8 September 2023

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

| Kellie O'Brien
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Harrison Mann Young Eyes Festival of Innovation

Harrison Mann after pitching his customisable shoe idea to gain a spot in the final pitchfest at the Young Eyes Festival of Innovation on 7 October. Photo: Supplied.

Budding entrepreneurs from Illawarra and Shoalhaven high schools will pitch their ideas in a Shark Tank-style event before a panel of business leaders in a bid to be named Wollongong’s Young Innovator of the Year in October.

The 20 students developed their ideas through a mentoring program run by the ZigZag Hub and were selected to compete in the final ‘pitchfest’ during the 2023 Young Eyes Festival of Innovation on 7 October at the Wollongong Town Hall.

They will face an accomplished judging panel, including former Warilla High student and Sydney Kings basketball team majority owner Paul Smith, who sold a company in the US for $US195 million, and Wollongong battery materials startup Sicona Battery Technologies’ chief strategy officer Tylney Taylor.

READ ALSO Record entries in Illawarra Business Awards narrowed down to finalists in 15 categories

Festival sponsor, Sicona’s CEO Christiaan Jordaan, who has pitched his own Wollongong startup to international investors and government bodies, offered the students some tips before they pitched in a semifinal event on Wednesday (6 September) at the ZigZag Hub.

“This is so closely aligned to our core values of pushing boundaries and innovation,” Christiaan said.

“As a company we pride ourselves on innovation and entrepreneurship and anything we can do to foster those attributes in the students of our region we should do.

“It’s about supporting innovation in our community and there’s no better place to start that than with our young entrepreneurs in schools.

“This program is giving students real-world experience they will learn from and be able to use time and again across their journey in life and that is something that should be supported and promoted.

“I had no-one in my family that were entrepreneurs but I somehow stumbled into co-founding my first company in my mid 20s and continued on that journey.”

Shellharbour Anglican College brothers Jakai and Kaylan Christie caught the eye of Christiaan with their pitch for a gigafactory and lithium-ion processing facility to turn the 60 per cent of the world’s lithium that’s mined from Australia into battery technology that could be sold internationally.

Wollongong entrepreneurship

Brothers Jakai and Kaylan found common ground with Sicona Battery Technologies CEO Christiaan Jordaan with their idea for a lithium-ion processing facility. Photo: Kellie O’Brien.

Other business ideas during Wednesday’s event included a social time management collaboration tool, a promotional platform for young authors, and drone technology to better manage farming practices.

Among them was Shellharbour Anglican College student Harrison Mann, who came up with the shoe personalisation business H-Mann, a website where users could digitally design their own shoes, which he would then transfer onto white sneakers.

While still in a concept phase, Harrison’s prototype on the day prompted the judges to go so far as to ask if they could order a pair.

“It was great to hear that feedback and the things they were recommending I could do with the shoes,” Harrison said after leaving the stage.

“I can see ideas they had that I could take on board.”

The festival was established last year by ZigZag Hub founder Carmen Rudd and this year has seen an increase in students going through a ‘Design Thinking’ mentoring program to help develop their idea, come up with their ideal client, undertake market research and develop a pitch.

READ ALSO Andrew Minett’s charged up to energise the future by fast-tracking battery technology

Ms Rudd said the mentoring program and festival aimed to ignite the passion of young people and give them the best start to their entrepreneurial journey.

“It’s been about giving young people an opportunity to take their passions and come up with amazing ideas – that’s what’s really inspiring about it,” she said.

“It’s great to see how they want to solve the problems they see in the community or in the world in their own way.

“It sparks something within them and they just fly with that idea.

“The students will take away lifelong experience and lessons from our judges.”

The 7 October festival at the Wollongong Town Hall will feature speakers covering the fields of technology, sustainability and innovation, with the main event being the 20 finalists competing in the pitchfest to determine an overall winner.

The winner will receive a mentoring package from the ZigZag Hub to develop their business idea, while runners-up will also receive mentoring support.

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