In summary

  • Venture Cup is an annual pitching competition hosted by the Swinburne Innovation Precinct 
  • This year, 10 early-stage start-ups competed for $10,000 in seed funding  
  • A panel of three industry judges were seeking ideas that were sustainable and helped enrich people’s lives 

Every year hundreds of entrepreneurs and innovators from the Swinburne community gather to see Swinburne alumni, staff and students pitch their start-up ideas.  

This year, Swinburne’s Innovation Precinct decided to switch things up and created two competition categories. One for Swinburne alumni and staff, and one for Swinburne students. The winner from each category takes home a cool $5,000 in cash to accelerate their business expansion. 

Swinburne + Industry + Ideas = Impact

Director of Commercial Innovation Programs, Innovation Precinct, Abhay Seth says programs like the Venture Cup are vital. ‘Programs like the Venture Cup are instrumental in encouraging students, staff and the alumni to join hands on building on their ideas with a realistic approach to commercialise their venture further,’ he says.

‘Bringing together experts both from the industry and the university to provide insights, coaching and mentoring avenues - enables robust and impactful start-ups.’

The awards were judged by a panel with serious clout (and capital) in the start-up community – Managing Director at Wholesale Investor, Steve Torso; Partner at Significant Capital Ventures, Amanda Derham; and Associate at Giant Leap, Charlie Macdonald. 

The panel were looking for ideas that were scalable, had a compelling narrative, and displayed the ingenuity of Swinburne and its thinking. Most importantly though, they were looking for sustainable ideas that helped to enrich people’s lives. Here’s how the winners met that brief. 

Giving schools the tools to manage child mental health  

The Alumni/Staff category prize was awarded to Clare Major for her Wellbeing IQ project.  

1 in 4 Australian children experience mental health issues, and that figure is expected to rise as we emerge from close to two years of living through a global pandemic – with no clear end in sight. Photo by Michał Parzuchowski on Unsplash

As a psychologist and former school principal, Clare witnessed young children experiencing a range of mental health issues.  

Clare knew there was an urgent need for child mental health to be managed better. And from lived experience, she also knew that most schools face resourcing issues. Teachers want to help, but they don’t have the tools, training or time. Clare’s start-up aims to change that.  

Wellbeing IQ is designed to empower school communities to manage mental health with a digital platform. By partnering with clinical psychologists, educational leaders, digital marketers and entrepreneurs, Wellbeing IQ has data-informed decision making at its heart. Teachers and school communities get access to a global information management and training system. Analytics ensures that actions can be measured, and outcomes improved. Plus, it also means that limited resources are deployed where they’re most needed.  

Clare (centre) with her Wellbeing IQ team members: Myles Sicuro (left) CEO of Sicuro Group and Chris Thomas (right) current entrepreneur and former international advertising agency CEO. 

Clare says the experience has changed how she sees and does things, and is excited about making a positive impact. 'Cross-fertilising ideas with unlikely collaborators is enabling Wellbeing IQ to create change for our kids and our future,' she says. 'The Venture Cup is a prime example of how this can work successfully. When business entrepreneurs,  digital marketers, educators and clinicians can work together to solve the unsolvable, innovation is birthed.'

In January 2022, Clare and her team will be moving into schools and testing their MVP. 

It’s always sunny in the circular solar economy 

Swinburne Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) student, Amber Truong’s circular economy idea to reduce the environmental impacts of solar panel waste proved a crowd pleaser, taking out not one, but two awards for her Solarmuster concept. 

Pitch perfect. Amber spent weeks practising her pitch. Her rigorous preparation program included pitching to her housemates, recording herself and playing back her performance so she could make further improvements. 

Amber’s preparation helped her go from pitching to a couple of friends to close to 200 spectators. 

Solarmuster highlights the dark side of a seemingly bright renewable power alternative. Australia is predicted to have 1.5 million tonnes of decommissioned photovoltaic (PV) waste by 2050. Solar panels contain toxic chemicals that can leak into the environment. There are no concrete plans to enforce solar panel recycling. All signs point to a pretty dim future. So Amber devised her own system: a simple, transparent and consumer-first marketplace that connects responsible solar consumers with environmentally conscious brands in the PV sector – working together to improve the profitability of circular economy businesses. 

Like so many emerging start-ups, Amber’s journey began in her garage. But that’s where the clichés end. Her innovative solution to solar panel waste is a game changer. 

Amber was awarded the Student category. Plus, over 170 attendees voted her the winner of the People's Choice Awards. 

’I feel extremely honoured and humbled that I have received both the Student prize and the People’s Choice award. I want to thank all the people who have given me their valuable support and feedback on my business idea and my pitch. This wouldn’t be possible without them,’ says Amber. 

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