by Joshua Flannery | Manager, Student Entrepreneur Development & Co-founder at FounderLab
This week has seen seasoned developer and UNSW alumni Gwilym Humphreys come on board as Lead Developer for the FounderLab initiative – a world first on-campus service that seeks to give engineering students first hand exposure to multiple startup projects while simultaneously providing a professional product development service for non-technical entrepreneurial founders who apply competitively for the service.
Recently returned from a stint in Canada, Gwilym has been the engineering power behind startups such as GradConnection and Vancouver based TheresMyBus.com, and was instrumental in the development of photo-sharing application Vidigami – and that’s not to mention his experience dabbling with game development.
Rather than be set up as another typical accelerator program (of which there are plenty of great ones within a short distance from campus), the FounderLab was established to solve two specific problems observed over the last 3 years the SED service has been running:
(1) engineering students need more options to experience entrepreneurship and startups before being convinced that it is a good career option and
(2) ‘learning by doing’ is stifled for many first time (non-technical) founders due to the difficulty in securing a technical co-founder or the lack of funds to pay for a product to be built.
The FounderLab allows engineering students to learn first hand what it is like working with a startup while being trained up by Gwilym and his growing team – and it would only make sense that some of those interns become attached to particular projects during the process and stay on as the CTO for those startups.
At the same time, the non-technical founders are enabled to go further and faster by working with the FounderLab team to create a Minimum Viable Product – a vital piece of the puzzle for many startups needing to validate their product with real potential customers.
What UNSW is offering is not a traditional accelerator or incubator but complimentary to both.
The fact that UNSW is not building another pure accelerator program allows for more collaboration with well established external accelerator and incubator programs, and to source mentors from those organisations to contribute to the now 160 strong Mentors for UNSW Entrepreneurs network. Resulting outcomes of this strategy have allowed UNSW to both act as a ‘feeder’ to some of the best accelerators and incubators and provide another set of services that those programs don’t typically offer in a complimentary, not competing, way.
Some UNSW startups that landed in prestigious programs both locally and abroad include Peddle in the Singapore-based JFDI program and GAMURS in the Jumpstart Slingshot program, while for WattBlock and Propellor Aero, support from UNSW SED has been provided during and after their time in muru-D and ATPi, respectively.
While this new FounderLab and the accompanying MVP Fund are the latest in a suite of offerings for entrepreneurs actually running businesses – the UNSW Innovations Student Entrepreneur Development team that guides and connects UNSW entrepreneurs has now been operating for over 3 years and has supported more than 400 teams working on small business and startup projects since July 2012 – as the diagram above attempts to convey, these offerings are just the pointy end of ‘Startup Support’ on campus.
They complement the wider innovation and entrepreneur ecosystem that starts within particular degree programs, is at the heart of many Arc run student clubs and societies, and most notably the new ‘centre court’ for innovation at the university, the Michael Crouch Innovation Centre, which was launched successfully last week.