Given the sheer volume of public hand-wringing by traditional players such as the resources industry and large retailers over threats to their revenue, it seems that some view innovation as something to be wary of, rather than enthusiastically embraced.
Despite this conservatism, a number of Australian start-ups are forging ahead in their attempts to shake up the status quo. This year should prove pivotal for several of Australia’s most promising up-and-comers. Here are the five ventures to keep an eye on …
1. One Cent Flights
Elliott Donazzan became interested in the concept of online auctions while running an eBay-based business in school. He then persuaded his cousin Matt to join him and launch One Cent Flights in January last year and is forecasting $1 million revenue in 2013.
The site works by putting flights up for auction with users able to make a non-returnable bid in increments of one cent. First, they must buy blocks of credits, with $1 buying one credit, which equals a single one cent bid. Much like eBay, the real action is at the pointy end of the auction — bids in the final 10 seconds re-set the auction countdown clock to nine seconds, until a winner emerges.
Aged just 19, Donazzan has surrounded himself with an experienced six-strong management team and is gearing up for a major fundraising push this year as he eyes global expansion. “At the moment, Australia is the priority, but I’d love to expand to Asia as soon as we can,” he told Crikey sister site StartUp Smart last year. “The concept has got great potential.”
2. Aussie Inc
Adelaide entrepreneur Todd Miller spotted a gap in the export market in 2009 when he launched Aussie Inc, which helps Australian businesses sell their products in the US and Canada. Miller’s hunch paid off in spades last year when leading business builder Shane Yeend took a 50% stake in Aussie Inc.
Yeend’s company Imagination, which owns the rights to children’s character Humphrey B Bear and a board game based on bestselling book 50 Shades of Grey, has taken on Aussie Inc as a new division, with a new entity, called Imagination Consumer Products, to be headed by Miller.
Miller said in December the rights deal for the board game was an “opportunity not seen since Harry Potter”: “Imagination’s global infrastructure and access to retail accounts covering 85,000 store-fronts is a great opportunity for me — I will head up a global team of seasoned professionals. At the same time, it will fast track growth for Aussie Inc clients and products.”
Friends Melissa Dean and Rupal Ismin had absolutely no start-up experience when they launched Andable last year, but they may well have devised a business model that resonates both in Australia and overseas. While Dean has since left the company, the business continues to grow under Ismin’s leadership.
Andable is a standard online marketplace for handmade sellers with twist — 10% of the sales price goes to Kiva, a micro loans organisation that provides credit to small businesses in the developing world. When a product is sold through Andable, the seller receives 85% of the sale price. Andable gets a 5% commission and Kiva gets 10%. Andable guarantees to sellers that it will repay the 10% to them after three months. In theory, all sellers are ultimately left with 95% of the sales price.
Ismin explained: “Our mission is helping small businesses help other small businesses. There’s a really great community around this, which is quite rare to find. We have to balance our message — the primary focus is on the product but there’s a secondary social mission.”
International expansion is planned for 2013, with the business targeting 10% growth each month over the coming year. We’ll be interested to see how this model of “loaned giving” catches on as online retailers seek new points of difference in an increasingly crowded market.
4. 7pm Anywhere
At first glance, the last thing we need is another dating website. But Melbourne venture 7pm Anywhere is aiming at success by finding a fresh angle on this tired market. The idea for the business struck Amir Nissen as he was on the couch, watching The West Wing. He thought of how the selection process could be done in real time, from 7pm onwards. Women can ask a group of matched suitors a series of questions, in order to filter out those that aren’t suitable.
“Our approach is pretty novel,” he said. “It’s closer in experience to the old school TV dating shows than it is to most other online dating services. Online dating at the moment works like online shopping, but we don’t think people can be broken down into categories. Our approach is more like the unravelling of a mystery as opposed to ticking something off your grocery list.”
After teaming up with Vita Smid to launch the business, Nissen’s idea has received approving nods from elsewhere, to the extent that 7pm Anywhere was chosen as one of the eight teams to take part in this year’s Startmate accelerator.
When Google’s executive chairman makes his first-ever investment in an Australian business, you tend to sit up and take note of the recipient. BiNu, founded in 2008 by Gour Lentell and Dave Turner, is a mobile app platform that dramatically improves internet access speed, usability and social connectivity of mobile phones. It works on the thousands of Java-enabled and Android devices, with rapid adoption rates in emerging economies where mobile phones are the primary internet access device.
In November, it snagged $4.3 million from investors including 500 Startups, having already received funds from Google’s Eric Schmidt and Seek co-founder Paul Bassat. The funding will be used to continue the rollout of the platform in emerging markets including Africa, Latin America, Asia and Europe.
“This is Eric’s [Schmidt’s] own money we’re talking about, so he’s reviewed it all,” said Lentell. “I haven’t met him in person yet, he’s a busy guy, but I look forward to doing that soon.”