FastForward (FFWD) is a free six week program funded through the New South Wales government and run by Haymarket HQ which takes participants from idea to start up ready with access to mentors, investors and practical experience. The number of participants has doubled from 100 in 2020, to 200 this year.

“It’s all digital because we wanted to be able to help include offshore students as well”

All current and former higher education students in NSW are eligible to apply.

FFWD program manager Isabelle Lee said they developed the program to address a gap in the market.

“We realised a lot of international students who come into Australia either already having a start up at home like a small family business or they’ve always wanted to start a business, we found that once they came to Australia, they often didn’t know where to look for support.

“For example they didn’t really understand the cultural differences or they just weren’t sure where to start and so in conjunction with the NSW government, we were given some funding to create this program.”

The inaugural program drew 200 applications with 100 participants selected. The timing of the launch of the program unfortunately coincided with the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic but Lee said in some ways it worked out well.

“It was just when the pandemic hit so people couldn’t come out, which turned out to be a little bit of an advantage as well, because we had all these students who couldn’t come to Australia to study in country, and they were stuck at home so a digital program really worked well for them.

“Also some felt a bit lost being at home, they weren’t sure what to do so this program gave them a way to stay motivated, gave them something to work on and a way to connect with other students in a digital format.”

In 2021 applications for the program grew significantly with 400 students from 45 countries applying for places in FFWD, with 200 accepted into the program which started this week.

Some 60% of participants are international students, and around 20 are offshore due to the ongoing travel restrictions. “That’s one of the biggest draws of the program, it’s all digital and that’s because we wanted to be able to help include those offshore students as well,” said Lee.

Start up ideas aren’t just limited to tech concepts with last year’s cohort pitching a range of ideas from education, career and support solutions targeted at international students through to construction solutions for home builders, social enterprises and opportunities to bring international products to the Australian market.

“One that stood out in particular was a girl from India who wanted to make female hygiene products more accessible to people in her village. We also had participants who wanted to bring products and cuisine from their country to Australia for example some South American students wanted to bring in coffee to set up unique experiences with food. There was a whole range of different ideas,” said Lee.

The program has also drawn a range of high quality mentors including Olga Oleinikova, cofounder of Persollo, and author of books on the migrant experience; a growth hacker from Airtasker and developers from Atlassian who’ll work alongside participants as they go through a rigorous training program featuring resources, quizzes, assignments and hands on activities.

Lee said the highest performers will then go on to take part in a ‘demo day’.

“This is a pitch event where they talk about the problem they’re solving and the start-up that they have to a public audience and a panel of judges, with prizes and potential investment opportunities on offer.”

The FFWD21 demo will be held in late March.

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