Australian PhD students compete in Entrepreneurship Challenge

Participants, coaches and guests at the launch of the Australian–French Entrepreneurship Challenge in June. Photos: Tim Edwards, Department of Industry, Innovation and Science

In early June, 45 Australian PhD students competed in the first Australian–French Entrepreneurship Challenge, held at the College for Business and Economics at the Australian National University.

The national competition provided participating researchers the opportunity to build networks with French businesses and institutions. It also contributed to Australia’s innovation and economic goals in fostering international industry–research links.

Working in pre-selected teams of up to six, participants were challenged to design a start-up in a relevant field. In the first few hours of the event participants attended workshops and accessed expert mentoring to provide the skills to go through the process. Over a continuous 24 hour period each team required resilience, creativity, teamwork and a willingness to take risks in order to come up with a pitch to win over a grand jury of expert entrepreneurs, scientists and managers.

Participants competed for the opportunity to travel to France for a first-hand experience of the country’s innovation system. The winning team created a start-up project called Guardia—a rapid, on-site detection of Giardia concentration in water using a low-cost, clip-on smartphone device. Team members were:

  • Lara Bereza-Malcolm from La Trobe University
  • Linda Khong from the University of Notre Dame
  • Spencer Richardson from the Australian National University 
  • John Rivers from the Australian National University
  • Amanda Vrselja from Monash University
  • Ariel Zeleznikow-Johnston from the University of Melbourne.

The team was assisted by Thibaud Dumas from the Unviersité Pierre et Marie Curie (Paris 6) and coached by Robert Crombie from AusIndustry.

The challenge was facilitated by Clarisse Angelier from the National Association for Research and Technology in France, and Alistair Kay from AusIndustry. Each team was assisted by a student from the CIFRE (France’s system of industrial agreements for training through research) Industry-PhD program and a French or Australian coach, including Peter Batchelor, Robert Crombie and Malcolm Donnell from AusIndustry; David Burt from CSIRO; Mathew McGann from Health Horizon; Geoff Rogers from IntelliMedical Technologies; Robert de Quelen, an independent coach and consultant from France; and Renaud Redien-Collot from Novancia Business School in Paris, father of Les 24h Chrono de L’Entrepreneuriat in France.

The grand jury was made up of Petr Adámek from KILN Incubator; Professor Michael Cardew-Hall from The Australian National University; Francois Duthoit from DCNS; Rosie Hicks from the Australian National Fabrication Facility; Coumar Oudea from Airbus DS—Space Systems; Tony Peacock from CRC Association; and David Singleton from Engineers Australia.

The challenge was supported by the Australian Academy of Science; the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science; the Embassy of France in Australia; and the Australian National University. It was sponsored by AIRBUS Group Asia Pacific; DCNS; KILN Incubator; and Engineers Australia.

The winning team—Guardia . From left: David Hazlehurst, Deputy Secretary, Department of Industry, Innovation and Science; Ambassador of France, His Excellency Mr Christophe Lecourtier; Robert Crombie, AusIndustry; Linda Khong, the University of Notre Dame; Ariel Zeleznikow-Johnston, the University of Melbourne; John Rivers, ANU; Amanda Vrselja, Monash University, Spencer Richardson, ANU, Lara Bereza-Malcolm, La Trobe University and Thibaud Dumas, Université Pierre et Marie Curie (Paris 6). Photo: Embassy of France in Australia

© 2022 Australian Academy of Science