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GEEKS, computer nerds, call them what you like, but you might just be looking at the next tech-boom billionaire.
Closing the distance between Hunter Valley and Silicon Valley, these young entrepreneurs want to reinvent the way we shop, work, and even live.
The eight companies form the first intake of an innovative program aimed at accelerating their ideas and businesses, and thrusting them onto a global stage.
They were selected from 150 applicants when the call went out from the Newcastle offices of Slingshot to find start-up businesses with grand ideas but not a lot of money or connections.
Among them is a former FA-18 fighter pilot, a pair of surfing Newcastle brothers who walked away from lucrative jobs to combine work and play, and a 17-year-old whiz kid from Sydney who is redefining online shopping.
Dubbed ‘‘The X Factor For Geeks’’, Slingshot’s business accelerator program was launched in March by federal Innovation and Industry Minister Greg Combet. Each is vying for up to $50,000 in seed funding, and are now headlong into a 12-week program that includes the search for venture capital. The program is backed with $10million of seed funding from global financier Artesian Capital Management.
Running Slingshot are Trent Bagnall and Craig Lambert. Bagnall is the former head of software company QMASTOR while Lambert is the former sales director of Yahoo, the former marketing executive of Hunter Sports Group and now advertising manager at Newcastle Newspapers.
In the fast-moving digital world, ideas are never thin on the ground, and only a few will become the next eBay, Amazon or Google. Most of Slingshot’s first intake not only have big ideas, but big eyes on international markets, and together they have the potential to create thousands of new jobs.
A ‘‘demo day’’ in Newcastle in August will showcase the companies and their ideas.
Slingshot’s premium partners include The Newcastle Herald, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Sparke Helmore, University of Newcastle, Newcastle Innovation and Hunter TAFE, and is backed by organisations including the Hunter Business Chamber, NSW Trade and Investment, Ausindustry, Renew Newcastle, DiGiT and Newcastle Now.
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After you've read about each idea and watched the video, cast your vote. Which Slingshot entry do you think is the best business idea? You'll find a poll at the bottom of this page.
Shaon Diwakar and Herbert Yeung
NEWSMAVEN is essentially a recommendation search engine that will take readers of an online article to similar or related articles that might also be of interest to them. For example, if someone is reading an article about Hunter Valley wines on a news website, Newsmaven will automatically list other stories about, or related to, Hunter Valley wines at the bottom of the article. The search engine might also recommend other stories on other websites, within boundaries set by the owner of the website where the original story was viewed. Likewise, if a reader regularly reads columns or articles on a particular subject, or by a particular author, Newsmaven will list other articles, books or stories written by that author, essentially building a profile of the user and their reading habits.
It’s in a niche market that not only tailors articles and information for a reader, but works for the host website by keeping readers online for longer periods and thereby opening up new and better advertising markets for them.
It’s the brainchild of Shaon Diwakar and Herbert Yeung, formerly of Sydney, but who have moved to Newcastle to take part in the Slingshot project and develop their idea.
Shaon and Herbert have been working full-time on their project since September. They first met at university where they studied software engineering. They are already talking to prospective clients.
Jason Fitch, Nick Trkulja and Alvin Tolentino
THE cost of air travel has never been so cheap, but it could be about to get a whole lot cheaper for some. FlightBids is a unique airfare auction site. Behind it are Sydney-based trio Jason Fitch, Nick Trkulja and Alvin Tolentino.
The site will offer domestic and international flights for 1 cent each. Each flight will be advertised for about 24 hours, during which time any registered bidder can join in with pre-purchased $1 bids.
For example, the site might offer two return flights to Bali for 1¢. A bidder makes a bid, costing them $1 and pushing the price of the flights up to 2¢. Another bidder shells out a $1 bid, pushing the price up to 3¢, and so on. Each bid extends the auction time, and that continues until only one bidder remains and the time elapses. Those who miss out lose their $1 bids, but the winning bidder, according to the site’s backers, will likely secure the flight for only a couple of dollars.
Paul Moynagh and Alex Retzlaff
FEWZION is a shift and productivity tool that is already saving several mining companies bucketloads of money and giving them the potential to save millions.
The software, being developed and fine-tuned by Alex Retzlaff and Paul Moynagh, replaces the old spreadsheets and whiteboards still widely used in the mining industry with an online tool that manages work and productivity, identifies problems and conditions, and keeps pace with targets.
In a coalmine, for example, a long-term plan is always in play, setting out which part of a pit will be mined next. With real-time data being entered into the software, a manager can take better control of what’s going on underground, identifying where resources are needed to meet targets and avoid potential problems.
The system is already being used by two large, international mining companies in Queensland, and the pair are in talks with several Hunter Valley miners. At one of the Queensland sites, productivity has more than doubled since a new management team started and adopted the Fewzion system.
Retzlaff, now based in Newcastle, and Moynaugh, based in Queensland, have spent two years developing Fewzion. They are also in the process of adapting it to other industries and are in talks with several large players in the construction, gas and oil industries.
Rory Houston and Lucas Taulealeausumai
EVER wondered what knives the best chefs use? What about the boots that the world’s best footy players wear?
Choosly is an online catalogue aimed at helping shoppers select products that are not so much endorsed by the professionals, but actually used by them. Someone in the market for a new camera, for example, can use Choosly to see what cameras and associated gear the professionals use.
Rory Houston and Lucas Taulealeausumai are the brains behind Choosly. The pair worked together in the Air Force before venturing out with their bold tech ideas. Houston is based in Newcastle while Taulealeausumai is based in Melbourne.
The idea is not about celebrities or sporting professionals endorsing various products, but all about what products they use. Houston said that no one really wants to know what watches and fragrances are being endorsed by celebrities, but they do want to know what tools of the trade will give them a professional edge.
It might be the strapping tape used by physiotherapists, the cricket bat used by a great batsman or the cookware used by the great chefs.
Choosly has a website already up and running but the project is still in the testing stages. Houston and Taulealeausumai are working with retailers and manufacturers, showing them how the unbiased data can boost user engagement and, of course, sales.
Tim Hodgkinson, Mike Kirkwood-Smith and Daniel Farrugia
TWELVE years ago, Tim Hodgkinson was sitting at home writing a song.
When writer’s block struck, he sought help from fellow musicians online, who added some creative input.
Back then, music was exchanged via CDs in the mail, but with advances in digital technology, sharing and collaborating on musical projects has become much easier.
Chinese Whispers Music was finally born two years ago after spending a long time on the backburner. Hodgkinson has since recruited a former college lecturer to the fold, along with a former bandmate who specialises in marketing and digital design.
Essentially, Chinese Whispers will create a global musical community that will bring musicians together to collaborate on projects creatively and without borders.
‘‘We’re in the game of enabling people and unlocking potential,’’ Hodgkinson said.
‘‘When I started it was just about engaging with people, which is what music is really all about.’’
The site will be a free service model, with a premium service and advertising expected to pay the bills.
Its founders hope that some collaborations will generate sellable music, and perhaps even generate a No.1 hit.
‘‘It would be nice to think that the site could bring together a musician in New York, London and Newcastle to create a fantastic song,’’ Hodgkinson said.
‘‘And it’s good that it would all be tied back to Newcastle, which has such a great heritage of great music and musicians.’’
The site is in test stages and being used by a closed group, but it currently allows interested people to register their interest before it goes to market fully.
Alex Danieli and Jon Valentino
THE 360 Mall is an online virtual shopping centre, but is unlike any that shoppers may already have seen. Alex Danieli and Jon Valentino wanted to close the gap between bricks and mortar stores and online stores by merging the best of both.
Essentially, their online shopping mall recreates the flagship stores of major retailers online – the shelves, the product placements, the racks and even the checkouts. It allows browsers to enter the store, wander around, select products and buy.
Store layout is a major part of a retailer’s branding, so the 360 mall is designed to replicate the feel, look and experience of those stores so that they’re recognisable to online shoppers.
From a retailer’s point of view, the mall allows them to cut through the noise and distractions of traditional shopping centres and cater to a focused market and shopper.
Danieli and Valentino are both from Sydney and have been working on the mall project for two years. Danieli is still in year 11 at St Andrew’s school in Sydney’s CBD.
The pair launched a test project last year that attracted more than 100 retailers and more than 50,000 online shoppers over a three-month period. They agreed to pull the site down and develop it further so that it could cater for an international market.
Ben Barter and Josh Barter
BEN and Josh Barter were working in the banking and building industries when they decided to combine their business and technical expertise with their other great passion, for action sports. The Newcastle-based brothers came up with BuyItRideIt, a one-stop online shop for action sports enthusiasts.
The site offers a value-added strategy for buyers in that it becomes a place to compare products, in terms of quality and price, and get questions answered from a number of retailers without the need to drive around all the stores. It will also act as a forum for action sports enthusiasts looking for information, interviews, reviews and advice from the professionals.
It also provides a platform for retailers to connect their bricks and mortar stores, their products and websites to an engaged audience of potential and like-minded customers. It has already been well received by a network of 87 retailers.
The site primarily targets surfing, cycling, motorcycling, waterboarding, skiboarding, kiteboarding and jetski enthusiasts.
The BuyItRideIt website was first launched in December after a year in development, but a new website was launched this week with further development in the wind.
The site is primarily designed for a national market, but the Newcastle brothers have eyes on an international model that will bring together retailers and thrillseekers from around the globe.
Grant Levy and Weng Fai Wong
GRANT Levy knows what it’s like being a small business operator competing against the big players, so he set about finding a competitive advantage.
When he met Weng Fai Wong through a mutual friend, the pair began a collaboration aimed at simplifying membership payments for small operators in the health, fitness and wellbeing sectors.
What they ended up with was MemberPass, a scheme they hope will build loyalty for small operators and simplify membership payments for members.
Grant is also a personal trainer and wanted a system where his clients could pay for their fitness sessions automatically through a simple web-based payment system. Such a system enables him to sell his clients longer and broader memberships, building loyalty and turning casual clients into regulars or recurring clients.
The system could be used by others operating in similar sectors – yoga instructors, martial arts studios – and by those in broader markets such as health and beauty professionals, and even chiropractors and acupuncturists.
The site will also act as a forum for members to leave reviews, talk to and meet friends, and recommend classes or health professionals. It will house a suite of other sites under the banner of fitnessoz.com that will map and group operators, thereby giving them an online presence that is mostly beyond the reach of smaller, independent operators.
The site is still in private test stages but the first version will likely be operating in several months.