Meet the startups from the QUT CEA Collider accelerator 2018 cohort
After a year of planning and three months of an intense accelerator program, this Thursday night we unveil the graduating 2018 cohort of 10 startups from the QUT CEA Collider creative tech startup accelerator, at The Triffid, Brisbane. And I’m dying to tell you about each of the graduating startups. But first, let’s talk about me 😉
I care about the future of these ten startups and the founders leading them because they deserve a fighting chance and because their outcomes affect my own. These are the 18 founders-and-cofounders for whom I’ve been an entrepreneur-in-residence full-time for the past 12 weeks, the first time I’ve been able to dedicate myself full-time to a single accelerator cohort.
I’ve been a combination of business mentor, board advisor, lean startup coach, growth ninja, recruiter, counsellor and (hopefully) friend to them. For me, this has been my first opportunity to be an accelerator Program Lead and see if I have what it takes.
Between you and me and Medium, it has felt like it has taken everything I have, plus a little bit more. But I plan to run a pre-seed specialist venture fund which works closely with accelerator programs for deal flow and talent. So I need to learn to be great at this.
Enough about me. The QUT CEA Collider accelerator program is unique in Australia for the amount of advisory and operational support the startups are able to call upon.
The CEA team includes CEO Mark Gustowski, Investment Fund Manager Shelli Trung, Programs Manager Philippe Ceulen, Programs Coordinator and Investment Analyst Timothy Hui, Marketing and Communications Manager, Christina Jones, Event and Projects Manager Jacqueline Kelleher, and Community Manager Rebecca Purcell. Thank you for running such a professionally produced accelerator program.
Alongside me in the EiR team have been Commercial EiR and irrepressible optimist Ben Sharp, Technical EiR and Brisbane tech community yoda Peter Laurie, and Global EiR and Virgin Startup’s Head of Development Ian Mason. Thank you for being wise.
Contributing as facilitators, panellists and mentors have been a domestic and international all-star cast including Ben Wood, Caroline Law-Walsh, Cole Wilkinson, Rachael Neumann, Lauren Davies, Chris Saad, Leanne Kemp, Rachel White, Ren Butler, Mark Livings, Bick Truong, Ben Ihle, Mark Pesce, Sam Robertson, Gretta van Riel, Nicole Sullivan, Ian Perkins, Ryan Hanley, Mark Cantoni, Chris Macaulay, Tristan Ozinga, Sarah Smith, Yin Robards, Amarit Charoenphan, Benjamin Chong, Rayn Ong, Andrea Gardiner, Adeline Chu, James Wilson, Clayton Cooke, Catherine Eibner, Glen Gillen, Emily Rich, Arun Sharma and Tom Ellis. Thank you all for being generous with your time and advice.
But what about the startups?
OK, now I’m going to tell you a bit about each of the startups we’re graduating and a little about what I’ve observed about the nature and potential of the founders themselves over the past months. They are:
Facial recognition-powered CRM for bricks and mortar retailers
Michael Huisinkveld and his tech cofounder Ishan Dubey have the fascinating goal of helping physical retailers personalise their bricks-and-mortar shopping experience the way online retailers do — by capturing, storing and recalling the shopping behaviour of repeat customers. Usually good retailers do this by hiring staff capable of remembering your name and your shopping preferences, but the human brain doesn’t scale. Or they ask you to sign up for a loyalty program, which feels like granting permission to be marketed to, which sucks.
Instead of asking you to sign up for a loyalty program with an email address or a serial number, Birdee’s camera hardware and cloud platform combine to recognise the faces of repeat customers and associate it with their retail shopping behaviour.
This is not even sci-fi. Birdee has a pilot retailer running the product not far from our Demo Day venue and if you’re coming to Demo Day, Birdee will be giving you the opportunity to try it for yourself in the mingling area. In the past few days Michael has signed a heads of agreement for a distribution deal which could see Birdee’s tech rolled out across hundreds of stores very soon.
I haven’t met Ishan as he hasn’t been able to attend the accelerator but Michael is a stereotypical German sales engineer, all attention to detail and focus. He doesn’t give out as much about himself as some of our other founders but the delight he takes in the success of his pilot retail customer and the correct function of his tech platform shines through.
Holographic marketing displays for hotels, venues and conferences
I’ve mentored or advised some young startup founders in the Startmate, BlueChilli, Muru-D and Collider programs but this is the first time I’ve worked with a founder accepted into an accelerator who was still completing high school. Scott Millar has completed Year 12 now, so he’s able to focus entirely on CEOing BOP, which makes and sells a range of holographic displays most commonly used in retail marketing, conferences and expos.
Scott exhibits maturity, competitiveness and depth beyond his years, but he’s also aware that he has much to learn and is open to coaching. As a high school student it was always possible to get great press (think: “The holographic tech startup entrepreneur still to finish high school!”) but now, while he’s still young for a CEO, he’s in an industry where young CEOs are the norm. While there’s much he can change about his business, he can’t change the rate at which he gets older!
Scott’s holographic displays are easy to ship, simple to set up and really work. His challenges are around how to escape the geographic boundaries of his current market and build a defensible lead in a global marketplace. He’s made far more progress towards this goal than you’ll expect when he starts his pitch and has a bright future ahead of him in the tech industry.
Marketing for SMEs with big marketing problems and small marketing budgets
Brian McCarthy is the kind of irrepressible, likeable rogue that Ireland seems to have an exclusive license to produce, and his pitch has been so well polished for so long at Collider that one of our inside jokes has been to recite parts of his pitch, in an Irish accent (or as close as we can get to an Irish accent.) If you can put him front of the owner of a small/medium business, Brian will get the sale.
He’s well balanced by his laconic Maltese full-stack technical cofounder Marco Muscat, who’s made huge progress in building out a platform which will profile the marketing strategy and tactics of your small business, and then come back with daily activities for you to tick off, to help you meet your marketing goals.
Together, they make an unusually close pair of cofounders, considering they’ve not worked together that long. They work through problems collaboratively and constructively, and you’d think they’d been working together for a decade.
Will Brandollo truly save the average small business up to 80% of their marketing costs? I don’t know yet but I certainly know most of Brian’s pitch off by heart now! And I’m confident this is the team to lead the business which solves this problem. I’m not alone – Brandollo already has some genuine investor interest and a growing list of early customers.
Scientifically informed AI composed music to help you sleep
Can’t Sleep App’s founder Thomas Dickson won’t put you to sleep when he pitches, but he could if he wanted to. On a path to be a leading academic in the use of music as a sleep aid, Thomas partnered with tech lead Arthur Roolfs, an expert in algorithmically-generated music, to commercialise the pair’s promising work in the shape of a smartphone app. Version 1.0 has just gone live in the iOS and Android app stores and has received a lot of interest on Product Hunt.
Thomas is nothing like the stereotypical male tech startup founder and while it’s been a challenge to de-academicise some of his pitch delivery, I would change nothing about his quiet, creative, caring nature.
In Thomas’ pitch, make sure you stay awake for the revenue opportunity. You won’t believe how much people will pay for an app that helps them get a better night’s sleep.
Connecting people to each other with robots!
With the exception of industrial and safety applications, robots are still in their infancy in terms of how well they meet the actual needs of customers (vs engineers and event marketers). If you’ve walked up to a cute robot at a trade show and been disappointed by the utility of the interaction, you know the problem: they are mostly very expensive toys and gimmicks.
Exaptec’s founder has been clever enough to realise that in many instances, the hardware could be more useful, if it weren’t for the poor quality software shipped almost as an afterthought by most manufacturers. And this is not yet a hardware category serviced by an app store economy — most customers don’t know how to install third-party software, even if they knew about it.
If you meet founder Nicci Rossouw in her motherly, nurturing mode you might wonder what she’s doing driving change in the robotics industry. Delve deeper into her economic migrant past and track record as a competitive squash player and you realise there’s a tough, competitive side to Nicci that makes Exaptec a small but growing force to be reckoned with, and has earned Nicci a growing following in the healthcare and education sectors for her robotics expertise.
She has bootstrapped this business from nothing to something despite the odds and is rightly proud of the quality and depth of her customer relationships. Her challenge now is to prepare to build out a management team to support her, and to decide whether she should continue to bootstrap or commit to raising angel capital to accelerate her growth.
Rent or buy stylish maternity fashion
Starting off producing successful sustainable fashion shows and pivoting to a sustainable fashion rental platform, co-founders Juju Ortiz and Edda Hammar have been progressively narrowing down on the most valuable problems to solve using their passion for sustainability and fashion. They’ve hit upon a valuable sub-sector that I’d describe as a niche, if it weren’t so big and potentially so global.
Edda has been the main face of Lána during the program and she shows great commitment to the problems she’s solving, as well as considerable resilience in growing a team on a shoestring budget that publishes a fashion magazine, designs and manufacturers garments, and rents or sells them on its own web platform. She’s smart and funny, self-deprecating and refreshingly unconventional. She’s on a mission to build a better solution for customers she cares about, and while sometimes my tech background hasn’t been very relevant, she gives me a fair hearing.
Experience your wedding before your wedding
Getting married is usually the third largest financial commitment in your entire life (after buying a car and a house). Engaged couples with no prior experience, limited time and budget pressure have a hundred or more variables in the equation defining where, when and how they get married.
Neon Wedding’s married cofounders Hayley Devlin and Barry Devlin are just now closing the loop on their first few completed transactions on their new wedding platform, which in its first iteration helps couples focus on finding and securing the perfect wedding venue.
Hayley’s background as a successful wedding planner and Barry’s cockney sales swagger are an interesting contrast in their mission to solve the problems in the wedding planning market.
It’s been great to see Barry’s commitment to England’s chances in the FIFA World Cup take a back seat to the needs of their startup. No greater sacrifice could a football tragic make. And Hayley’s passion for her customers is authentic and inspiring. It has certainly been a challenge to manage a growing startup team while also managing a young family and a household. That they’ve come this far is a testament to their commitment to each other and the business.
Music industry management system for venues and artists
Also a parent of young children is Prysim’s founder and CEO Taran Croxton, who’s been able to be present in Brisbane for most of the program despite holding down a senior engineering role with a large national infrastructure company and living on the Sunshine Coast. Given his many commitments it’s impressive how advanced the Prysim web platform is in terms of functionality. As an ex product manager, my favourite pastime is coming up with feature requests for startup products but every time I think of something Prysim should do, Taran’s a couple of steps ahead of me and the feature is already live on the platform. Taran’s got a safe pair of hands, an eye for detail, and a good heart.
A gig management platform is one of those startup business models that requires a lot of heavy lifting and door knocking in the early days to get early adopters on the demand side (the venue booking agents and venue owners) but once it’s well known in the industry it solves so many major problems on the supply side, it should get rapid adoption. And on the demand side, music artists hoping to book their next gig are the easiest customers in the world to acquire since the onboarding takes minutes and the commission model means it costs them nothing until they’re getting paid to play.
Taran has some promising early traction to show you at demo day.
Safest place to buy and sell event tickets
Ever bought a ticket to an event months in advance to make sure you didn’t miss out, and then find you can’t attend? Or missed out on getting a ticket and tried to buy one online from a stranger? Everybody has. It sucks.
It’s amazing that the biggest, hairiest gorilla in the event ticket reselling industry, Viagogo, is such a poor customer experience offering a ticket inventory so stuffed with scammers at such massive markups. It means a huge marketing disruption for the startup which can do better than Viagogo at protecting consumers, artists and ticket vendors.
Tixel’s cofounders Denis, Jason and Zac are their own customers (you will never meet a startup consuming more smashed avocado on toast in a week).
Jason has a knack for managing and forecasting all the metrics in a fast-growing two-sided marketplace. Zac relates so well to artist and venue management. Denis is that rare combination of a full-stack dev who cares just as much about the business as the platform he and his team are building.
Tixel’s platform automagically blocks the e-ticket fraud which is so commonplace on other platforms. It works directly with major ticketing vendors Eventbrite, Ticketmaster, Moshtix, Oztix, Ticketek, and others. Tixel is already selling tickets from and to customers in Europe and the US. On a gross revenue basis, Tixel is way ahead of the pack in this cohort.
The music industry is known for predatory players with questionable ethics but I would like the Tixel founders to be more confident in their position. They stand to gain more than they risk from closer relationships with investors, advisors and partnerships and their business could be very global, very fast with the right support. But a mixture of strategic and venture investors are already reaching out to learn more.
Fan engagement and monetisation platform for esports teams
It’s great to have a startup in a cohort who conform to the stereotype of two young guys prepared to live on instant noodles and sleep on couches if that’s what it takes. Eddy Huang and Dan Palmer have been building gamer communities together since they were young kids, and looking at their earlier work, you can see the beginnings of who they are today – always learning how to build a large, scalable business with the limited resources at hand.
If you’re looking for capital efficiency and a focus on the metrics that matter, you’ll find it here. There is a little handmade whiteboard on the wall in front of them, keeping them focused on weekly and monthly revenue growth. They work around the clock to manage a growing outsourced team in multiple time zones that means they are always the last to leave our incubator space every night. I remember when I could still do that. Ah, the vitality of youth!
Esports is the fastest-growing entertainment medium of all time and is projected to grow to be bigger than the entire movie industry. One thing these esports team all have in common is a team jersey (similar to, say, a World Cup football team jersey). And like a football team jersey, fans of an esports team would love to have their own official team jersey.
Tribefire started out hosting the full ecommerce stack to help esports teams design, make and ship a custom team jersey to their fans, and is growing a full marketing and relationship management platform off the back of that to give esports teams (from emerging to world-famous) a way to easily deepen fan relationships and monetise their fan base.
Tribefire is way beyond idea stage, all its problems are about scaling to meet the burgeoning demand for their current and future solutions. You can buy my M8 Ventures jersey from my Tribefire-hosted store today — this is me modelling it very poorly below. I should definitely keep my day job.
And this has been such a great day job.
Thank you, QUT CEA Collider and the 2018 cohort founders for the opportunity to help you succeed.