THE Gold Coast's next generation of business leaders are getting a head start with a program teaching the 'Silicon Valley' approach to starting a business to those under 18.

Startup Apprentice is presenting business creation as a career path for high school students, going against the typical expectation that encourages students to get a good education in order to get a good job.

This is also on the back of a StartupAus Crossroads Report that says the Australian education system is geared toward preparing students for the workforce and it does not adequately equip young people to start businesses, particularly high-growth startups.

Maddison Richie, a 13-year-old budding entrepreneur from Varisty Lakes College, recently participated in a Startup Apprentice workshop which involved learning the principals for pitching and validating an idea, building a revenue model, finding customers and delivering a minimal viable product concept.

At the end of the short course, Richie and her team designed Find It Quick, a waterproof device and app that helps people find lost items via scanning technology.

The ultra-thin GPS activated device is stuck to items such as wallets, goggles, phones and surfboards and, if misplaced, is easily located using an app on your phone.

"There are other products extremely similar to our product, with the exact same motive, but what we have done to differ from these products is we made it water durable," says Richie.

"This logical decision leads to our product being more valuable in the hands of a person in need," she says.  "The products on the market similar to ours are already extremely popular in the US."

Although Richie is still unsure about whether or not she wants to run her own business when she is older, she says the workshop was extremely beneficial and encouraged students to think outside the box when it comes to problem solving.

"I learnt that to inspire others you have to be inspired yourself," she says. "Once you are inspired it becomes easier and easier to persuade your judges or audience members to have faith in your product. I can use this skill in many real-life situations such as school speeches and debates."

Founded by Sharon Hunneybell and Sam Winter (pictured above), Startup Apprentice offers an eight-week, action-based afterschool program aimed at bridging the gap between book-smarts and street-smarts with hands-on, experience-based programs where students launch a new business or social enterprise.

The organisation was established after the founders ran several successful startup weekends on the Gold Coast and were inspired after seeing an increase in teens pitching and participating in workshops.

"At the moment in Australia, one in seven kids between the age of 15 and 24 are unemployed and it is even higher on the Gold Coast," says Hunneybell.

"If you equip people at an early age with the skills they need to start their own business, would we have such issues with youth unemployment?

"And people are realising that if we want to create more jobs and if we want to have an entrepreneurial eco-system here on the Gold Coast, a lot of it is starting with the youth and getting them to think of entrepreneurship as a career path."

Every state in Australia, except for the Northern Territory, has a school offering the Gold Coast's online version of the program, which involves downloading the Startup Apprentice lesson plans. The program is also being used in schools in the UK, France and the US.

In certain schools, the organisation has been asked to facilitate the program in the classroom as part of the overall curriculum instead of through an after-school platform.

Other ideas pitched by high-school students at Startup Apprentice include:

  • Social Block: An app that blocks all games and social media
  • Social Bar: A social website for teens to make new friends by matching your interests and location
  • Moosic: A watch that monitors your mood to find a song for your mood
  • BTMO: An app for handyman to fix your broken appliances on the day
  • Virtual Veggies: An app that helps you have your vegetable garden without being there. It also provides you with ideas how to use the ready-to-harvest vegies.
  • Please Explain: App and device that lets you translate any speech in any language to any language and sign language.
  • EvaCool Waterbottle: Keeps your drink cool all day using the latest science cooling technology.


Photo by Dylan Cooper. Students: Leo Li, Maddison Richie, Kane Smith, Tamara White and Luka Bell. Judges: Cr Glenn Tozer, Aaron Birkby and Baden U'Ren

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