Monash University Virtual Demo Day

Last week I was invited to participate in a Virtual Demo Day for students enrolled in the Monash University Boot Camp, for the FinTech, Coding and UX/UI streams. The Demo Day was an opportunity for the students to present the results of their project course work and to get feedback from industry experts.

While not exactly the same as a start up pitch night, each project presented a defined problem scenario, as well as the proposed technical and design solution – and in some cases, a possible commercial model, but this was not the primary focus. Although the format of the Demo Day did not enable external observers to see all of the dozen-plus projects, overall it was very encouraging to see a university offer this type of practical learning experience.

Skills-based and aimed at providing a pathway to a career in ICT, the Boot Camp programme results in a Certificate of Completion – but I hope that undergraduates have similar opportunities as part of their bachelor degree courses. The emphasis on ICT (Cybersecurity and Data Analytics form other streams) is partly in response to government support for relevant skills training, and partly to help meet industry requirements for qualified job candidates.

Industry demand for ICT roles is revealing a shortage of appropriate skills among job applicants, no doubt exacerbated by our closed international borders, and a downturn in overseas students and skilled migration. This shortage is having a direct impact on recruitment and hiring costs, as this recent Tweet by one of my friends starkly reveals: “As someone who is hiring about 130 people right now, I will say this: Salaries in tech in Australia are going up right now at a rate I’ve never seen.” So nice work if you can get it!

As for the Demo Day projects themselves, these embraced technology and topics across Blockchain, two-sided marketplaces, health, sustainability, music, facilities management, career development and social connectivity.

The Monash Boot Camp courses are presented in conjunction with Trilogy Education Services, a US-based training and education provider. From what I can see online, this provider divides opinion as to the quality and/or value for money that their programmes offer – there seems to be a fair number of advocates and detractors. I can’t comment on the course content or delivery, but in terms of engagement, my observation is that the students get good exposure to key tech stacks, learn some very practical skills, and they are encouraged to follow up with the industry participants. I hope all of the students manage to land the type of opportunities they are seeking as a result of completing their course.

Next week: Here We Go Again…

Transition – post-pandemic career moves

Even before the latest lock-down v3.0 in Melbourne, one of the other members of my co-working space in the CBD decided they’d already had enough of being confined to a 5km radius, working from home, and other lock-down related restrictions. Having had their interstate travel curtailed over the past 12 months, and suffering from cabin fever, they have opted to spend the next few months living in and working from various Airbnb locations around regional Victoria. Even though they are used to WFH, recent experience has shown that they don’t need to be confined to one place. And this post-COVID shift in our work/life patterns (already being disrupted and enabled by remote working) is only increasing.

Likewise, a client I spoke to in the USA last week informed me that they had just settled into a new location on the west coast, and was “living the dream” of a nomadic existence.

More extreme is the recent example of a Guardian employee who, having had to travel from Sydney to the UK for a family funeral last year, then took several months to get back home (due to flight cancellations), but managed to keep working remotely from various European locations as he moved around to stay ahead of border closures.

Prior to this past weekend, and despite the city being out of Stage 4 lock-down for 3 months, private offices in Melbourne’s CBD have only been allowed to operate at 50% of capacity – the proposed move to 75% capacity has been put back. It means, for example, that even on a really good day, my local coffee shop is still only doing 60% of its pre-COVID business.

It’s my guess that the combination of office restrictions and many retail and hospitality businesses simply not bothering to re-open at all means the CBD is barely operating at 40-50%. It’s deceptive – some activities (e.g., construction) have continued pretty much unabated (even expanding while there is less traffic on the roads); while others have been shut down altogether (e.g., entertainment). Certainly food delivery services are still in demand, while some retail has been doing a bit better as customers appreciate the novelty of shopping in-person.

Monday to Friday in the CBD is like a bell-curve distribution – Mondays and Fridays are much quieter, as people choose to WFH part of the week. Which is challenging for employers, as they try to revert to “normal”. But assuming a mix of remote and on-site working continues, it probably means less overall demand for office space. (It’s also difficult to assess the impact of the CBD exodus on suburban hubs.)

So all that construction work suggests we will have an over-supply of commercial premises (offices, shops, restaurants and hotels).

Residential property is a similar story – student accommodation is far from full, as overseas students aren’t returning; and more inner-city apartment buildings are still going up, but there is something of an exodus from the city to regional and rural locations.

The latter tree- and sea-changes are being fueled by a number of factors: a desire to leave the city (which is more prone to lock-downs); low interest rates (so, cash out the equity in your suburban home and move to the country where your money buys you more); increased opportunity to WFH (see, 5G and the NBN have their benefits!); and a broader wish for a different work/life balance.

Unfortunately, this shift is also putting pressure on local housing supply – average property prices are going up faster in some regional centres than in the capital cities; and more nomadic lifestyles are driving up demand for short-stay accommodation. The combined effect is higher rental costs and reduced supply, tending to squeeze out the locals.

Ironically, we’ve heard farmers and primary producers in rural and regional Australia complain that they can’t get seasonal workers due to COVID restrictions on international visitors (especially students, back-packers and experienced fruit pickers). Conversely, we’re told that 90% of jobs lost after March last year have now been recovered – although this apparent rebound is mainly in part-time roles, not full-time positions. It would be interesting to see a detailed breakdown by industry, as some sectors (tourism, aviation, universities) are still struggling.

The hiatus (and disruption) brought about by COVID and subsequent lock-downs has no doubt prompted many people to reassess their careers: where do I want to live/work? what type of work do I want to do? which industries or companies are hiring? and for what roles? As part of a wider re- and up-skilling initiative, the Federal and State governments are offering a range of free vocational courses (mostly Cert I to IV programmes), as well as some enhanced “pathways” to trade apprenticeships.

While this is to be applauded, I can’t help feeling the effort is at least 5-10 years too late to address the technological, demographic and societal changes that began at the end of the last century, with the advent of the internet, cheaper technology, an ageing population, increased globalisation, inefficient taxation and tariff systems, and general economic restructuring. If nothing else, COVID has demonstrated the need for more resilience in the domestic economy, (and a reduced reliance on overseas imports and supply chains) such as smart manufacturing and food security.

Meanwhile, a friend of mine recently related that a nephew of his had dropped out of college (like many of his peers in the USA and elsewhere) and decided to become a self-taught expert in DeFi, as there is more chance of financial success (and career satisfaction) than obtaining an “off the shelf” bachelor degree….

Next week: Corporate Art

Fitting your own oxygen mask first

Before I get into this week’s article, I want to stress that my reason for posting it is not intended to be self-serving, or self-aggrandising – I’m fully aware of such pitfalls, as captured wonderfully in The State of LinkedIn on Twitter. Instead, I hope it’s received as an example of paying it forward. And all starts with some advice I heard a number of years ago.

My erstwhile colleague, Dale Simpson, likes to use the following analogy when coaching his clients on career development, leadership and directorship:

“Be sure to fit your own oxygen mask first”

The reason being, how can you help others if you don’t take care of your own needs first? It’s not about being selfish, but about being present and able to serve others. It also recognises that in order to be useful, we need to work from a position of stability and resilience ourselves.

Dale also likes to use Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in his work. Both Maslow and the oxygen mask have clearly entered my own vernacular. A couple of weeks ago, I was listening to a neighbour at my co-working space talking about the work he was trying to do to help others become more resilient and overcome trauma. As the conversation went on, it was clear that his own circumstances were challenging, due to insecure accommodation, erratic income and other factors. He had also had to overcome a great deal of adversity and other challenges in his life.

I asked him if he had heard of Maslow – he hadn’t. I suggested that he consider what his own needs were, so that he would be better able to help others. A little while later, I went back to my desk and found the above note he had left for me.

I’m sure once he manages to sort out his own circumstances, he will be a fine coach and excellent mentor, because he was very certain of his purpose – he just needed to adjust his own oxygen mask first.

Next week: Steam Radio in the Digital Age

Startup Vic’s Pitch Night for Migrant and First Generation Founders

For their October pitch night event, Startup Victoria teamed up with the City of Melbourne and Victoria University to showcase migrant and first generation founders. With sponsorship and support from Stone & Chalk, Weploy, and Marketing Entourage, the panel of judges was drawn from Hatch Quarter, City of Melbourne, Victoria University and WellAware.

Pitches in the order they presented (websites embedded in the names) were:

HealTab

Describing itself as “Your Health Companion”, the founders proclaim (somewhat paradoxically) “we believe in meaningful human relationships via technology”. The idea behind this startup draws on the founder’s own personal experience of trying to find emotional, social and psychological support while undergoing a medical procedure. The team believe they have identified a marketplace solution that allows users to find comfort, support and companionship when they need help prior, during and after medical diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation.

The founders point to the economic effect when patients are “no shows” for their appointments, and have designed a platform to help patients select health companions.
Users pay per transaction, of which Healtab take a 30% commission (based on their research of other marketplaces). It was not clear exactly how the payment, commission and disbursement of fees works, especially as companions get to set their hourly rates, which can range between $25 and $300.  Nor was it clear whether it is the patient who is paying, nor to whom. For example, I would like to have heard how this service fits in within the existing HICAPS payment system and health insurance (both Medicare and private health cover.

The founders say they are talking to health insurance providers, but given the fact that private health insurance is based on community rates, the ability to have such a wide range of user pricing within a policy may be severely limited. Moreover, since insurance policies are having to be regraded to reduce the complexity and confusion when trying to compare coverage, Healtab will have to figure out where their service will fit in terms of extras etc.

Asked by the judges as to how the platform establishes user trust and performs accurate patient/companion matching, the founders claim they are using psychometric testing, although no evidence was provided.

PT Mate

This personal training client management system includes a client app (to allow interaction with their trainer) plus a secure billing and payment system. Offering a freemium pricing model, including a 45-day free trial, the founders state that the costs are tax deductible for business users.

It’s not clear if the team have actually built an app – I have tried registering for a free trial on their website, but I cannot create an account. Overall, this pitch felt a little underdone.

One other point to note – the slide they team presented on competitor analysis was a little disingenuous, as it appeared as if none of the competitors offer any of the services PT Mate is providing. This underlines the need to present pitch information clearly, and think about screen resolution, images, diagrams, fonts and colours especially when projecting onto a large screen.

Undivide

Undivide offers an enterprise and SME solution for staff onboarding, training and compliance. Replacing existing manual and paper-based compliance systems, it claims to manage people, processes and tasks in one place.

Currently gaining traction within the transport & logistics industry, the business model is based on scale rate (per user per month) subscription plans.

The founders claim the platform is configurable, and therefore clients don’t need their own developers. It is also filling in the gaps that many ERM systems don’t provide. The client data is hosted in local data centres or on virtual servers.

It would have been interesting to know if the founders have thought about an end user application. For example an app that enabling freelances, contractors and consultants to keep their credentials up to date so that they can easily share this information from a single source prior to each hiring, contract or engagement. Equally, it would be great to know which other industry verticals Undivide might be targeting.

Passporr

According to the founders, students who want to study English abroad face high upfront costs, and an expensive and complicated procedure, with high interest rates and fees. Passporr aims to change this by offering interest free loans to study English and vocational courses abroad.

Using credit risk and fraud analysis, Passporr is able to charge a $300 flat fee per student, to process loans of between $1000 and $3000 (the average loan size). It was suggested that Passporr takes part of the commission that student agencies receive from universities and colleges for signing up students to their courses. With students expected to repay the loan in 6 fortnightly repayments, the founders claim they generate a 10%-20% return in 3 months – but it wasn’t clear what actual interest rates they are using, or the cost and source of their funding.

Passporr stated that it is currently working with three student agencies (which act as a distribution channel? or as a lead source? Again this was not very clear), and is initially focusing on servicing students who are already on-shore in Australia.

After Australia, Passporr will expand to Canada, and the UK, for on/off-shore students.

On the night, the People’s choice was Undivide (which got my personal vote), while HealTab took out the judges’ prize.

Next week: Fitting your own oxygen mask first