Entrepreneurs show flare with SPARK Deakin

Research news
11 December 2018

The SPARK Deakin Accelerator Program provides ambitious entrepreneurs with support to help turn their business dreams into reality. The program provides business office space at Downtown Deakin in central Melbourne, $10,000 funding, mentorship and other support for their start-ups.

The current group of SPARK Deakin entrepreneurs are creating innovative new business models. Meet three of the accelerator teams:

Staffah smooths hospitality recruiting challenges

Deakin alumnus Karina Belokamen’s new idea for the Australian hospitality industry is likely to save hospitality businesses 30-50 per cent of the costs of recruiting new staff. Her new enterprise, Staffah, is an online recruitment platform for this industry.

Staffah evolved out of a previous business, a hire-a-waiter agency for hospitality staff that gave her a deep understanding of the sector and insight into how best to support clients. The Staffah database was developed to reduce the costs of a traditional staff hire agency. Staffah reduces administration overheads. Clients receive access to the database through a subscription and receive a finder’s fee if an employee is offered full-time work with a particular client. The company also accepts one-off bookings for home dinner parties and corporate events.

“I realised that many clients in hospitality need a really good database of reliable people,” Karina explained. “But, also, I realised we needed to vet clients, to make sure the staff on the database are looked after properly. We only work with reputable companies and they find the database saves them time and money.”

Staffah has a publicly-visible, two-way rating system, similar to that of Uber. All staff are rated after the completion of their job by the client, and the client is also rated on their professional conduct by the employee.
Karina’s business has been developed with the help of the SPARK Deakin program.

“The mentors’ knowledge was very helpful,” she said. “They all really care about how we go. They are like-minded people with a genuine interest in our success. That is priceless.”

Karina is confident that she’s ahead of the curve in Australia with her business model.

“Databases like this are starting to be set up in the USA by some IT industry agencies. I think Staffah could disrupt traditional hospitality recruitment agencies in the next few years,” she said.

Officially launched in the final month of Karina’s SPARK Deakin program, Staffah has already garnered a loyal customer base that includes companies such as Mercedes Benz and Louis Vuitton. Over 100 high-end clients are on Staffah’s waiting list.

“Lend my trend:” new trend in fashion hire

SPARK Deakin entrepreneur April Booij describes her new business as being “like Webjet for fashion hire.”

“You compare flights,” April said. “You compare hotel deals. Why not fashion trends? Finding the right dress at the best price was a problem I experienced multiple times.”

LendMyTrend.com is an Internet-based fashion hire aggregator business catering to students and young professionals. The site showcases fashion hire boutiques that offer occasional renting of cocktail dresses and evening wear that could be used at university dinners, 21st parties or many other events.

“The hired clothing costs only 15-20 per cent of the purchase price, which is a big saving for customers who don’t want to waste a month’s wages on a frock they’ll only wear once,” said April.

“It’s also good for the environment and supports sustainability. It’s all about recycling.”

A business and commerce graduate from the University of Queensland, April is CEO of LendMyTrend, with her brother Aaron Booij, who’s studying a Bachelor of Commerce / Psychology at Deakin.

The two started their business in 2017, with a peer-to-peer model of hiring out clothes, but discovered the quality of items varied too much.

“We need to be reliable, if people are going to rent clothing for special events,” April explained, “so we approached quality boutiques and we now have over 1800 listings, with 30 partner boutiques, and we hire out about 15 to 20 gowns each week.”

April has found SPARK Deakin extremely helpful in developing the business.

“The space has been awesome, and it provides a community we can tap into,” she said. “The mentors gave us suggestions for pricing and access to contacts. We’ve found that when we’re at a pain point, with their help, in a few days we’ve found a solution, and we’re implementing it the week after.”
April also has some advice for other entrepreneurs.
“Jump in and give it a go. When you’re deciding if your business will be successful, one of the biggest questions you need to ask is ‘What problem are you solving?’”

Treiner: soccer coach hire

The SPARK Deakin accelerator has helped James Muir achieve his start-up dream. Combining his soccer and business experience, Treiner.com.au is the Airbnb equivalent of soccer coach hire, allowing customers to find, compare, rate and book a coaching service, whenever and wherever they want.
James has a Bachelor of Business (Sports Management) from Deakin University. He has worked in the sporting industry for 15 years as a soccer coach with the likes of the National Premier League, as well as working as a coaching development manager for Football NSW. He’s also been involved with tertiary education teaching in Sport Development.

He and co-founder Kogulan Sabaratnam, who has a Master’s Degree in Education from the Australian Catholic University, have worked together for five years. At SPARK Deakin they have been mentored by former Deakin student, Saba Karim, and Deakin alumnus Joel Pennington, an expatriate Australian from the United States, who has assisted multiple start-ups.

“We’ve started with soccer as we have very good networks,” said James, “but there has been interest from other sports and this gives us a model that will work well with other sports.”

James’ and Kogulan’s previous coaching business began in Melbourne with a database of about 30 coaches. It quickly expanded. Now, Treiner.com has 1800 coaches in their database, and they have had 2000 bookings to date. Coaches receive between $40 and $100 an hour, with the business taking a 10 per cent marketplace fee from each job.

The Australian coaching market has 1.9 million players, with 300,000 regulated coaches available across Australia. In Victoria, an estimated $50 million per year is spent on private training.

“People are time poor and have more disposable income, and there are higher standards in sport,” said James. “This concept has really good potential.”
The business allows individuals, clubs and schools to hire a soccer coach in every state except the Northern Territory. Coaches need to provide a Working with Children Check, a CV and referees.

The service, launched in October 2017, is now fully integrated, with social media and banking details, for easy payment. Within two years, the two expect to have 10,000 users, at which point they will begin developing a mobile app. They hope to achieve an average of about 1000 bookings a week, with 2000-3000 coaches on the database.

The $10,000 they received in funding from SPARK Deakin was used to enhance their IT platform.

“The accelerator has been intensive,” said James. “It’s given us a lot of direction. We were not originally tech people, but we have learnt a lot about digital marketing on the way.”

More information:

  • If you are considering applying for the 2019 SPARK Deakin Accelerator Program, applications are accepted on a rolling basis. Learn more: SPARK Deakin website.

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