Meet the Participants: Striving high

With Pitch Night and Awards Night fast approaching, we’ve definitely reached the business end of the program.

Kicking off with the final content-filled workshop, Week 6 was both exciting and frantic as teams compiled their weeks of knowledge into an Executive Summary. The After Hours event focused on refining these summaries, in preparation to submit them to a judging panel. With the submissions now in, teams will be looking to prepare their final pitch for the judges, should they be selected for the Top 10 next week.

Today we feature two highly motivated participants, whose ventures were in the works before IACT came along, and who have used IACT as a means of sharpening and structuring these ventures.

Brandon describes his start-up, Sway Aquaculture, as ‘a farming venture that farms a particular kind of seaweed. When you feed it to cows in small doses, it prevents the production of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.’ He is also joined by team-mate Ehsan, an ANU graduate engineer.

Sway Aquaculture with Suhaib from the IACT Committee

Brandon’s initial motivation for this project came about when encountering CSIRO research about this particular seaweed. ‘I read that first study, and thought wow, this is awesome. But back then it was only one study, so not much to be done. There were way too many things left unanswered.’

It was not until several more studies appeared, that Brandon was convinced of the validity of this idea. He says, ‘I thought that it seems like there is something here to be done, and it has a global impact. It’s an important thing that needs to happen; we need to reduce our methane from cattle because they are 10% of Australia’s greenhouse gases.’

Having started this venture prior to joining IACT, Sway Aquaculture has seen increasing progress. At the moment, Brandon explains, ‘we are stakeholder relationship building; bringing people into the team. For example, we have brought on the leading seaweed scientist of the Philippines onto our team as the scientific advisor!’

His next step is to choose a dairy brand to partner with, enabling the venture to have a guaranteed customer, an ability to test the seaweed, and a greater legitimacy moving forward.

He is also looking to conduct a pilot farm in 2021, and to raise money for this before the end of the year: ‘We’ve got all the costing all sorted out, revenue projections, everything is planned out and in the pipeline. It’s just a matter of getting that money and getting up the pilot farm.’

Sway Aquaculture has already acquired some significant team additions, outside of IACT, to further propel this venture. In addition, they are working closely with two IACT mentors to zero in on the business model side of things. All in all, for Brandon, IACT has ‘provided structure to the questions you should be asking yourself,’ being a valuable contribution to his start-up goals.

Cristina is the passionate participant behind Team Bilingual Schools Australia. She describes her venture as ‘delivering bilingual programs all the way from childcare centres, hopefully one-day reaching Year 12, so there is a continuum for families that wish to give their children education in two languages. That’s the mission, it’s not just targeting those families that come from diverse backgrounds, but also wanting to offer the same opportunities to monolingual families, be it Australian or not.’

This venture stemmed from a desire to address a problem she personally relates to, that ‘there isn’t such a program in Spanish available for my children.’ She wishes to ‘enrol them in something like this, and get them to develop their curriculum and their learning in both languages.’

Bilingual Schools Australia with Suhaib from the IACT Committee

Being a teacher herself, she found herself in a position to create this. ‘I understand the curriculum, I understand education. I’ve been a teacher for 10 years, so I just thought you know what, I can create this for them. I can also offer this to not just my own children, but everybody who wants it.’ Cristina believes that the skills children can learn from languages ‘positively impact children’s engagement, development, understanding, and results, throughout all academia… a skill through which you do develop other abilities which help you in the whole picture.’

Despite not having a business background, Cristina is determined to use IACT to learn as much as possible, and to work out some key business plans for her venture.

Cristina has already achieved a lot of customer validation through interviews she has conducted. Excitingly, she has even arranged a meeting with the CEO of a childcare centre to discuss the venture, which she now eagerly anticipates.

‘When I first spoke to the CEO I told him look, this is the first time I’m doing anything like this, so my lack of experience is going to show. I’ve been a teacher for about 10 years so in that field I know what I’m doing, but here we’re going to have to work together… I think people appreciate honesty in that sense.’

The biggest challenge she has encountered, she confesses, is her own self doubt. To overcome this, she says, ‘I’m challenging my own thoughts… and I don’t think, I do. If I’ve got to ring that CEO, I ring him.’

Cristina never fails to impress the Committee or fellow participants with the drive and energy she brings to the program.

Sway Aquaculture and Bilingual Schools Australia are two shortlisted teams which will be vying for a space in the Top 10 to pitch at IACT20 Pitch Night on 13th October. We are wishing them, and the remainder of our passionate teams, the very best of luck!