmas ‘fracking’ pledge   The Abbott government has announced it is intervening to fast-track coal seam gas projects in New South Wales, promising to get new rigs in place “by Christmas”.   “We've got to sort this out quickly,” Resources Minister Ian Macfarlane says.   "We've got to get the drill rigs going, where the farmers want them going, where the geology's safe, where the water's safe, where the environment's safe. We've got to get them going by Christmas if we can.”   NAB announces small ‘smart’ branch plan   National Australia Bank has opened the first of its smaller ‘smart’ branches in Melbourne, with a quarter less floor space than its traditional shopfronts.   The branches use iPads, smartphones, wide-screen televisions and bench-sized tablet computers for transactions, which the banks claims will free up staff to have conversations with customers.   However, the bank admits the rollout of its smart branches will mean a “small reduction” in staff.   Overnight   The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 0.4% to 15328.3. The Aussie dollar is up to US93.67 cents.

New psychological research reveals what drives entrepreneurs beyond their gung-ho reputation

9:19AM | Tuesday, 10 September

Research released this week by organisational psychologist Kirsty Bucknell for the Commonwealth Bank reveals the key personality drivers of Australian entrepreneurs.   The survey tested almost 500 entrepreneurs and decision-makers on seven key traits Bucknell says form the basis of the entrepreneurial mindset: achiever, risk-taker, competitor, individualist, innovator, learner and self-starter.   The study found more entrepreneurs identified primarily as risk-takers (24%) and competitors (20%).   Bucknell told StartupSmart these findings weren’t a surprise given the reputation of the entrepreneurial ecosystem.   “The definition of an entrepreneur means we can assume they’re a risk-taker and competitor and achiever. But we also found that those who score highly in the other areas, who can be proactive and learn from their last experiences, are closer to the full picture of what it takes to be entrepreneurial,” she says.   Bucknell says the interesting findings were around the self-starters (8%), learners (8%) and innovators (10%).   “You do expect risk-taking and competitors. That’s the predominant thought about entrepreneurs, but we also found that research, learning, innovation and proactivity, do matter a lot in entrepreneurialism” she says, adding learners and self-starters also scored well for innovation.   “It’s certainly worth investigating more the effect of proactivity and attitudes towards learning. If you have a go at something and it fails, for those who are learners who have a greater focus on learning, they’re more likely to go back in and have another go.”   Bucknell says in general, men scored significantly higher on competition and risk-taking than females, and the risk-taking declined with age.   She adds that many entrepreneurs may not even be aware of the risks they are taking.   “Some of the individuals we interviewed may not have realised they’re taking a risk by going out and starting up a business. But by putting your time and effort into it, not just capital, maybe the risk they’re not factoring is the time needed to launch it.”   Bucknell says she’s looking forward to conducting further research and investigating the findings more as the trend towards entrepreneurial and innovation research shifts to focusing on individuals rather than organisations.

Research reveals the top three issues holding Australian innovation back

8:33PM | Wednesday, 28 August

A new interactive report by Deloitte Private identifies lack of corporate and government support, access to capital and a culture afraid of risk as factors holding Australian innovation back.   Deloitte partner Josh Tanchel, who coordinated the report called Startups: Playing it Safe is the Biggest Risk, told StartupSmart the panellists who took part in the report unanimously agreed about the potential and presence of innovation in Australia, but said Australia needed to get better at commercialisation.   “All of the panellists saw greater opportunity for Australian innovation to move forwards and to change the ways we do things. They weren’t saying there was a lack of innovation in Australia, but that we needed to be better at commercialising that innovation,” Tanchel says.   The panel was made up of five leaders in Australia’s start-up community: BlueChilli founder Sebastien Eckersley-Maslin; Southern Cross Venture Partners founder Bill Bartee ; Kelly Bayer Rosmarin, executive general manager at the Commonwealth Bank; Lisa Messenger, publisher of renegade COLLECTIVE; and Pete Cooper, founder of SydStart, Australia’s largest tech start-up event.   Tanchel said Australia’s attitude to risk and failure was a major issue. He says the attitude in the United States is that failure is part of the entrepreneurial journey, and Australia needs to catch up with this approach.   “Here in Australia, we have this culture where once you fail, there really is a black mark on you,” he says. “It’s holding entrepreneurs back here, as they’re less inclined to go for bolder global ideas. Instead they’ll go for smaller niche markets or verticals to test it, because they don’t want to fail and get blacklisted.”   He adds this issue goes the whole way up the business ecosystem from start-ups to global companies headquartered here.   “As an Australian culture, we haven’t really embraced failure, risk and therefore innovation,” he says. “But the time for playing it safe has passed. If you’re doing that, you’re going to get disrupted and lose your market share.”   As the issue affects the entire Australian business landscape and the economy, Tanchel says corporates and governments need to step up to the issue as well.   “The government could do more to mitigate risk, by supporting investment and structured, de-risking programs like incubators,” he says. “But the most important is they need to finally fix this ESOP (employee share scheme) problem. It’s the real currency for the ecosystem and it needs to be fixed once and for all.”   Tanchel adds it’s becoming increasingly important for Australia to work out how to increase the number of women founders.   “We need to work out a way to get more women into the sector, as that’s another huge opportunity for this country to grow.”

Bitcoin breakthrough: US judge rules bitcoin should be recognised as an official currency

8:40AM | Tuesday, 20 August

A landmark ruling in the US around the legitimacy of virtual currency bitcoin has been welcomed as a boost to the emerging market at the edge of financial innovation.   In early August, US federal judge Amos Mazzant ruled bitcoin should be officially viewed as a form of money. The decision was made in order for US regulators to prosecute Trendon Shavers, who is accused of running a bitcoin Ponzi scheme.   Bitcoin is a rapidly growing industry currently dominated by start-ups.   In the last week alone, one Australian bitcoin start-up has become embroiled in a dispute with the Commonwealth Bank and a new bitcoin trading exchange has launched.   Evan Lucas, a market strategist at IG Markets, an investment and trading company that trades in a variety of assets including bitcoin, told StartupSmart the ruling was a good step forward.   “It’s not surprising that the US has moved forward with this, given who is backing it (such as early Facebook investors the Winklevoss twins) and how much money is running into it,” Lucas says. “Essentially it’s an online paper trading idea, where people will be able to trade physical goods for digital currency. If people want to do this, then it should be recognised.”   Lucas says while he has no doubt the reach of bitcoin will continue to develop, it will require regulation if it’s to reach its full potential.   “It’ll certainly be growing in its reach more and more as people start to look at it, but it’s still a very infant currency and the concern that a lot of analysts have about bitcoin is its regulation,” he says. “The fact it’s completely free of regulation means it’s open to manipulation and we have seen that quite substantially. They’re still scaring a lot of people off, as it fluctuates so hard.”   He adds that for bitcoin to reach the largest possible market, it will need to be regulated.   “If it wants to become mainstream, it is going to have to subject itself to regulation. That will be a very interesting situation for those involved to subject themselves to that kind of scrutiny,” Lucas says. “Whether it has the same excitement once it’s regulated, we’ll have to wait and see.”   He says he expects there are people already working on a regulated version such as a global currency managed by an international body such as the World Trade Organisation, and that it could emerge in three to five years and overtake the more freewheeling bitcoin options.

Nature-inspired lighting control and data system wins national Start-up iAward

8:17AM | Friday, 9 August

Lighting control system Organic Response has taken out the national start-up title and the Victorian government’s Inspiration award at last night’s iAward ceremony.   The iAwards are one of Australia’s leading innovation awards programs focused on the information and communications technology sector.   Organic Response is a responsive and efficient lighting system launched last year and already installed in eight locations across the world, including Australia and the Netherlands.   The in-light sensors use motion detection and ambient light sensors to customise lighting output, which saves energy.   Co-founder Chris Duffield told StartupSmart he and co-founder Danny Bishop wanted to create a smarter and simpler way to install lighting systems so they could reduce energy usage across the world.   “Right at the start, we identified the impact this could have on energy consumption globally. Around 20% of all electricity goes towards lighting, so it’s a huge opportunity if we can reduce that,” Duffield says.   “We wanted to create a light that is simple enough to use across the world, regardless of access to engineers for upkeep.”   Duffield and Bishop have been developing their idea for just over three years, after noticing how complex, expensive and inefficient existing light systems were. Duffield’s background is in finance and Bishop’s in electronic engineering research and development.   “The problem with existing systems is they are incredibly complex and expensive. You’d walk into a zone and all the lights go on at 100%,” Duffield says. “Because we have a sensor in every light, we can make sure every light is putting out the right amount of illumination to complete the task beneath it. This can save up to 70% of your energy.”   Organic Response installed a proof of concept site in the Commonwealth Bank offices in Sussex Street, Sydney, in June. They installed energy metering prior to the system switch, and had the energy saving of 56% verified by an independent global engineering firm Arup.   With plans to have a worldwide impact on energy use, Duffield says they’ve pursued a commercialisation strategy of global partnerships so they can scale as rapidly as possible.   “One of the areas that is particularly important for start-ups is our commercialisation strategy. Rather than establishing our own sales team and trying to compete on a global stage and get market share, we’ve provided a limited number of leading light technology companies our technology, so we’re mobilising their sales forces,” Duffield says.   He says these partnerships mean by the end of 2013 they’ll have 80 to 100 fully trained sales staff promoting their service in Australia and 200 to 400 in Europe. The Organic Response team is eight full-time staff workers, and 10 contractors.   “We looked for how to develop a huge team efficiently, so we could get what we see as a really revolutionary tech out to a bit market by sharing it,” Duffield says.   Duffield adds while they’ve gone to market as a lighting system company, their real asset is the infra-red information cloud created by the light system, which can be shared with third parties and new technologies such as ventilation and heating.   “We really see ourselves as is a company that creates and disseminates real time occupancy information,” Duffield says.   “When you’re sitting under the system, there is a lot of data in the form of infra-red signals moving around the space using the information cloud. At the moment we use this information to manage the lights. But this has a lot of value for office applications like lift shafts, blinds and workspace options.”

THE NEWS WRAP: Big banks pass on the rate cut

8:32PM | Tuesday, 6 August

The Reserve Bank cut the official cash rate by 25 basis points to a record low of 2.5% yesterday, with Westpac cutting its advertised variable rate by 28 basis points to 5.98% in a bid to grab marketshare.   The rate cut was also passed on in full by the National Australia Bank, Commonwealth Bank and the Bank of Queensland, while ANZ will announce whether it’s cutting rates on Friday.   "The easing in monetary policy over the past 18 months has supported interest-sensitive spending and asset values, and further effects can be expected over time," Reserve Bank governor Glenn Stevens says.   IBM joins NBN debate   IBM Australia managing director Andrew Stevens has waded into the debate over the national broadband network, praising both parties while favouring the ALP’s fibre-to-the-premises proposal.   "Both parties have come a long way (to develop policy) to deliver high-speed broadband. There's no doubt that the era of smart will be defined by this utility called high-speed broadband, so we just have to get there as fast as we can,” Stevens says.   “I just find there is a leader and a laggard and, in this particular case, the Coalition is the laggard. Forty per cent of people by 2025 are going to be partially or fully working from home. And $40 billion is not that much money; it's less than the value of parks and gardens in Australia.”   Department of Justice files lawsuits against Bank of America   The US Department of Justice has filed two civil lawsuits against the Bank of America, alleging $US850 million in fraud on investors of residential mortgage-backed securities at the beginning of the Global Financial Crisis.   However, Bank of America is denying any wrongdoing in its marketing of the loan pools, which date to January 2008.   "These were prime mortgages sold to sophisticated investors who had ample access to the underlying data, and we will demonstrate that,” Bank of America says in a statement.   "The loans in this pool performed better than loans with similar characteristics originated and securitised at the same time by other financial institutions. We are not responsible for the housing market collapse that caused mortgage loans to default at unprecedented rates and these securities to lose value as a result."   Overnight   The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down to 15518.74. The Aussie dollar is down to US 89.83 cents.

THE NEWS WRAP: Billabong strikes $395 million private equity deal

7:19AM | Wednesday, 17 July

Billabong has struck a deal worth $395 million in total with US private equity firms Altamont and Blackstone, with Launa Inman set to be replaced by former Oakley chairman Scott Olivet.   The complicated deal will see Altamont and Blackstone group lend $325 million as part of a bridging loan and five-year debt facility, with Altamont paying an additional $70 million for adventure sports brand Dakine.   The deal will see Billabong repay its $289 million syndicated debt facility in full and gain an additional $106 million in working capital.   In return, Billabong will pay Altamont 12% interest on the loan along with 42 million share options, which if exercised will see the private equity firm own between 36.3% and 40.5% of the surfwear company.   Etihad increases stake in Virgin Australia   Etihad Airways chief executive James Hogan has revealed his airline has been buying shares in Virgin Australia, after receiving permission from the Foreign Investment Review Board to lift its stake from 10% to 19.9%.   Aside from the 13% stake held by Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, other key shareholders include Air New Zealand at 23% and Singapore Airlines at 19.9%.   “We fully support [Virgin Australia chief executive] John Borghetti and his management. We have a great relationship with Air New Zealand and we have an amicable relationship with Singapore. While we don't code-share on passenger routes, we code-share on cargo. This is about our options and we continue to work through that,” Hogan says.   ASIC forces Commonwealth Bank and HSBC to change “potentially misleading” ads   The Australian Securities and Investments Commission has forced the Commonwealth Bank and HSBC Australia to change “potentially misleading” advertising presenting complex protected loan and structured financial products as being simpler and less risky than they actually are.   “HSBC claimed that its structured products were suitable for 'traditional deposit investors looking for a way to enhance their returns through exposure to financial markets, but are unwilling to put their capital at risk should the market not perform as expected',” ASIC says.   “[But] this statement was inappropriate and potentially misleading due to the risk of capital loss with certain [of the] HSBC structured products being promoted.”   Overnight   The Dow Jones Industrial Average is down .21% to 15451.85. The Aussie dollar is down to US92.43 cents.

Payment systems not keeping up with new generation of online start-ups

5:28PM | Wednesday, 29 May

A new generation of entrepreneurs are seeking new online sales payment systems, the founder of an Australian start-up says, as Commonwealth Bank chief executive Ian Narev flagged that regulators may have to examine the move by tech giants into financial services.   “There isn’t enough attention being paid to the new generation of merchants,” Grant Bissett, founder of Pin Payments told StartupSmart.   “There is plenty of talk about different tools for consumers to buy with, such as mobile wallets and peer-to-peer options. I think these options are probably inevitable as technology continues to grow,” he says.   “But it completely ignores new types of merchants. They could be new business models or new geographies, like an Australian selling online to a customer in Hong Kong, those guys are underserved and overdue for some attention.”   Bissett says new sales systems and processing systems, known as application programming interfaces, or APIs, are needed.   Pin Payment is the first Australian all-in-one API for processing sales, including multiple foreign currency sales.   The system was designed specifically for start-ups and entrepreneurs by simplifying the multiple financial and user accounts required to sell online. It combines several functions including the payment gateway, fraud and cyber security systems, currency conversion and users don’t need a separate bank account for it.   “Our vendors don’t need a merchant account, which is a big deal for small and start-up businesses,” Bissett says.   “We wanted to create something that removed the need for multiple bank accounts and systems. Especially if you’re a start-up and need to sell in US dollars, you also need deep integration with your website backend, not heaps of accounts to manage.”   Four months into their public beta, and the team at Pin Payments is getting ready to launch commercially. Partnering with existing financial institutions was the main objective for the team.   “Betas are usually about breaking and fixing things. That wasn’t really the case for us. The purpose of our beta was to build confidence with the banks and optimise our processes,” Bissett says.   “One thing we learned in beta was about adjusting to the pace of the financial services industry. You can imagine how a tech start-up works compared to a large financial service.”   Through the beta, Pin Payment has successfully partnered with a range of large financial services.   “This has involved a couple of unique agreements. We have a first-of-its-kind in Australia payment service provider with a major bank for example,” says Bissett.   “Moving forward we’re looking to integrate with as many eCommerce products and packages that will make it easier for non-tech-skilled small business owners.”   As the internet connects entrepreneurs to more customers than ever before, Bissett is confident that the rapid evolution of payment options will be a boon for start-up operators.   “Current start-ups and small businesses are underserved with merchant services, especially those with international plans. That’s beginning to change.”

THE NEWS WRAP: Private equity firms preparing Optus Satellite takeover bid

5:36AM | Wednesday, 29 May

Private equity firms including KKR, Carlyle Group and Eutelsat Communications are gearing up for a possible takeover bid for Optus' satellite assets, according to reports.   Optus’ parent company, Singapore-based communications giant SingTel, sent out information to the bidders on Monday ahead of a first-round deadline of June 14 and is believed to be expecting a bid of more than $2 billion.   It is unclear at the moment whether the bidders are interested in just the satellite assets of Optus or the entire business.   Super funds applying pressure for asset privatisations   The Industry Super Network has issued a report urging state and federal governments to privatise billions of dollars in assets in order to overcome a $770 billion infrastructure shortfall.   The superannuation funds say it makes little sense for them to invest billions of dollars in offshore infrastructure assets while infrastructure shortfalls exist in Australia, while the idea of asset privatisation might be more palatable if voters knew their superannuation funds were buying the assets.   "The toll a member might pay for using a road will be paid back with interest when they retire," the report says.   Apple could take a bite out of the big four banks   Commonwealth Bank chief executive Ian Narev has told a conference in Sydney that the competitive pressure applied by tech giants such as Apple and Google could be as great in some areas as it is from the other big three banks.   “We consider we have got very, very good competitors in the major banks, we have got very good competitors in the next-tier banks,” Narev said.   “We worry every day about all those competitors, but we worry equally about the niche players, many of them well resourced, many of them international. The Apples, the Googles, the Samsungs, the PayPals, the credit card companies, who can pick particular slivers as a result of the application of technology into financial services and compete.”   Overnight   The Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 0.69% to 15,409.39. The Aussie dollar is down to US96.18 cents.

CommBank names first five businesswomen for Silicon Valley tour

3:01AM | Friday, 8 March

Queensland businesswoman Yvette Adams will take part in a study tour in Silicon Valley along with nine other women, two years after appearing in the 2011 StartupSmart Awards Top 50.

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