Sharks' Tank 2017

By Libi Vojinovic

Generating ideas for social good wins seed funding, with ideas for eco-friendly paper and regeneration of soil through combatting food waste, taking out top spots.

The latest instalment of the Social Entrepreneurship Sharks’ Tank competition took place on Friday 20 October, in front of a panel of industry experts and a captive audience of students eager to hear about exciting and innovative concepts in the field.

The competition is part of Social Entrepreneurship (MGMT90165), a postgraduate subject with a focus on solving social or environmental issues through market-based strategies and the start-up business model, and forms an assessable component. Students have time in class to develop their idea in groups, with efforts culminating in a presentation in front of a panel of expert judges, as well as a chance for two teams to win a share of $5000 in matched seed funding. The day kicks off with a round of preliminaries, where four teams are selected to proceed into the finals, held in the evening. Two winning teams of equal standing were selected, Team Daphne and Team ZERO, each recieving an equal share of the prize money.

Everything about the competition day has an element of social enterprise – from the gifts the judges receive (Goodwill wine with a portion of their proceeds donated to a nominated charity) right down to catering and refreshments (provided by the Asylum Seekers Resource Centre catering business).

Robert Kwok, who came across the subject when searching for elective units, said it piqued his interest. Before enrolling, Kwok felt he did not have a great understanding of Social Entrepreneurship, and found the subject particularly useful in solidifying his understanding of social impact, defining customers, and establishing clear and sustainable revenue. His team turned their passion for food and cooking into an idea for a refugee-run cooking school, where cooking classes, recipes, cultures and passion for food would collide, as well as provide meaningful employment for refugees.

“The idea for a refugee-run cooking school came from my teammate Thiang Zhen Li. We are both passionate about food and love to cook, so it made perfect sense for us to explore this idea,” Kwok explained. “In particular, we shared a concern that many traditional ‘home’ recipes were not being passed down to future generations – something we had both directly experienced with our own grandparents and parents.”

One of the winning teams, Team ZERO (L-R: Anthony Stark, Jimena Cornu Quijano, Andrew Knox and Charles Wilkens) with their prize cheque.

Anthony Stark from Team ZERO, whose idea to turn food scraps into a product used to revive degraded soil was one of the winners on the night. Stark spoke of his longstanding interest to start his own business, particularly one that has a positive social or environmental impact, and saw the Social Entrepreneurship subject as the ideal springboard to get exposure to the skills and manpower needed to achieve this.

“Food waste is a huge issue in Australia and we have developed a business model around collecting organic waste and converting that into a horticultural product called biochar,” Stark revealed. “The idea is that by removing waste that would normally go to landfill, and converting it into something that can be used to help with soil health, we are turning a traditional linear food production model into a circular one.”

Read more on Stark’s interview below.

How would you comment on the role of this subject in helping to shape you team’s idea and bringing it into a more tangible business goal?

Exposure to industry professionals was a huge help and inspiration.  The insights we gained from listening and talking to industry professionals really helped shape our business idea. It was a great way to sense-check some of our concepts, as well as provide some valuable direction.

How would you personally describe this competition’s place in the subject? And what would be the most valuable take-home lesson for your team of this experience?

The experience forced us to consolidate our idea and to consider what the key attributes were, and how we were going to communicate this. The most valuable take-home would have to be that we underestimated what we had achieved – we actually did a huge amount of work and in a very short time became knowledgeable enough about a market, product and process to pull together something that is a viable business case.

Presenting to industry professionals and our peers has been such a valuable experience.  Winning was great, but I really enjoyed the process and the team had a lot of fun along the way.

Where to from here? Do you feel you’re well-equipped to start turning the idea into reality at this point?

Over the summer period we intend to move the idea forward and do some further research so that we can answer some of the outstanding questions and validate the business case.  We will make a decision early next year as to whether we pursue this further and potentially take advantage of start-up and/or incubator programs such as Melbourne Uni’s ‘Melbourne Accelerator Program’ (MAP).
If we can get the business up and running in 12 months, we will be very happy – so keep an eye out at your local Bunnings!

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