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How Monash University’s startup accelerator is helping grow a YouTube channel into a student-focused startup

Stephanie Palmer-Derrien /

The 2018 cohort for Monash University's The Generator startup accelerator. Source: Supplied.

The 2018 cohort for Monash University's The Generator startup accelerator. Source: Supplied.

It started life as a humble YouTube channel, but Victorian startup Student Vibe is on its way to bigger and better things as one of the latest cohort to start this year’s Monash University’s The Generator accelerator program.

Now in its third year, the accelerator is the flagship program of the university’s entrepreneurial hub. While the hub itself has supported over 100 startups, only 23 have been accepted into the accelerator program so far, including hypnosis app Mindset, which reached a milestone of 12,000 users in May this year, and housekeeping marketplace startup Jarvis.

The founders of both Mindset and Jarvis went on to interview for US-based Y Combinator, the accelerator behind the likes of Airbnb and Dropbox. Another Generator accelerator graduate, which the university declined to name, has seen its monthly revenue jump from $4000 to $55,000.

This year’s cohort of nine startups will receive up to $10,000 in seed funding, as well as access to co-working space, and mentoring from entrepreneur-in-residence Kishan Thurairasa, founder of developer recruitment platform Jobbop.

The startups include space hardware startup Next Aero, ticket resale platform Tixel and Student Vibe, a YouTube channel-turned-startup that aims to help international students in their transition into Australian life.

Co-founded by Aussie native Jocelyn Wardle and international student Devarshi Desai, who is currently completing his masters in business at Monash University, Student Vibe was originally called Melbourne Vibe, before the founders realised their idea had national, and potentially international, potential.

Speaking to StartupSmart, Wardle says the pair started uploading videos to provide information international students might need, but that was not readily available elsewhere. Within six months, they had 400,000 views, and now the channel boasts 13,000 subscribers.

“There is a really big need for providing this information,” Wardle says. “We wanted to take it a bit further.”

“There’s a real problem that we could help students with and we would be able to make revenue as well,” she adds.

Now, Student Vibe is moving into providing a mentoring program, helping students with anything from understanding public transport to helping people find accommodation, jobs, and even university clubs to join.

While at the moment revenue is coming solely from YouTube advertising, in the future the startup plans to charge a fee to students who wish to complete the mentorship program, while continuing to provide information and Q&As free of change on its social media channels.

Currently, Wardle says, across all of their channels, “we’re answering hundreds of questions a day”.

Building a community

For Wardle and Desai, the decision to apply for The Generator was was in part, a matter of good timing. The founders had only just decided Student Vibe was going to be a startup, rather than only a YouTube channel, when they saw the accelerator advertised.

The program doesn’t take equity from startups, and after some research into Kishan Thurairasa and the accelerator’s admission panel, Wardle and Desai found they were “in line with how we think, and what we wanted to get out of the program”.

For Student Vibe, the potential $10,000 cash injection is “massive”, Wardle says.

The founders are working on building an online community, and “building an online platform is quite expensive”, she says.

Equally, they have legal help and accountants on hand to help them with the intricacies of establishing a company — something they’re both relatively inexperienced with.

“Any questions we have about starting a company we can ask these people,” Wardle says.

“If nothing else, we have them on board and we can contact them in the future.”

But another big plus point for Wardle is having a co-working space available, and other entrepreneurs around to bounce ideas off.

“Personally, we work a lot better with people,” she says, adding that it’s “a friendship thing as well”.

“We’re going into this full throttle. We don’t know what we’re doing, but we’ve got the support of other co-founders who are sitting there in the same position that we are.”

People over products

The Generator accelerator is designed to nurture people with potential, focusing on the entrepreneurs behind the business ideas, rather than the ideas themselves.

In fact, the accelerator team behind Mindset scrapped their original idea in favour of the hypnosis app in the final month of the program.

“They’re focusing on people who have tenacity,” Wardle says, “instilling us with a level of confidence.”

The program is also committed to gender diversity. Of the 23 startups that have been accepted into the program so far, more than half have had at least one female founder.

For Wardle, this is important. It’s about “women being able to support women”, she says.

In her experience, she says, female founders are more likely to lack the confidence to “go out and achieve what they want”, or may “not feel as smart as everyone else in the room”.

Just having other female founders around and “seeing the others doing what they do” has been inspiring, she says.

“It’s been two weeks, and I feel like I’ve been instilled with a lot of confidence, drive and motivation.”

For other early-stage startup founders thinking about applying for an accelerator program, Wardle’s advice is simply to be open, and willing to learn.

“It’s about the person, and not so much about the business,” she says.

“If you’re someone who’s coachable and willing to listen and take help, you’ll have a better chance of being accepted.”

“Be open and honest with yourself, as well as with the people you could be working with,” she adds.

NOW READ: On the MAP: Meet this year’s cohort for the Melbourne Accelerator Program

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Stephanie Palmer-Derrien

Stephanie Palmer-Derrien is a reporter at StartupSmart.

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