On a very cold midwinter Sunday evening, I was heartily warmed by the experience of meeting and listening to pitches from the latest cohort of the Initiate 48 program. This is a program for high school students, run by Generation Entrepreneur, that gives them an opportunity to build their own startup over the course of a weekend (48 hours, to be precise).
This group of teenagers in Years 7 to 11 and from schools throughout the greater Sydney area and beyond met one another for the first time on Friday night. By Sunday evening they had formed into eight groups, pitching their business ideas to a judging panel drawn from business, start-up and tech. They were thoroughly supported by the energetic Generation Entrepreneur crew, a number of successful entrepreneurs and CEOs who were volunteer mentors, and one another.
48 hours to solve world problems
The pitch requires much more than putting together a good idea for a business. The students are tasked with coming up with a business that can elegantly solve a genuine world problem. They also need to present their business model, growth strategy and team structure, and to do so eloquently, with energy and engagement. All in 48 hours.
I was very impressed by the quality of the pitches, the clear evidence of cohesive and supportive teamwork and the unbridged enthusiasm everybody demonstrated for the whole enterprise. It was also fascinating to see the world through the students’ eyes. The social awareness and sense of responsibility on the part of all participants was palpable, as well as their unsurprising tendency to see technology as the centre of all solutions. A key feature of each business idea was personalisation – which I found fascinating and gratifying!
The energy in the room was infectious. By the end, my fellow judges and I were whooping and drumming our hands on our legs along with everyone else (although that might have had something to do with the jelly snakes we were eating to keep ourselves going).
The winning solutions
The judging panel – Garry Visontay from Right Click Capital (one of Generation Entrepreneur’s principal partners), Lucy Peng from Deloitte (another partner), Jeremy Cabral, COO of Finder and I – found it very difficult to select the three placeholder businesses. After much deliberation, our selections were:
Meraki – addressing the environmental problem of textile waste through upcycling unwanted clothing
FiTiT – focusing on the challenge of motivating teenagers to exercise through an app that matches exercise buddies
Solace – a business that creates opportunities for old people living alone or in nursing homes to have access to a range of social and physical activities.
Their pitches were lively and engaging and the business models demonstrated thoughtful consideration of all aspects of the business, from a revenue model to marketing.
The nature of a competition is that we had to choose some winners. However, as Generation Entrepreneur CEO Jack Leung made clear to all participants, the process is not really about winning a pitch competition – it’s about learning the practical skills of setting up a business and developing the essential skills of collaboration and communication.
The students had really taken this advice to heart. As I made my way back into the cold night, they were still networking, asking for advice and planning the next steps of their imminent world domination.