Entrepreneurs

Ten entrepreneurs to watch in 2017

Emma Koehn /

Over the past decade, SmartCompany has spoken with thousands of entrepreneurs about creating nimble businesses that deliver everything from dog food to high-end fashion. No matter the product, these company founders are focused on similar challenges: sustainable growth, meeting customer desires, and exploiting opportunities before competitors beat them to it.

In celebration of our 10th birthday, here are 10 Australian entrepreneurs to keep an eye on in the year ahead—and the companies they’ve nurtured.

Nick Molnar—Afterpay co-founder and managing director 

Nick Molnar Afterpay

Young Rich Lister Nick Molnar and Afterpay co-founder Anthony Eisen floated their payment instalments company on the Australian Securities Exchange in May 2016, and since then, the share price has rocketed 109%. 

The platform lets shoppers take home items from stores that offer the service, and then pay Afterpay for their purchases in instalments, due each fortnight. The business recently showed a 142% increase in the number of retailers using the platform compared with last quarter, and a 100% quarter-on-quarter increase in retail users.

The platform’s growth has been fuelled largely through word-of-mouth, with the company encouraging shoppers to enthusiastically lobby their favourite brands to start using the payments system.

“Our customers are our biggest advocates and they’re really passionate about our brand,” Molnar told SmartCompany last year. 

Lana Hopkins—Mon Purse co-founder and chief executive 

lana hopkins

The bag building game is now a global proposition for Lana Hopkins and her team.

The business is barely two years old, but Hopkins and co-founder Andrew Shub have created a multimillion-doallar company in Mon Purse that now has a foot in the door in the UK and US thanks to deals with Selfridges and Bloomingdales at the end of 2016.

While Hopkins tells SmartCompany she “couldn’t have written a better script if I tried”, the brand’s pitch to customers is highly calibrated to the rising interests in personalised goods. The founders know their brand, and are riding the wave of strong interest in the “design it yourself” bag and purse range.

“It’s affordable and you don’t need to mortgage a home to buy your bag. It’s about quality and it’s about technology,” Hopkins said last year.  

Beau Bertoli and Greg Moshal—Prospa founders 

Prospa co-founders

Few business can boast a growth rate of more than 1000% within their first five years, but small business lending platform Prospa shows no signs of slowing down.

Beau Bertoli and Greg Moshal have carefully studied how SMEs use capital to formulate their business loan platform, which took out the top position in the 2016 Smart50 Awards with a three-year annual growth rate of 1074%.

The founders have business partnerships with Xero and Westpac, and have previously told SmartCompany their success comes from keeping goals clear and specific.

“Our greatest successes have come when we were very precise about expectations,” Bertoli said.

Alyce Tran—The Daily Edited co-founder

The Daily Edited

Anyone dreaming of transitioning from a day job into their own million-dollar operation should review Alyce Tran’s career path so far. The young lawyer has turn her blog The Daily Edited into a $5 million leather goods business that boasts an Instagram audience of more than 150,000 fans. With a partnership with David Jones well underway, the business is poised for another big year.

Along with co-founder Tania Liu, Tran has carved out a strong look and voice for the business, and is one to watch when it comes to engaging with users on social media.

“More people are on Instagram at night than watching TV. So put content up there and put some energy behind it,” she told SmartCompany in 2016. 

Steve Shelley—Deputy co-founder

Deputy-startup-founders-photo-640x427

Steve Shelley and Ashik Ahmed spent eight years bootstrapping their staff management software business, but after securing $33 million in Series A funding from Boston firm OpenView last year, there are big growth plans on the horizon for Deputy.

The $10 million company delivers employee roster, timesheet and workflow programs to SMEs, as well as bigger clients like NASA, and has a 25,000-strong customer base.

In 2016, StartupSmart reported the business has its eye on expansion across the Asia Pacific and its latest round of funding will likely come in handy when the founders are pitching to clients from their new Singapore office.

Kayla Itsines—The Bikini Body Training Company co-founder 

Bikini battle: fitness gurus Kayla Itsines and Leanne ‘Banana Girl’ Ratcliffe in defamation clash

Kayla Istines and Bikini Body Training Company co-founder Tobi Pearce were the youngest entrants on the 2016 BRW Young Rich List, with a combined estimated worth of $46 million.

The fitness entrepreneur’s “Bikini Body Guide” programs have reached millions around the globe and continue to do so, although the company has always kept quiet on exact audiences and profits generated by the fitness empire.

What we do know is the reach of the brand’s social media profiles: Itsines has more than 10 million Facebook fans, 6.3 million Instagram followers and 390,000 Twitter followers. These platforms prompt tens of thousands of engagements with every post, while fuelling sales of the brand’s programs and merchandise.

Richenda Vermeulen—ntergity founder

Richenda Vermeulen

The founder of impact-driven digital agency ntegtrity says she’s been able to grow her business by keeping honest and sharing stories. She believes strong team connections are the key to long term success—a lesson she recently blogged about on the company’s website after taking her whole team, and their partners, on an intensive strategy boot camp where they all shared a villa for a week on Thailand’s Koh Samui.

In a climate where startup founders and entrepreneurs say building sustainable businesses that have a direct social impact is the most important thing, ntegrity is an example of one operation that continues to grow while keeping a focus on impact-driven projects

Vermeulen told StartupSmart this month that as ntegrity expands, her own willingness to rely on others for expertise and support has been key, with the belief that the ability to work through roadblocks is a matter of personal introspection.

“The person who I was five years ago is not the person I am now and that’s a good thing,” she says.

“One of the best things about being an entrepreneur is you’re not stale.” 

Zoe Pointon–OpenAgent co-founder and chief executive   

Zoe Pointon (right) and co-founder Marta

Zoe Pointon (right) and co-founder Marta Higuera

The chief executive of the real estate agent comparison platform has previously said you should work for a startup before launching your own.

Her own entrepreneurship journey began at a very young age, which has no doubt come in handy when making big decisions after she and co-founder Marta Higuera closed a $12 million funding round in August 2016.

OpenAgent is getting started on a national expansion plan, with Pointon telling StartupSmart last year the team is confident in their focused approach and the ability to disrupt this one specific area of the real estate market.

“Real estate is an area where people that are thinking about buying or selling have a lot of pain in the process and there’s nowhere near enough transparency,” she says.

Luke AnearSafetyCulture founder and chief executive

Scott Farquhar and Luke Anear SafetyCulture

SafetyCulture closed one of the biggest high growth venture investment rounds in 2016, and this year we’re watching what the cloud-based workplace safety company will do with the $30 million it scored from venture capitalists.

The business was created from Luke Anear’s Townsville garage in 2004 and it found a niche by providing easy-to-use auditing app technology for workplace safety. Ten years later it had gained investment from the likes of Atlassian co-founder Scott Farquhar.

Anear is no stranger to funding rounds, and has previously told StartupSmart there’s value in getting to know your investors very well prior to inking a deal.

“It’s like a marriage that you can’t get out of. Look to a range of different investors and consider other options to increase revenue before considering investment,” he says.

Having just opened offices last year in San Francisco, Kansas City and Manchester, the next 12 months will give SafetyCulture the chance to take on the world.

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Emma Koehn

Emma Koehn is a former senior SmartCompany journalist.