Next stop France for winning PhD students

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By Lana Guineay

48 PhD students, 24 hours, 0 hours sleep, 1 goal: to create an innovative, profitable start-up idea.

Welcome to the 2017 Australian-French Entrepreneurship Challenge, held in Adelaide for the first time during Entrepreneurs Week.

Sister event to the hugely popular ‘24 heures chrono de l’entrepreneuriat’ held in France, the challenge saw inter-disciplinary students from across Australia gather at Adelaide Oval to put their ideas to the test.

Thrown together with five strangers, each team had access to seasoned mentors throughout the challenge to help them come up with a concept and then pitch to a panel of judges.

Photo courtesy Hayley Teasdale

Intense innovating. Photo courtesy Hayley Teasdale

One talented group of budding entrepreneurs was awarded a trip to France, with a tailored tour of the country’s universities, incubators, and research institutions –an all-access pass to its innovation system.

“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity,” says Nia Lewis, UniSA PhD candidate and member of the winning team, ReMind.

The winning team of six included three South Australian students, consisting of Hayley Teasdale (University of Canberra), Vicky Staikopoulos (University of Adelaide), Jennifer Robertson (ANU), Ismael Aguirre Maclennan (La Trobe University), Javed Alam (University of Adelaide), and Nia Lewis (University of South Australia).

L-R: Hayley Teasdale, Ambassador of France to Australia Christophe Penot, team mentor Thibaud Dumas, Vicky Staikopoulos, SA Minister for Higher Education and Skills and Chair of the French Engagement Advisory Group, Susan Close,  Jennifer Robertson, Ismael Aguirre Maclennan, Javed Alam, Nia Lewis

Team ReMind, joined by Ambassador of France to Australia Christophe Penot, team mentor Thibaud Dumas, and SA Minister for Higher Education and Skills and Chair of the French Engagement Advisory Group, Susan Close.

The group’s idea focussed on cutting-edge technology to help a critical societal issue: preventing falls among the elderly.

“The idea blended neuroplasticity science with human centred design to create RISE, an interactive, gamified technology that improves balance and reduces falls among the elderly,” says Nia.

“It’s a significant issue in Australia and across the world. It was a privilege to be able to utilise our expertise to address such a pressing issue and design a business which could make such a positive impact on the lives of our elderly community.”

The team say the experience was both extremely challenging – and equally rewarding.

“Shortly after arriving we were placed with strangers and instructed to come up with an idea which we had to conceptualise, carry out market research, create a budget and marketing strategy, prepare a presentation and pitch it, all within 24 hours,” says ReMind team member Vicky Staikopoulos.

“In the meantime, we were trying to navigate the different personalities within the group and keep a positive team dynamic in a high-pressure situation. I have never become so close with a bunch of strangers so fast, we were hugging by the end of the 24 hours!”

The pressure was well worth it.

Team member Javed Alam says the challenge was an invaluable, exhilarating experience win or lose – and encourages other students to get involved.

“It was good practice for giving future pitches of our research for presentations or grant applications. It has definitely spurred an entrepreneurial streak in me; I’m just itching to do more of these challenges, and develop some innovative start-up ideas of my own!”

“As a PhD student, you need to take every opportunity available to you, and I’ve always had a passion and respect for the creativity that goes into creating mobile apps in particular. Not to sound too cliché, but they really do change the world sometimes.”

The prize is a once in a lifetime experience, adds team member Nia.

“The prize means the world to me! I literally can’t find the words to explain how excited and grateful I am for this opportunity, and to be going on this adventure with my awesome new friends and Remind teammates makes it all the more magic!”

“It really shows what can be achieved when people from different disciplines come together to tackle some of the world’s most pressing challenges.”

The 2017 Australian-French Entrepreneurship Challenge is supported by the Government of South Australia together with the Embassy of France in Australia, the University of South Australia, the University of Adelaide, Flinders University and the Australian and French business communities.

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