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Vocus Upstart

Vocus Upstart

With big ideas and inspired entrepreneurs rattling around Perth with nowhere to go, a technology startup program with big name mentors has created a launch pad where dreams become reality.

What do you get when you combine 35 incredible business minds, eight technology startups and a creative workspace designed for collaboration? You get brand new, fully-fledged technology businesses ready to change the world.

In 2014, there was great hype in Perth surrounding the idea of startups but a noticeable lack in support for them including funding, intensive mentoring and structured programs. Technology masterminds E-Group and Upstart approached the social innovators of Spacecubed with the idea of a mentor program based on the Silicon Valley model of Accelerator. By August 2015, the Amcom Upstart program (now the Vocus Upstart under new naming rights) was born and eight Perth entrepreneurs were awarded $40,000, a desk at Spacecubed for three months and a much greater potential for success thanks to “the power of &”.

Spacecubed Partnership and Program Manager Tom Riordan said providing a network of support and connecting like-minded fledgling entrepreneurs from different industries is the backbone of the program.

“We’re engaging people in the startup ecosystem and encouraging them to think hey, there’s opportunities other than the typical day job to get out there and start something,” Tom said. “The angel investors, who are also the program mentors, are all about supporting startups despite the huge risk in putting money forward at an early stage because they’re all active players in the start-up community and through their mentorship and connections, they can really help take the startup to the next level.”

Mostly Perth-based with a few from the Eastern States (including everyone’s favourite shark from Channel Ten’s Shark Tank, Steve Baxter), the 35 mentors provide weekly presentations on topics such as capital raising and pitching, and are paired with startups to specifically mentor throughout the three-month program.  According to last year’s finalist Damian Bremanis (creator of Team Ahoy), the time spent with the mentors garnering invaluable feedback saved his initial idea from the scrap heap of big dreams.

“I’d had this idea bubbling in the back of my mind for quite a while, but it wasn’t until I went in and listened to [Upstart founder] Rob Nathan talking about Upstart and this opportunity to build something – that’s when it clicked and I thought hang on, I can do this, I can actually build this,” Damian said. “But if I had built what I had first sketched out, it would have failed catastrophically because the hard thing was adapting what I thought was a good idea into something the market wanted.”

According to Tom, Damian wowed the investment committee when initially pitching his idea with ‘a strong application and great skill set’. He was eager to launch straight into building his project management software idea, but like a jockey reigning in its skittish racehorse from bolting too early, the mentors had other ideas.

“I wanted to go in on day one and start working on the painted up version into a real product,” Damian recalled. “Day one came and they said do not work on your product for two weeks, don’t touch the product, don’t try and build what you think you need to build. You need to talk to your customers and understand their problems and that was by far the best thing to do.”

From there, Damian spent every day in the Spacecubed office, utilising the expertise of the mentors and enjoying the support of the other startups throughout the rollercoaster ride of a launching a product. His final product Team Ahoy is now a global business with a large presence in the US, employs two full-time staff members and he’s recently launched a second product Busybot to fill yet another hole in the market.

The Vocus Upstart program is now in its second year and taking applications until May 2nd with the winning finalists announced May 31st before they begin their journey August 1st. What have you got to lose?

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