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Eight start-ups selected for tech accelerator program set to boost regional start-up sector

Wednesday, 19 June 2013 | By Rose Powell

A mine operations planning system, online music community and news recommendation program are among eight start-ups to have been selected to take part in the first-ever intake for the Newcastle-based Slingshot Accelerator program.


Trent Bagnell, one of the co-founders of the program, told StartupSmart the team’s focus was on quality founders who would build sizable companies.


“Quality founders was number one. Their ideas were good, but ideas are cheap and execution is everything,” Bagnell says.


“It’s not about putting ideas through an accelerator. We’re trying to build significant companies into the future that employ significant numbers of people who will make a real difference to the Hunter Valley start-up ecosystem.”


More than 150 tech start-ups from interstate and overseas applied for the program. Four of the eight companies selected come from the Hunter/Newcastle region.


The companies selected include online community Chinese Whispers Music, mine operations planning software Fewzion, and news recommendation engine NewsMaven.


This is the first intake for the program, which plans to accelerate 100 companies in the next five years to develop the start-up ecosystem in the Hunter region.


“I see a real opportunity to move people into innovation,” Bagnell says.


“There is a real grass-roots movement growing for innovation in the Hunter, and that’s at all levels.


“There is a real opportunity to augment the underlying core industrial mining focus we’ve had and move more into the innovation and technology.”


The program is supported by a range of companies and educational providers including PricewaterhouseCoopers, the University of Newcastle, and Hunter TAFE.


The educational partners have led to a strong focus in the program on design, which Bagnell describes as the missing piece for many tech start-ups.


“Historically you’d find a technical founder and maybe a business founder and they try to add design into the team. It’s becoming more and more important over time,” he says.


The 12-week program will finish up in August with a demo day.


Nick Trkulja, the chief executive and cofounder of FlightBids, an online auction site for flights and one of the eight selected companies, told StartupSmart that getting into the Slingshot program will speed up the growth of their company and offerings.


“One of the big lures of the program is the fact you can access brains around any business asset you’re having difficulties with. You can make months or years of mistakes trying to get things right, but mentors can guide you from day one,” he says.