Insurance, socks and social enterprise: StartupSmart’s 10 startups to watch in 2019

Manrags co-founders Michael and Tina Elias. Source: Supplied.

Manrags co-founders Michael and Tina Elias. Source: Supplied.

In accelerators, incubators, co-working spaces and parent’s garages, all over the country, startups are emerging.

With more and more Aussies going down the entrepreneurial path, many as we’re often reminded will unfortunately fail. But startupland is an unpredictable place, and there’s no knowing which niggling idea or passion project will evolve into the next home-grown unicorn.

But, when you have your ear to the ground as we do at StartupSmart, you get a sense of the types of entrepreneurs that stand out.

So from electric cars to spacetech, insurance to silly socks, here are 10 Aussie startups we think have a bright 12 months ahead of them.

Currently, it’s using its AI and robotics technology to make sure customers are being honest on their self-checkout machines, but is a startup with big ambitions.

Founded in Melbourne by Keaton Okkonen, Sebastien Collier and Karthik Rajgopal, the startup closed a $1.2 million funding round in October, with funding from Blackbird Ventures, Right Click Capital, Pan Group and Canadian VC Saltagen Ventures. is ultimately building a sensor infrastructure that will allow bots to share data, building up a picture of things they cannot individually see.

At the time of the raise, Okkonen told StartupSmart we’re “three to five years away from large-scale adoption of fleet robots”.

However, “when demand for applications picks up, we’re definitely positioned to capture that market”.

Bring Me Home

In its first two weeks of operation, Melbourne Startmate graduate Bring Me Home saved more than 330 meals from the bin.

The app allows restaurants and cafes to list surplus foods at discounted prices, for users to collect at an allotted time.

Founder Jane Kou first started work on the startup in September 2017, and has been working full-time on it since the following January. However, she told StartupSmart in September she wanted to find an accelerator “to actually accelerate me”.

She finished the Startmate program this year, but Kou no plans to slow down. She’s working on expanding into more suburbs in Melbourne, and then to Sydney too.

Within two to three years the plan is “to saturate the whole Australian market,” she said, with “people actively buying every day”.

Bring Me Home

Bring Me Home founder and chief executive Jane Kou. Source: Supplied.


Spacetech startup Fleet raised $5 million in Series A funding in 2017, led by Blackbird Ventures, and also including investment from Atlassian co-founder Mike Cannon Brookes.

Since then, its grown to a staff of 20, opened offices in Europe and LA, and launched the first of its nano-satellites into space.

The satellites weigh about 10kg, and are the size of a shoebox. Once there’s a network of them in space, will provide global internet-of-things connectivity to improve efficiencies in areas such as agriculture, mining and logistics.

Speaking to StartupSmart in November, Nardini said she is planning to scale up, and “attack the market quicker”.

“I’m going to take a break, but not this year,” she said.


Sydney startup Huddle is taking a modern, customer-centric and ethical approach to insurance  and it’s paying off. The startup has raised more than $25 million in capital since it was founded in 2016, including $19.25 million in its Series A round in November 2018.

At the time, Huddle co-founder Jason Wilby told StartupSmart there was a gap in the market for an insurance provider that could be trusted, and that had values aligned with those of its clients.

Until now, the startup has gained some 50,000 members through word-of-mouth alone, and the latest funding is pegged for a marketing drive, for increasing awareness, and to drive further client acquisition.

“We haven’t done a lot of PR or anything. It’s just a team of engineers and analysts who have been really refining the product,” Wilby said.

“It’s exciting, because we’ve got so much headroom for growth,” he added.

The Huddle team. Source: Supplied.


It’s in the early stages, founded just this year, but electric vehicle startup Jaunt has plans to create a fleet of upcycled electric vehicles on a car-sharing network throughout Australia.

Founded by Dave Budge and Marteen Burger, Jaunt is currently resident in Melbourne’s Space Tank Studio, where the founders are rebuilding battered four-by-fours and converting them to run on electricity,

Back in September, Budge told StartupSmart the idea is to create accessible, easy-to-drive electric vehicles that “fit the Australian imagination, or desire, for what a car should be”.

And it’s having space in the incubator that’s helping Jaunt get off the ground a bit faster.

“Having access to the equipment, and people who know intimately how to use it and who are willing to spend their time helping you do that as well is invaluable,” he said.

“It would have taken 10 times longer if we didn’t have this kind of space.”


Co-founded by husband and wife team Michael and Tina Elias, this startup is centred around the joy of silly socks.

The subscription startup has been delivering gentlemen essentials to doors since June 2016, but has recently let women in on the action too, launching its new platform, MsSous.

Manrags has been seeing 100% year-on-year growth, and this year raised $362,000 through an equity crowdfunding campaign surpassing their $300,000 target.

When the campaign launched in August, Michael told StartupSmart Manrags has a lot of growing to do, launching the MsSous range, and also potentially branching into basic t-shirts.

The kinds of essentials may only be a small part of any outfit, but “there’s a lot of serious stuff going on in the world”, Michael said.

“To be able to be a bit playful, sit back and not always be so serious has been a driver of who we are.”


Founded by brothers Shane and Brett Hodgkins and launched in 2016, Matrak is a construction workflow management startup born out of Brett’s own frustrations working on sites.

The brothers bootstrapped the business for their first couple of years, before securing $765,000 in seed funding, mostly from former Aconex chair Simon Yencken, who has previously back Aussie unicorn Canva and art marketplace Redbubble.

Matrak co-founders Brett and Shane Hodgkins. Source: Supplied.

Matrak co-founders Brett and Shane Hodgkins. Source: Supplied.


Matrak already has customers throughout Australia, as well as in China and the US. To date, it has tracked more than $4 billion worth of construction materials.

Speaking to StartupSmart at the time of the raise, Shane said the brothers are now working on improving the user interface and onboarding new customers, while “looking to push the international market more seriously”.


Having sold restaurant rating startup Eatibility to Optus for $6 million in 2012, co-founders Celeste and Hui Ong this year launched a new dating app.

Inspired by the horror stories of online dating, Pair allows users to give their dates a thumbs up or thumbs down on three areas: safety, behaviour and profile accuracy.

When the app launched this year, Celeste told StartupSmart a lot of her friends were switching off from dating apps “because they were feeling very disrespected with problems such as harassment, catfishing, ghosting and outdated photos”.

Over the next two years, the Ong’s are pouring $2 million of their own funds into Pair, starting with a $100,000 investment.

They are hoping to have 50,000 users by the end of next year, and already have their sights set on international expansion.

Pair dating app

Hui and Celeste Ong, Pair co-founders. Source: Jorje Poggioli

Wave Swell Energy

Wave Swell Energy founder Tom Denniss may have been working on his renewable energy solution for more than 30 years, but he founded the startup to commercialise the tech in 2016.

The past two years have been spent securing IP for the product and completing final testing, and now Wave Swell Energy is on track to secure $9 million in funding to launch the first commercial demonstration on King Island in the Bass Strait.

“After that, we expect to be fully-fledged commercial and doing profitable projects,” Denniss told StartupSmart earlier this year.

Denniss sees wave energy as plating a significant role in the renewable energies drive.

“You can be much more confident about the consistency over a long period of time, and it can be predicted five to 10 days ahead,” he said.

“That enables us to produce much more reliable power that has a higher value.”


Melbourne recruitment startup Work180 raised $1 million in seed funding in April this year, to fuel a launch into the UK, and another $1 million in September to take on the US.

Both rounds were led by Skip Capital, the private investment fund of Kim Jackson and her husband, Atlassian co-founder Scott Farquhar.

Founded in 2015 by Gemma Lloyd and Valeria Ignatieva, WORK180 is a platform designed to provide more transparency in HR policies, screening job listings against a specific set of criteria.

At the time of the second raise, Lloyd told StartupSmart while a US expansion was always part of the plan, it did come sooner than expected.

“It was really apparent how needed we were over there and how big the appetite was”, Lloyd said.

“I didn’t realise quite how behind a lot of companies were in terms of how they supported their employees.”

NOW READ: Ten Australian startups to watch in 2018

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