Every year, thousands of Australian businesses battle it out to prove who is the most innovative and worthy of securing a grant. Last week Aussie start-up, EcoJet Engineering, secured $50,000 in this year’s UNiSA Venture Catalyst grant scheme. We speak to EcoJet and University experts about what it takes to be ‘innovative’ in today’s highly competitive start-up space and how to secure funding to take your business to the next level.
“A truly innovative idea precipitates the 'oh, yeah' response from those who hear it,” says UniSA Vice Chancellor, Professor David Lloyd. “It precipitates the 'why aren't we doing this already?' This space is beyond incremental improvement, it's a sweet spot where unmet need is identified and met.”
According to Professor Lloyd, what made EcoJet unique is that it’s developing technology that offers the opportunity to disrupt existing platforms. When fully realised, EcoJet Engineering‘s innovative micro gas turbine, redesigned to burn hydrogen gas, will be a zero emissions power source. The turbine will be cheaper and cleaner to run than current micro gas turbines and other competing technologies.
“The EcoJet team presented with a clearly defined project plan to develop their technology commercially and if they are successful the product will have tremendous opportunity to scale and reach markets globally,” he explains. “Importantly, they acknowledged that they don’t have all the skills required to make this a commercial success in their own right and are willing to listen and take advice from the team of experienced mentors and advisors that are made available to them as recipients of support through the Venture Catalyst initiative.”
“Don't overestimate your worth but never undersell yourself.”
Understand your market
For businesses keen on securing startup funding, Professor Lloyd suggests to start by getting to know your market. And then have a clear articulation of the problem statement and how you solve it.
“Don't overestimate your worth but never undersell yourself,” he adds. “Remain tenacious and resilient - self-belief is something investors are always looking for.”
Commercialise your idea
Whilst this was the first grant EcoJet applied for, a spokesperson form the company admits the process was competitive and called for more than just an idea.
“Securing funding in today’s competitive environment is not easy as there are many groups and individuals are seeking funding for a variety of projects and ideas,” he says. “However there are many programs available for those seeking both funding and advice at any stage in their enterprise. Any application process is going to be difficult and highly competitive, however doing your research and knowing which programs best suits your needs can help in giving you an edge over other applicants.”
In order to successfully secure funding, the spokesperson suggests tailoring any application to the specific program you are applying for and have a clear idea around which your enterprise is built.
“However the central idea is but a small part of the enterprise’s success,” he adds. “Having an appreciation and a general understanding of the challenges and resources required to commercialise that idea is almost more important than the idea itself. It can be likened to a sailboat where the idea is the hull, crucial for the overall success of the sailboat but unlikely to go very far without the mast, sail, rigging, rudder and other aspects – all of which represent the issues and resources involved in commercialising that idea. Without the hull the rest would sink, but without the rest the hull is almost useless.”
Unless you have experience in enterprise management, he highlights you will likely have a very weak understanding of the myriad of factors and issues you will need to control in order to successfully commercialise your idea.
“Knowing your weaker areas and appreciating the breadth of what you don’t know or don’t have experience in will help you identify what funding program is right for you and communicating this well can help in securing a position in such programs,” he adds.
"Never lack confidence in your central idea. No one will want to fund something where the creator appears unsure or unconvinced about their own creation.”
Believe in what you are selling
Finally, EcoJet is all about believing in what you are selling, which is something he stresses is crucial to standing out from the crowd.
“This may sound cliché but it really does ring true,” he says. “The people assessing your applications will be able to tell if you’re not confident in your own product and you will likely not be awarded funding. It is fine to lack confidence in your own ability to develop your idea on your own, many programs will offer help and guidance in that regard, but never lack confidence in your central idea. No one will want to fund something where the creator appears unsure or unconvinced about their own creation.”
The partnership between the State Government and UniSA, Venture Catalyst provides seed funding of up to $50,000 to university-based entrepreneurs. The program encourages collaboration between UniSA students and industry to turn knowledge and ideas into business opportunities and to create start-ups for the commercialisation of products, services or processes.
Azadeh Williams is a former business and finance news editor at Thomson Reuters, Azadeh Williams has written over 3,000 articles in her 15-year international career on business, technology, marketing and innovation for the likes of The Times, CMO Magazine and Fast Business. She has also lectured in business journalism and media law at Macleay College.