10 October 2023

Nowra student wins Wollongong's Young Innovator of the Year with tasty allergy-free cookie range

| Kellie O'Brien
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Young Entrepreneur of the Year Isa Chapman

Wollongong’s 2023 Young Entrepreneur of the Year Isa Chapman, with last year’s winner Tehlia Wood. Photo: Kellie O’Brien.

Through tears, Nowra student Isa Chapman accepted the title of Wollongong’s Young Entrepreneur of the Year at the 2023 Young Eyes Festival of Innovation’s Pitchfest on Saturday (7 October), all thanks to a simple idea for an allergy-free cookie.

Eight Illawarra and Shoalhaven high school students pitched their business ideas in a Shark Tank-style event before a panel of the country’s top business leaders in the final of Pitchfest as part of the festival at Wollongong Town Hall.

The festival and schools initiative was established last year by Wollongong’s ZigZag Hub founder Carmen Rudd and this year saw more than 70 students from nine schools go through an entrepreneur program to help develop their ideas and learn pitching skills.

During the program, Isa, a Nowra Christian School Year 7 student, cooked up the idea for the allergy-free ‘Cosmic Cookies’ range due to her friends often not being able to eat regular baked goods due to allergies – and immediately went home to research recipes.

“I came home after that and ‘boom!’ – Mum and I found a recipe on the weekend and we started experimenting,” she said.

“I’ve been running with it ever since.”

The 13-year-old couldn’t guess how many of the four flavours of cookies she’s sold so far, admitting the business had “blown up” from support due to the uniqueness of it being gluten-free, nut-free, wheat-free and dairy-free, “but not flavour-free”.

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Flavours include Berry Blast and Plain Jane.

“Everything else I’ve looked at usually only has one element, so they’re gluten-free but not dairy-free,” Isa said.

As the winner, she will receive 12 months of mentoring with a business leader, which she said she’ll use to create a website, grow her business knowledge and continue to build collaborations and source local produce, after already collaborating with Bee Kind Honey from Nowra Hill, which she uses in her recipes.

However, Isa said she has gained a lot from the program already.

“Obviously, the skills I’ve got on how to pitch and I’ve also learned how to persuade people, so it’s just been great,” she said.

Thanks to four years of public speaking, she delivered a strong 90-second pitch, followed by eight minutes of questions from the judges.

However, despite the confidence in her pitch, the shock of winning prompted tears during her acceptance speech.

“There was no negative feedback for him, whereas for me there was a bit of negative feedback and so I really felt like HMann-Dips was going to get it,” she said.

“Then when they called my name, I was like, ‘No way. This is just amazing’.”

Shellharbour Anglican College student Harrison Mann, who created H-Mann Dips to allow people to custom design hydro-dipped shoes, sold his first pair of shoes during the event to judge and prominent Sydney businessman Paul Smith.

The shoes, decked out in Sydney Kings’ gold, were worn by Paul during the nationally televised Kings’ banner game the next day at Qudos Bank Arena.

READ ALSO Students to face Shark Tank-style’ pitchfest’ to become Wollongong’s Young Innovator of the Year

Paul, a former Warilla High student and majority owner of the basketball team, also delivered a keynote address at the Young Eyes event on his rollercoaster business journey and the role pitching has played in that.

“You’re not here to win,” he said during his speech.

“Being here is a brave step and that’s one thing you need to be in business.

“You can’t be afraid to fail – failure is your friend.

“My story is literally littered with failure.

“If you don’t win, it doesn’t mean your idea is wrong.

“In the NBL, there are 10 teams and only one of them wins the championship every year.

“There are eight of you here today and only one of you will win, It’s hard.”

Other judges were Tylney Taylor, representing major sponsor Sicona Battery Technologies, digital entrepreneur and founder Emily Bobis, and Wollongong virtual reality company Devika founder Ken Kencevski.

Among other ideas pitched by students were a multisport training program, a universal key, an online skillshare platform, a hair-drying beanie, and schools-based gaming tournaments.

The audience also heard from last year’s winner, Tehlia Wood, about her progress with business Resin Memories, Wollongong Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery AM and Planning Minister and Member for Wollongong Paul Scully MP.

You can learn more about Isa’s business Cosmic Cookies on Instagram.

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