Eleven Aussie startup founders who made the 2018 Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia list


NEM.io Foundation's Jason Lee. Source: Supplied.

Each year, the Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia list recognises some of the most ambitious or influential innovators and disruptors across 10 different industries in the Asia region, including a number of Australian startup founders too.

This year’s list has fewer Aussie founders, compared to last year, but the ones who did make the cut are all putting up big wins and seeing success, and helping to contribute to and grow the Australian startup ecosystem. But while the overall list was largely diverse, the Australian contingency was dominated by male founders.

Here’s 11 startup founders of the 36 Australians honoured in the list, along with a brief description of who they are and what they do.

1. Rory San Miguel — Propeller Aero

Rory San Miguel’s drone startup Propeller Aero was described in 2016 as “ready to follow in the footsteps of Atlassian”, and appearing on the Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia list is likely to help on that journey. His startup develops drones for the construction sector, and was founded in 2014 with co-founder Francis Vierboom.

It also boasts a partnership with global drones manufacturing giant DJI, and raised $4 million from some of Silicon Valley’s biggest venture capital funds in 2016. At the time, he told StartupSmart the best way for founders to get funding is to score as many meetings with VC firms as possible.

“You have to be really confident with your argument as to why it’s a good opportunity and an important thing to do. You need to tell them why them, why you and what’s going to happen with the money,” he said.

2. Jason Lee — NEM Foundation

Jason Lee is one of the many players in the ecosystem finding opportunities in the cryptocurrency and blockchain technology space, in his role as the country manager for top 10 cryptocurrency NEM’s Australian and New Zealand operations.

Part of those operations include getting Aussie startups on board and benefiting from the Foundation’s $90 million NEM investment fund, including agtech startup BlockGrain.

“The reason we established this fund is because we believe that blockchain can truly transform the way businesses operate, and we see the rise of the XEM cryptocurrency as a way of giving back to the community,” Lee previously told StartupSmart.

“I’m honoured to be recognised in this prestigious list, alongside so many inspirational and game-changing people across Asia-Pacific region,” Lee said in a statement.

3. Tara Baker — Dancing with Her

Tara Baker’s business Dancing with Her started off as a 20-page online magazine dedicated to increasing the representation of LGBTQ+ brides after Baker and her fiancee recognised how ‘heteronormative’ the wedding industry is.

The publishing business now caters to more than 85,000 readers every month around the world, and the business now offers a print version alongside its online and social media-focused offerings.

A post shared by Modern Lesbian Weddings (@dancingwithher) on

4. Ryan Zhou — CoinJar

As another young up-and-comer riding the cryptocurrency wave, Ryan Zhou and his co-founder Asher Tan founded online bitcoin buying and trading website CoinJar in 2013, which has seen significant business over 2017 as more and more everyday investors are drawn to the alluring world of cryptocurrency.

To date, CoinJar has over 350,000 members and more than $785 million in trading turnover.

But just three years ago, Zhou was still studying while running CoinJar, telling StartupSmart in 2015 his studies in finance combined his love for tech and Bitcoin well.

“I think passion is extremely important. If you’re only in it for the money, it’s hard to be motivated to do what you can do. I’ve got a huge passion for technology and the internet and studying finance at university. So Bitcoin combines what I’m studying with something I’m passionate about working on in my spare time,” he said.

5. Brandon Ellis — Uncle Jack

First a footballer, now a startup founder, Ellis teamed up with childhood mate Robbie Ball to start a trendy watch retailer for milennials called Uncle Jack, which hit over $1 million in revenue in its first year running.

“His influence has helped tremendously in the business, and it’s been great to be able to utilise his network when we need to. Today the brand itself has really grown its own legs, but in the beginning, if he were to post a picture on Instagram, it would be huge,” Ball told SmartCompany last year.

6. Riad Chikhani — GAMURS

While GAMURS started as a social media style platform for esports and video games, the business has expanded rapidly and now boasts seven different brands in its empire. One such brand is esports betting platform Skrilla, which raised $800,000 through an initial coin offering last year.

Chikhani and his platform have also attracted $3.5 million in venture capital funding, but the founder stresses startups should never view fundraising as the final goal of their venture.

“It’s so cliche, but fundraising should not be the goal,” he said.

7. Natalie Kyriacou — My Green World

Natalie Kyriacou is one of the few social enterprise-focused founders to make an appearance on the list. She starting youth oriented wildlife conservation organisation My Green World in 2013 as a way to encourage more young people to get involved in wildlife and environmental movements.

In 2016, the founder also launched a smartphone application called World of the Wild, which aims to gamify conservation, riding on the success of apps such as Angry Birds to educate and entertain young people about the power of conservation.

“Tech startups and the tech sector have a powerful position and are able to make huge impacts on society as a whole,” Kyriacou told StartupSmart in 2016.

“It’s important to create things that have an impact and find solutions to global problems and today’s most pressing threats.”

Natalie Kyriacou.

8. Ash Davies — Tablo

A SmartCompany Hot 30 Under 30 alumni, Ash Davies is the founder of ‘YouTube for books’ publishing startup Tablo, which helps authors and writers get their books published. The founder considered raising a Series A round in 2016, but decided against it to continue growing the startup with his own backing.

9 and 10. Nik Mirkovic and Alex Tomic — HiSmile

After famously signing on social media influencer superstar Kylie Jenner and reaching $20 million in revenue, Nik Mirkovic and Alec Tomic’s teeth-whitening startup HiSmile have continued to go from strength to strength, and are now eyeing off $100 million in revenue.

To do so, they’ve set themselves an “infinite goal” of continuous scaling, which includes hitting $1 billion in sales over the coming years.

“We have an infinite goal, and we are here for the long run — the next 20, 50, 100 years,” Tomic told StartupSmart.

“With the push from ten to 20 and now $100 million, you have to push yourself that extra percent, and always ask yourself, ‘are you comfortable with this position? Or do you have a much larger goal?’”

11. Francisco Serra-Martins — Sonder Design

Francisco Serra-Martin’s hardware startup Sonder is hoping to bring e-ink back into vogue through the release of a e-ink enabled laptop keyboard, which will allow users to chop and change the keys they display and use at will. The keyboard is still in development however, despite receiving over $30,000 in pre-orders. It’s completion date is still unknown.

The startup recently won first prize at the GMIC Sydney PitcHub competition, judged by Australian startup industry heavyweight Phil Morle.

NOW READ: Eight Aussie startup founders suggest their best podcasts and audiobooks


Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
SmartCompany Plus

Sign in

To connect a sign in method the email must match the one on your SmartCompany Plus account.
Or use your email
Forgot your password?

Want some assistance?

Contact us on: support@smartcompany.com.au or call the hotline: +61 (03) 8623 9900.