Doing business overseas can be a daunting prospect for even the most experienced entrepreneurs, let alone a primary school teacher with no prior business experience.
For Robyne Luketic, an ICT specialist teacher at a Melbourne primary school, the journey from teacher to inventor to businesswoman hasn’t always been smooth. However, she has learnt some valuable lessons along the way.
Luketic is the creator of Handsdown, which is essentially a traffic light system for the classroom, enabling teachers and students to prioritise questioning and assistance.
Handsdown uses three coloured hands – red, orange and green – to indicate whether students need assistance immediately or whether they can continue working but would like assistance when the teacher is ready.
Luketic came up with the idea based on her own experiences as a teacher.
“When you have six children with their hands up in the air, you don’t know who is the priority and who isn’t. I came up with this idea of prioritising in a classroom,” she says.
“I basically started with a restaurant table stand with welded clips and laminating cards, and we had teachers come to the school. We had busloads of teachers saying, ‘What a good idea’.”
“To be able to sell to teachers, while still teaching now, is fantastic. I suppose as far as me being able to sell the product, it’s very easy.”
While Luketic had no trouble selling Handsdown, she did run into several roadblocks regarding the manufacture and delivery of the product.
“I went through the whole process of designing, delivering and manufacturing in China,” she says.
“[I manufactured the product in China] purely for cost. I tried to get it made in Australia – I loved the idea of ‘Made in Australia’ – but it was just not feasible.”
“All the importing part of it [was a challenge] – importing and manufacturing in China, and the lack of communication between me and China.”
“Just when I thought I had my head around something, something would come up that I didn’t know existed.”
Luketic embarked on a business trip to China in order to check the product before it arrived in Australia. The plan was to stay in Hong Kong and only venture to the mainland for several days, which required a special visa.
“I shopped my heart out, went to go back again and realised my three-day visa had run out. I ended up getting sent back and flew home without ever seeing the product,” she says.
“Having the proper visa, and being able to go and see the product, would obviously have been better. But with all the business things you’re thinking of, you don’t think too much of a visa.”
“I have learned from that. I now have to glue the little hands in [on the product] but I can live with that. I’m probably very lucky.”
Luketic also failed to anticipate the challenges associated with delivery, namely the cost.
“I’d planned to go Australia-wide but the cost to deliver the product is dearer than the products themselves,” she says.
“I’ve had meetings with Scholastic and a few others but they want to take such a massive amount of the profit, so I’m hoping someone could come up with a better deal.”
“Me on my own, and what delivery companies want to charge me, means it’s too expensive.”
Nevertheless, Luketic has managed to get her product into as many as 30 Melbourne primary schools.
“If this goes well and keeps doing what it’s doing, I might come up with another product,” she says.
Luketic encourages other entrepreneurial-minded teachers to get advice “from someone else who’s done it”.
“There are teachers out there with really good ideas and they don’t know where to start,” she says.
“Teachers come up with lots of ideas but they’re teaching – they’re working fulltime – so they find it hard to find the time. I couldn’t possibly do it working five days a week.”