Startup News & Analysis

Meet the three startup winners in this year’s UniSA’s Venture Catalyst Awards

Angela Castles /

Venture Catalyst awards

Playt founders Jason Neave & Nicole Henderson (left), SecureNest founders Sally Skewes and Joseph Skewes. Source: Supplied.

Startups tackling e-health solutions, business management pain points and the future of food purchasing will share in $135,000 in seed funding, after being named this year’s winners of the University of South Australia’s Venture Catalyst program.

Announced last night, the winners are e-heath platform Secure Nest, designed by UniSA graduate Sally Skewes; business management software Studio Buddy, founded by graduate James Walsh; and food tech company Playt, founded by current student Nicole Henderson.

Secure Nest and Playt were both awarded $50,000 in seed funding, with Secure Nest named as the inaugural winner of the program’s new social enterprise stream. Studio Buddy was awarded $35,000, as well as $15,000 worth of incubation space within the UniSA’s Innovation and Collaboration Centre.

Jasmine Vreugdenburg is the manager of the Innovation and Collaboration Centre, which facilities the Venture Catalyst program. She says the program started as joint initiative between the state government and the University of South Australia as a way to stimulate student entrepreneurship to “turn around our reliance on manufacturing industries in South Australia” and inspire a new wave of jobs and innovation

This entrepreneurial emphasis saw the program launch in 2014 with an aim to “encourage entrepreneurial behaviours in all our students” and give them “a financial headstart,”  Vreugdenburg says.

Since that time, nine startup companies have been funded through the program, receiving $433,000 in seed investment from the South Australian government and UniSA.

Vreugdenburg believes university is an ideal time to be inspiring future entrepreneurs, because they are at a stage in their career, and personal lives, where they are still able to take big risks.

“Usually students don’t have financial commitments such as mortgages or kids — they’re dedicating all of their time to it [startups]. They’re in a really good stage because they are usually able to take more risk,” she says.

Vreugdenburg says she has seen an emerging trend of universities embedding entrepreneurial elements into each field of study in a move to equip students for the changing future of work, which will likely see many traditional roles phased out or replaced by automation.

“The program enables students to apply what they learn at university towards a venture in a safe and supported environment,” she says. 

For founders hoping to land funding from the Venture Catalyst program next year, Vreugdenburg says she looked for three things when selecting this round of winners: the team, the originality of the idea, and whether the startup is globally scaleable.

Technology-based startups with no tech talent are a no-no, according to Vreugdenburg, who adds that doing research about the industry, market opportunities potential challenges a startup faces is “one of the main things that get them [startups] over the line” to secure this funding.

This year’s winners

Secure Nest: $50,000 seed funding 

Secure Nest is an e-health platform designed to help treatment and recovery for patients undergoing Schema Therapy, which is a type of psychotherapy that helps overcome negative behaviours.

Playt: $50,000 seed funding

Playt is a food tech startup that cuts out the hassle of grocery shopping, by converting text from online and print recipes to create a digital shopping list, which can then be integrated with national and international grocery chains for home delivery.

Studio Buddy: $35,000 seed funding plus $15,000 worth of incubator space at the UniSA’s Innovation and Collaboration Centre

Studio Buddy offers a business management software platform that helps with end-to-end home and recording studio management, and can scale to other industries to track performance and capture data.

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Angela Castles

Angela Castles is a Journalist at StartupSmart with a keen interest in the legal issues startups face. In her free time she can be found eating sushi and seeing live music.

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