Up starts

University students can be a creative lot… and we can learn a lot from them. BRENDAN LEWIS

Brendan Lewis

By Brendan Lewis

So the other week I sat in as a judge at The University of Melbourne Student Entrepreneurs Week. Melbourne University doesn’t teach entrepreneurship per se, and some of the students are getting a bit antsy about it so have formed their own group called Agents of Change to make thinks happen. I should note though that they are getting some support from the university.

The part I was judging at was the entrepreneurs challenge. Each team of two to four students had to find value from an every day item and make a presentation on it at the end of the week. The concept is based upon a similar challenge at Stanford University (this year was an elastic band).

The challenge for our 16 or so groups was to find value from a paper cup.

The winner’s presentation has been uploaded here. You will also find some of them on YouTube.

The winners idea was to mark paper cups used in coffee shops with different messages. Messages to other patrons such as: In the mood for an interesting conversation! Let’s play scrabble. I’m open to dating………..

None of the ideas that they came up with were likely to be huge money spinners, however I did find the event fascinating. I found I had four insights about the bright young things at Melbourne University.

1. Almost all the entries were from international students. Not any particular country, just “not born in Australia”. The only overtly Australian team used the paper cups in a “boat race” much to my chagrin. I am now wondering if there is a correlation between the energy and courage required to go to a different country to study and the energy and courage required to start your own business. Actually thinking about it, a decent whack of Australia’s most successful entrepreneurs have been immigrants. Makes me think maybe I am looking in the wrong places for employees with energy……….

2. My perception was that only one of the groups validated the idea with customers before committing to a course of action. All other groups brainstormed and idea, built it and ran with it. Very rapid development rather than a traditional approach. No business plans for this lot, just let the market decide whether it’s a winner and change our operations to suit.

3. All but two of the efforts were social ventures. These students see social entrepreneurship (such as fund raising for breast cancer victims) as a major avenue for their entrepreneurial energies and equally as valid as making a buck for yourself. Funnily enough, even the one of the two commercially focused ideas was making money helping victims of natural disasters. No risky business here!

4. We had been briefed that we were not to judge the students on their presentation skills, just the content in their presentations. The judging panel as a whole agreed that maybe this was a bad lesson for the students, but real life will soon fix that up. My perception was also that all the solutions and presentations were anchored by what Stanford had done before. Each of the teams had looked at the Stanford University challenge entries on YouTube, and therefore had a preconceived idea of what they had to deliver. Each of the presentations were pretty much a variation on a theme (great sound track, slides and occasional pieces to camera).

Walking back to my car afterwards, my major impression was that this focus on social entrepreneurship was a good thing for Australia. I smiled.


Brendan Lewis is a serial technology entrepreneur having founded : Ideas Lighting, Carradale Media, Edion, Verve IT, The Churchill Club, Flinders Pacific and L2i Technology Advisory. He has set up businesses for others in Romania, Indonesia and Vietnam. Qualified in IT and Accounting, he has also spent time running an Advertising agency and as a Cavalry Officer with the Australian Army Reserve.

To read more Brendan Lewis blogs, click here.



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