SPARK Deakin spurs budding entrepreneurs

Designing Smarter Technologies

Applicants are being sought for a new intake in Deakin’s start-up Accelerator program, which has a number of successful enterprises to its credit.

Confidence, creativity, tenacity and cross-disciplinary collaboration are paying dividends for a growing number of students, staff and alumni who have participated in the SPARK Deakin program.

An on-line business selling hydro facemasks, a website that facilitates peer collaboration for students and an events business hiring out DJs are three of the ventures to emerge from the program.

2016 SPARK Accelerator participant Michael Tremeer, a former Deakin psychology student, said his business has been far more successful more quickly than he hoped, with his income doubling year-on-year. He and his partner Lucy, a designer, are now living in Bali and running their cosmetic facemask business Trefiel remotely, with their shipping outsourced to Australia Post.

“Setting up the business was tough, but really rewarding. It has been an amazing experience,” he said.

“We saw the opportunity when we realised that cosmetic facemasks were not glamourous. They made people look like hospital patients, so we decided to create a product that looks beautiful and makes people feel beautiful. We’ve built our brand around helping give women time out from their everyday activities. We received amazing feedback through the SPARK program. We were a fast and lean new business. SPARK provided us with insights into spreadsheets, forecasting, planning and structure.”
Michael Tremeer
Michael Tremeer 2016 Spark participant

For fellow SPARK Accelerator participant, Shahed Kamal, a Deakin medical student, SPARK gave his business CollabHero credibility, support, momentum and confidence.

After discovering the benefits of teamwork during an internship, Mr Kamal saw the potential for developing a new type of teacher-driven software that would facilitate teamwork and engagement for university and high school students.

He found business partner Matthew Harrison, an education lecturer and PhD student at the University of Melbourne, through LinkedIn and the two have been pursuing their business dream ever since.

“Over time we realised that starting a company is much harder than just building something nice,” said Mr Kamal. “Some people hype up entrepreneurship, but it’s taken us nearly five years and six iterations to get to where people will pay for our product. It is about understanding the problem, telling the story – and we are in a good place now.

“We are in the process of selling the software to schools and universities and CollabHero has been shortlisted for an award for ‘most innovative company’ at the 2017 Learning Innovation summit. We call this our side hustle. We are working weekends and evenings, and sacrificing our social lives, but there is a tremendous joy in knowing that something we have built is being used by other people. It gives you a funny feeling in the stomach.”
Shahed Kamal
Shahed Kamal 2016 Spark participant

His mentors, who have been “absolutely generous with their time,” have included Dr Murray Height (CEO, HeiQ Australia), Professor Svetha Venkatesh (Director, PRaDA) and Associate Professor Philip Dawson (Associate Director, Deakin Cradle).

Since it was introduced in 2015, SPARK Deakin has been upskilling students, staff and alumni in entrepreneurial skills to encourage creative thinking and risk taking – and provide a kickstart in a time of global employment transition and uncertainty.

SPARK is currently seeking applicants for its next Accelerator program, which will provide $10,000 to up to six teams for a six-month program of start-up support. Applications close on August 17, with the program beginning on October 2. In addition to the funds, successful teams are provided with co-working space at Deakin Downtown and support from mentors and interns (Deakin PhD or Masters students).

SPARK Program manager Ms Daizy Maan said that cross-disciplinary focus was a strong success indicator due to the larger skill set and different perspectives it brought to the new businesses.

“We are looking for teams of a minimum of two people, with at least one person being a Deakin student, staff or alumni,” she said.

“The Accelerator program is a tremendous opportunity that provides a start-up support ecosystem and ongoing support beyond the initial program. Applicants need to be enthusiastic and 100 per cent committed.”

During 2016 over 600 people attended 17 SPARK events at Deakin’s Geelong and Burwood campuses. These included two-day intensive weekends run by Silicon Valley-based serial entrepreneur Heinrick Scheel. The next one is scheduled for 9-10 September in Geelong (application closing date 28 August).

“One of the most popular talks this year was a lecture by Deakin Adjunct Professor Ken Segall, who worked with Apple with Steve Jobs. He is a former ad agency Creative Director for NeXT and Apple, and has written two ‘New York Times’ bestsellers: ‘Insanely Simple’ and ‘Think Simple’.”

Published by Deakin Research 19 July 2017