The Future Founders Festival, an initiative of State Library Victoria’s StartSpace and Study Melbourne, was geared towards arming participants with the knowledge, skills and networks they need to overcome the major barriers to starting a business in Australia.
“International students face unique obstacles when trying to start a business in Australia”
More than 30 business founders from around the world spoke at the event including Liven co-founder Grace Wong, Brosa co-founder Ivan Lim, GoJek director Kiranjeet Purba, Catalysr founder and 2018 Commonwealth Young Person of the Year Usman Iftikhar.
600 participants “attended” and actively engaged in the five-day event. StartSpace Community lead, Aun Ngo, said this first-of-a-kind-festival responded to the cohort’s unique needs.
“International students face unique obstacles when trying to start a business in Australia, including cultural and language barriers, smaller networks, difficulty obtaining visas and access to funding,” he said.
“Future Founders Festival allowed them to hear from other people who have been in their shoes and found success.”
Ngo – who revealed he is also an international student – added, “Being an international student can be isolating at the best of times – and the impact of Covid-19 has only amplified this. Many students have little support, are far away from family and friends, and are missing the usual interaction that comes with attending university.”
Students connected with like-minded innovators through a series of expert-led workshops, panel discussions and networking events.
One of the highlights of the festival was a 48 hour ‘hackathon’ which asked participants to develop and build a product as part of a team which they presented to the panel of judges.
The theme “Hack your Future” saw teams design post-Covid-19 innovation solutions around health and wellbeing, employability, global and cultural connection or social inclusion.
“Our Pantry” won with their idea for an online platform dedicated to allow home cooks to sell their produce online.
The team said their inspiration came from seeing how many international students, migrants, starts-up, and small business communities have been impacted by Covid-19.
Meanwhile, Gillian Ong took out the pitch competition with the app AIonSpectrum. The mobile app is designed to help children with ASD and other developmental disabilities to understand the context behind what they are feeling, “play” with emotions and provide solutions for letting out “Big Feelings”.
The team behind AIonSpectrum, Ong, Anton Polevoy, and Kateryna Tsysarenko say their mission is to support neuro-diverse people to survive and thrive in a neuro-typical world.
“In a world not set up for supportive differences, we want to become a lifelong partner in helping autistic individuals take steps towards independent living, they said, “to reduce harmful behaviours towards themselves, put an end to violence perpetrated against them, and amplify their voices when they are able to advocate for themselves.”
Winners of both competitions received cash prizes and opportunities for access to business support and mentoring.
Organisers of the Future Founders Festival say talks are already underway with prospective festival partners to run another event.