August 10th officially marked the beginning of InnovationACT 2016; Canberra’s largest innovation program which kickstarts students around the capital to make their ideas happen. An initiative run by The Australian National University’s, and hosted in the sleek JCSMR building, alumni and friends of the program, as well as students and members from the general public attended. I personally attended the event, and was utterly amazed at the sudden, dense influx of innovators and entrepreneurs all in one place.
IACT began in 2008, and runs for 10 weeks in which teams develop their innovative idea into a working business model through a series of intense workshops, mentoring sessions and seminars, as well as being personally mentored by a local successful entrepreneur. With an enticing $50,000 seed funding pool up for grabs, the program is not just an induction into lean-startup 101, but also a full-on competition, which pushes those with fantastic ideas and possibly no prior business experience to their limits. The program is free for students, staff and graduates of local ACT universities, and has previously generated some wildly successful startups such as OzGuild and SignOnSite.
The foyer of JCSMR was absolutely packed; with prominent members of the Canberra Innovation Network (CBRIN) presenting their work and ideas. With startups and government organizations galore as part of the Innovation Showcase, the launch was off to a strong start. The real excitement was the buzz amongst hopeful IACT16 participants which made up a good chunk of the audience. Having talked to a few teams (without spoiling their ideas!), it was clear that IACT was all about out-of-the-box hardcore innovation.
Formal (and not so formal) presentations kicked off Camilo Potocnjak-Oxman , convener of IACT16, and Chief Minister Andrew Barr talking about previous years and the Canberra innovation ecosystem as a whole. As Minister Barr described, IACT is really about embracing innovation across the state and particularly in the university sector – with teams requiring at least half of the members to be current students. Pro Vice Chancellor (Innovation) of ANU, Prof. Michael Cardew-Hall continued by noting how we “cannot underestimate the intellectual base we have in Canberra”, with PhD students and university researchers forming a critical role of the innovation community. Just looking at how Silicon Valley grew out of Stanford, Prof. Cardew-Hall pointed out that we can do much the same with ANU, CSIRO and the Canberra innovation network.
Presentations continued with OzGuild lead, Nick Harrison, and Workhorse Finance founders, Alex and Brenton shared their success stories from previous years, and particularly emphasized certain key aspects of the IACT journey such as developing their idea entirely with the customer’s perspective in mind. Mitchell Harmer from SignOnSite summed it up perfectly as “IACT isn’t just a program – it’s a community you’ll come back to”.
Formalities wrapped up with Victor Pantano from University of Canberra sharing a delightful story of listening to the How To Train your Dragon audiobook; and finding a parallel with the fabled “Island of Tomorrow” for which teams must compete against to arrive at still in one piece. After presentations finished, general members of the audience dwindled away but the many IACT participants in attendance stayed for their very first official workshop; a networking game to pair up those without a full team and pitching their ideas with each other.
Over the next two months, teams will be working hard at making their ideas come to life – so for everyone involved – game on!