Innovation ACT Awards Night

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InnovationACT held an awards evening, on the 25th of October, the conclusion to their 2014 Business Model Competition, which began in August. The event, held at the elegant Boat House by the Lake, was attended by contestants, business leaders and academics. Unlike previous years, the evening consisted of drinks and appetizers, rather than the formal dinners of years past. Throughout the InnovationACT competition contestants received ample support and insight, from guest speakers and coaches, some of whom were in attendance. When entering the function room facing out onto Lake Burley Griffin, guests were asked to complete comment cards. These cards contained pearls of wisdom, written by the attending luminaries of business in the ACT and one by yours truly. Thankfully, my ‘just do it’ comment probably found its way to the end of the pile. The worthwhile advice, the advice of those with experience in ACT business and entrepreneurship, was read aloud at the end of the evening. Camilo Potocnjak-Oxman and Rishni Ratnam of Implement Imagination led the nights’ proceedings, thanking those who donated their time and energies to make the competition a success. Bottles of wine and certificates were given to those thanked, as a procession of appetizers and drinks were distributed by the restaurant’s staff.

The competition’s winning teams were the following: BehavioMatrix, OzGuild (two ANU students, now taking part in 2015’s Griffin Accelerator); KRIGE Tech (2 ANU students, 1 ANU alum, 1 CIT alum); Vacant Space (2 ANU students, 1 UC student, 2 ANU alum) and Siege Sloth Games (5 AIE students). Each of these teams received ten thousand dollars’ worth of seed funding to further their projects.

The restaurant itself gave a fantastic backdrop to the event, demonstrating the large knowledge and resource base of the InnovationACT competition. Unlike other competitions arising out of the National University, the InnovationACT competition, gives broad all-encompassing tutorship to contestants. Rather than simply submit a final work, contestants were able to mould their business ideas based in an environment of successive mentorship. This mentorship was of particular worth to one of the winners of this year’s competition, Vacant Space. The team, like many contestant teams, is comprised of a range of students past and current, and professionals. The team members: Andrew Oliver; Natalija Nikolic; Coco Ho; Patrick Slater and Lilia Andersen, hope to revitalise the capital.

We are operating a high impact low cost social venture to revitalise Canberra. Vacant Space is a not-for-profit social venture that aims to match vacant shopfronts with selected community groups through facilitating a licensing arrangement between landlords and participants. By paying a nominal participation fee, participants will use the space on a rolling monthly basis, or until there is commercial tenancy interest.

Interestingly, none of the contestants knew each other before the competition, “We were brought together by this brilliant vacant space idea at the first workshop, and from there we naturally formed a team and worked together since.” Having found both a team and a business idea at the workshops, the team were then exposed to the mock business scenarios of the competition. I asked the team if these scenarios, such as the pitching event, mirrored real life business practices.

Yes, IACT, especially the pitching night does resemble real life business scenarios, the only difference being there were familiar and friendly faces around the room, so you know you have the support to deliver the pitch. We were also given a couple of opportunities to practice a pitch in public before the pitch night. All IACT staff and committee members are incredibly passionate about what they do and we commend them for giving us such a great experience.

As I spoke to contestants and mingled, I noticed those I took to be contestants doing the same. Networking, a fantastic, necessary and useful by product of such events, was occurring around me. Those contestants, unlucky not to have won, were still able to create fantastic ties with Canberra’s business community. I asked Vacant Space if they felt this year’s competition and its beneficial by-products were of use.

Yes definitely. Since some of us haven’t formally come across a business model before, the workshops have done a great job teasing apart the essential elements in conceiving and realising our business idea. Guest speakers also provided us with valuable insight into the ups and downs of initiating a start-up. Workshops were carried out in a friendly and informal setting, making learning much more engaging and non-judgemental. We also met a lot of people on the way who are interested in our venture and who will be able to assist us down the track. Other related events like the Bridge network night outs provide good networking opportunities too.

Like entrepreneurship, networking requires one to be outgoing. As Camilo Potocnjak-Oxman of Implement Imagination said earlier in a competition workshop, “It’s hard to be an entrepreneur and shy.” As the outgoing and innovative mingled, I wondered how those in more economically competitive areas must be jealous of the wealth of opportunity and knowledge extended to contestants. Canberra, as noted in a 2014 InnovationACT workshop, has relatively low barriers to entrepreneurship and high access to funding. In speaking again to Vacant Space, I asked whether they would be exploring any other competitions and opportunities.

Vacant Space takes a lot of commitment but a considerably small budget to run. That said, we will definitely consider entering other competitions in the future so that we can engage a wider audience in our call to revitalise Canberra, e.g. fundraising activities, community events.

Low cost outlays and the use of contestants own time, make their projects more viable and grounded in practicality. A ten thousand dollar grant, especially in the beginning stages of development is a massive help to any endeavour. Combined with the access afforded by InnovationACT to resources and opportunities to network, and the contestants cum budding entrepreneurs are off to a running start.

You can check out our coverage of this year’s IACT Workshops here.

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