At age 19, Lily Wu started Austern International, and a year later she was joined by education co-founder Jamie Lee.
Whilst still doing full-time study, Lily took more than 100 students, along with her team of student organisers, to China within the first 8 months of starting up. In December 2014, Lily won the AMP Tomorrow Maker Award from a field of 5,600 other contestants. She is a current UNSW Bachelor student studying Commerce and majoring in Business Law and Accounting. Lily is also a creative individual, having held her own solo art exhibition at Chatswood Concourse as well as having published two children’s books by Scholastic at the age of 13 and 15.
We want to create life-changing opportunities so that Australia’s young people have an opportunity to build thriving businesses that will serve as a bridge between Asia and Australia.
Tell us a little bit about your idea and what made you decide to take the plunge and make it happen?
I co-founded Austern International last year to encourage more students to become globally enabled. As a current student myself, I am really passionate about how my generation as millennials are walking into a rapidly changing society. Our generation has been trained in skills since childhood for industries that are going to be replaced by technology or automated in a few years. And many of us are nowhere near prepared. The word “entrepreneur” is still for a majority of students a niche and unfamiliar ground, at least for many here in Australia.
Currently through Austern, we’ve taken over 100 students to China in our first year, and we’re looking at other locations globally. Our value and passion is to enable students to think less like an employee and more innovatively and freely through amazing mentorship and being able to solve problems and create projects through design thinking. I think this is a good foundation and stepping stone for them to consider entrepreneurship as a possible future option.
As we head towards an Asian Century, Austern International is passionate about bridging the gap between the East and West, starting with Australia, Singapore and China. We do this by holding a 3-week travel experiential learning program in different locations that allows students to connect with local mentors, hang out with local students and participate in activities such as pitching, networking, strategic problem solving and volunteering at charity events.
This is our mission: we want to create life-changing opportunities so that Australia’s young people have an opportunity to build thriving businesses that will serve as a bridge between Asia and Australia.
Can you please explain your business model?
The pricing is $2,500 – $3,000 per student, and each program accepts 30 to 40 students.
What are you working on right now and what are you most excited about in the next year?
We have a few exciting partnerships lined up, in particular our collaboration with the Shenzhen Economic and Trade Representative Office when we launch our Shenzhen & Hong Kong program in February. We are also working with various university societies like the UNSW Young Entrepreneurs Society where we will be holding events, inviting exciting speakers from companies and startups like Google, Dropbox and Deloitte to speak to the next generation of changemakers.
How do you make ideas happen?
I think the most important and hardest part of starting anything, whether it be a business, an assignment or a hobby, is the actual step of starting itself. A lot of ideas stop the way they are, as just ideas, because people are often too afraid of the risks. They think too much and scare themselves out of taking the first step. Whilst planning is important, taking the first step, even as tiny as registering a business name is even more important just to get the ball rolling.
What does your typical day look like?
Right now, I’m sitting at a petite cafe trying to work with the questionable wifi in Shenyang City of China. Over the next few months, my business partner, Jamie and I will be flying to San Francisco, Singapore and Hong Kong. Every day is a different adventure so typical isn’t really part of the vocabulary. In Sydney though, I’m still a 3rd year Business Law & Accounting student so it’s all about balancing study, work and a bit of fun.
What challenges have you faced when starting or growing a business/organisation in Australia?
Austern International is a company dedicated to bridging the gap between Australia and Asia, the East to the West. During this time though, we ourselves have faced trials, conflicts that are faced from different cultures and business practices. It is inevitable that in countries with vastly different cultural influences, habits and values, we have had to learn to adjust and pass along those lessons to our students and participants along the way as well.
In Australia however, we are faced with a different set of challenges. The question of how to build a scalable service program that seems overly reliant on human resources is a real issue we are trying to solve everyday.
What is one idea you are willing to give away for free?
One lesson I’ve learnt the hard way early on in other ventures is to never try to take shortcuts with anything. This is in particular if you want to do business with friends, always lay the agendas out and make communication channels clear from the very beginning. Don’t put off things like writing up contracts until later because when you have nothing to fall back on, you will feel the fall.
What people/companies/organisations do you think are doing really cool stuff in your industry, in Australia at the moment?
Tripalocal – which provides Chinese travellers with local experiences in Melbourne and Sydney. Recently they have secured $850,000 in an angel funding round led by Chinese early-stage investor Euler Capital to help it expand into China.
What about internationally?
For the past couple of years, I’ve had one favourite way to find a place to stay when I travel: Airbnb.
What role do you think business can play in affecting social change?
Entrepreneurship is the crux of society and businesses play a pivotal role in influencing change in the surroundings we live in. Social entrepreneurship should be in the dictionary of all innovators because it’s no longer about the money you can make but what difference you can give back to the world and humanity. Every business should play a part in making this world a better place.
Speaking of affecting social change, is there a particular charity you’d like our readers to support?
FYA – Foundation for Young Australians. Absolutely love their passion for empowering the next generation of young social entrepreneurs.
Name 3 websites you would recommend to our readers.
austerninternational.com – for studnets who want to play a bigger game in the global market
canva.com – for anyone wanting to create their own designs
muse.com – great resources for students and young entreprneures
Name 3 Australians we should follow on Twitter.
Deeps De Silva – Head of Marketing APAC, Dropbox (@deepfresh)
Holly Ransom – CEO HRE Global (@hollyransom)
Startup Daily – Tech news and startup insights from the ANZ region (@startupdailyanz)
Are there opportunities for people to get involved with your idea (e.g. are you looking for funding, interns, marketing help)?
We’re currently looking for different ways to market our program to the rest of Australia such as getting student ambassadors from various universities to spread the word.
We’re aiming to build a community of Australian idea makers helping each other. If you could have one question answered about startups, marketing, social media, accounting, monetization, product development etc. What would it be?
We’re on the lookout for passionate student ambassadors. The Austern Leadership Ambassador Program is a unique and exciting role which gives students an opportunity to meet amazing people from all over the world and understand more about their views, opinions, and cultures.
This is a one-year, voluntary role open to the students from every state and territory in Australia from all different kinds of backgrounds, with diverse experiences and skill sets.
In your role as a Leader Ambassador, you will have the opportunity to exercise leadership and to develop some new skills in a particular area you are interested in (such as learning how to network with senior executives, mentor others, public speaking and event management skills).
What’s your favourite bar/café/restaurant?
We love to explore different cafes to work in, with good internet and charging ports. Our go-to in Sydney CBD revolves around Caffe Cherry Beans and Cafe Tiamo on Pitt Street.