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Five top competitions for Aussie start-ups

Wednesday, 24 April 2013 | By Oliver Milman

Dick Smith, who has become as well-known for his outlandish media stunts as he is for his entrepreneurial activities, is offering a $1 million prize for an innovator to tackle a rather complex issue – population.

 

With Australia’s population passing 23 million this week, Smith is increasingly agitating for action to combat our “population and consumption growth-obsessed economy”.

 

However, Dick is keeping his powder dry. After launching his Wilberforce Award – for someone under the age of 30 to come up with a solution to perennial growth – in 2010, Smith has declined to hand out the $1 million in prize money.

 

No one has come up with a good enough idea, according to Smith. Perhaps surprisingly, he feels that teen conservationist Bindi Irwin has come closest to landing the cash.

 

Thankfully, there are plenty of easier competitions for start-ups to enter, rather than Dick’s population bounty.

 

Here are five of the best that are ideal for various types of Australian ventures.

 

1. Startup Weekend

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Dubbed the ‘world’s largest start-up competition’, Startup Weekend has spread rapidly across Australia since arriving on our shores in 2011.

 

Events are now regularly held in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth, with the latter city becoming the latest to join the party last year.

 

The concept is pleasingly simple. Entrepreneurs turn up to a gathering, are grouped into teams and have 54 hours to devise and create a new business.

 

These hastily-conceived ideas are then pitched to a panel of judges. The winner walks away with $5000 but, more importantly, access to further mentoring and opportunities – such as a spot in a Singapore incubator.

 

As the Startup Weekend website promises, “Whether you launch a successful start-up, find a co-founder, meet someone new or learn a skill far outside your usual 9-to-5, everyone is guaranteed to leave Startup Weekend better prepared to navigate the chaotic but fun world of start-ups.”

 

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2. G’Day USA

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There are a growing number of great conferences, seminars and meet-ups aimed at Australian start-ups. Increasingly, these gatherings are including pitch competitions as part of their format.

 

One of the most notable new competitions is staged by G’Day USA, the annual program designed to showcase Australian business in the US.

 

The first Digital Australia Shootout was held in Los Angeles in January. The pitch competition featured Australian start-ups in the media, entertainment and technology sectors. Various heavy hitters from US venture capital funds judged the competition.

 

More than 200 Australian companies are showcased every year in G’Day USA. If America is a target market, it may well be worth your while to get involved, even if you don’t pitch.

 

Gerard Seeber, Austrade senior trade commissioner in New York, says: “Americans know Australia as a land of big spaces. We want them to know it is also a land of big ideas.”

 

“G’Day USA is an opportunity to show how Australia’s culture of innovation makes it an ideal place to invest and do business.”

 

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3. Australian Clean Technologies Competition

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Rather than compete with start-ups from a range of different industries, why not get sector-specific?

 

There are several competitions for start-ups within a certain industry, with the Australian Clean Technologies Competition being a good example of how a niche product or service can be recognised.

 

Established three years ago, the competition is designed to bolster the chances of success for Australian clean technology innovators through mentoring, business coaching and marketing.

 

More than 100 companies entered last year, with seven named as finalists. They included SkyCool, which has devised a new type of building cooling, Aeratron, a venture with a new energy-efficient fan design, and enLighten Australia, which designs and supplies highly efficient LED lighting for commercial, industrial and residential strata applications.

 

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4. Sydney Genesis Entrepreneurship Challenge

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If you’re at the business plan stage, Australia’s universities provide a bevy of options to showcase your idea for cash.

 

Sadly, the Enterprize challenge, arguably Australia’s leading business plan competition, has been wound down by the University of Queensland, which offered a hefty prize cheque of $100,000 to winners.

 

Thankfully, there are quite a few alternatives, such as the Sydney Genesis Entrepreneurship Challenge. Launched in 2008, the competition offers workshops, mentoring, networking and $10,000 in prizes.

 

Last year, more than 80 teams competed, with the pick including a smartphone app that connects parents with babysitters, technology that raises money for charity as you exercise, and a CBD locker room for bicycle riders.

 

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5. Microsoft BizSpark

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In some start-up competitions, you’ve very much got to play by the sponsor’s rules – to the point that you have to use their product or service to be able to compete.

 

The Microsoft BizSpark program is open to all-comers – as long as you use Microsoft technology. Last year, taxi location app goCatch beat eight other finalists to be named winner of Microsoft’s APAC Startup 2012 Award.

 

GoCatch beat an impressive field of rivals to land the $5000 prize, including customised jewellery maker StyleRocks, New Zealand-based HR tool Avancert and Melbourne start-up Sound Gecko, which converts online articles into audio files.

 

All of the finalists are part of Microsoft’s BizSpark program, which aims to foster start-ups.

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