Melbourne pitching competition combining business and programmer development

Five businesses are in the running for $8,000 in seed capital and a mentoring lunch with Red Balloon’s founder Naomi Simson, after being announced the finalists in Melbourne University’s 2013 Startup competition.


The selected companies are: Creatologists, CareAbility, My Wingman, The Fashtag Group, and Projectboard and cover a range of industries including food, recreational services and disability services.


The five emerging founders will pitch to a group of private equity and venture capital investors.


Competition founder and consumer psychologist academic Dr Brent Coker told StartupSmart the ideas have been getting better and better since he launched the competition in 2009.


“In 2009, we had maybe five teams enter, everyone presented their ideas and the winner got a handshake. So it was a pretty small deal,” Coker says.


“This year, there were a range of new interesting and feasible ideas that gave us that instant reaction of ‘I wish I’d thought of that’. A few of this year’s entries stood out as exciting with huge potential.”


Coker says the development of the standard of the ideas was in line with the growing Melbourne entrepreneurial ecosystem, but also due to some events the university has run to connect programmers to business development students.


“One of the things I did this year was get engineers and computer programmers and put them in the same room as the smartest business students. I gave them beer and pizza and tried to get them to mingle, because that’s where the best ideas come from,” he says.


Coker says the best business ideas are born from the potent combination of great developers, both from a product but also business perspective.


“With these two roles together in the same team, you’re covering each other’s weaknesses,” Coker says. “Engineers are very good at making things, but they try to work out who to sell it to after it’s made. That’s the opposite of how we train our business students, who are trained to find gaps to fill and then create products, but they’re not usually inventors.”


He adds the communication hurdles can be big, but worth overcoming.


“The biggest challenge is learning to see each other’s point of view. Engineers and programmers are very good at thinking up technologies and what’s possible but the challenge is getting them to understand the business people’s point of view, which is they want to build a fairly simple solution to a problem, and after they’re doing that they’ll care about features,” Coker says.


He says many Melbourne University students who are aspiring founders can feel intimidated or disadvantaged by being so far away from Silicon Valley.


“Many have the perception that those at Stanford are better than them, but that’s not the case,” Coker says. “We’ve got an advantage here as you don’t need to compete with the Silicon Valley start-ups until you’re really ready.”


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