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Speaking Startups: Conversations with the founder of QUT Starters

Sam studied Electrical Engineering at QUT under the Dean's Scholars program and graduated with first class honours, the University Medal, and Kindler Memorial Medal.  He is a director and founder of ThankBank, a startup that aims to reward and recognise blood donors. ThankBank was accepted into the Impact Academy, Microsoft Innovation Centre and featured on Startup Daily, several newspapers and successfully crowdfunded $10,000.

Tell us about your journey into the world of startups. What got you interested in entrepreneurship originally?

I’ve always wanted to create change, and to make waves with what I do. This desire is coupled with my love of problem solving. I saw entrepreneurship as an ideal way to create change and solve problems that no one has solved before. To be able to look back at customers, followers, a shift in thinking, or one less problem in the world, and know that you started the movement through a startup would be truly rewarding, wouldn’t it?

My journey into the world of startups was a bit of a dive. I took a few classes on lean business models and technology startups when I was studying in Sweden, and then I founded QUT Starters and entered an accelerator with my own startup the very next year.

Why did you decide to found QUT Starters?

I wanted to share my beliefs with the QUT community and fill a gap in QUT, which was unfortunately not a forward mover in the startup wave. My two general beliefs are that 1) Students have the skills to make successful startups: they understand technology, and there exists new methodologies such as the business model canvas and the “lean startup” that fit well with the student community and 2) Students can learn and benefit a tremendous amount by attempting a startup: they don’t have much to lose if they fail, and they can learn a wider range of skills while preparing themselves for the future. I saw QUT Starters as the group that could share these beliefs and fill the entrepreneurial gap that QUT had.

You must have had some mentorship and guidance along the way with ThankBank. Can you tell us about the sort of support you’ve had?

Definitely! The main support, alongside friends and family, was through the Impact Academy. I applied for the Impact Academy social enterprise accelerator with a shaky idea about blood donation. Peter Ball and Jose Adrian, the mentors at Impact Academy, helped create a sustainable business model and introduce some very valuable contacts. None of what I have achieved would have been possible without them. Friends and family also provided important opinions and of course, brought me over the line with crowdfunding. A key takeaway is to not be afraid to share ideas (as embryotic and crazy as they were) with the world, because no one can help you if they don’t know that you would benefit from help!

Why do you think students should try their own startup while at university?

Why not? Startups are challenging and a bit of fun.

Students have nothing to lose. Most have no mortgage, no dependents and full-time job. They’re at a good time in their life to sacrifice some Netflix time to springboard their professional career.

They have a whole network next door. Finished your finance lecture? You could head next door and meet with an IT student, then grab a coffee with a marketing whiz. Then go around the corner to chat to some potential users and customers. QUT is a great location to meet a diverse range of students and again, springboard a student’s professional journey.

For the more selfish (and let’s be honest; strategic) students, getting involved in a startup is a great way to show future employers that you have what it takes to succeed; that is, if entrepreneurship is not your end goal. It shows that you’re driven, can communicate well, are creative, and can push the status quo. Creating your own job as a student can let you steal someone else’s grad job later down the track - the harsh but honest truth. Hopefully the first reasons are your motives though.

Any recommendations for any budding entrepreneurs out there?

Yes: simply have fun and have a go! What is the worst case scenario if you try? You fail, and learn an awful lot about business, technology, negotiation, and about what not to do next time. Think about the benefits: all the learning, and the potential to create something great, embrace personal growth and satisfaction, and earn some cash.

For those that are already having a go, great! A recommendation would be to open up. Tell people about your ideas and be open for feedback. No, they won’t steal your idea (most likely). Would you dedicate your spare time and late nights for someone else’s idea that you’re not overly passionate about? Probably not.

I see the need for idea feedback a bit like proofreading a document. You can read your own report hundreds of times and think it’s perfect, and then someone reads it for the first time and sees a glaring error in the second sentence. It is much more efficient to talk about your struggles out loud, and hear an outside opinion.

Again, remember to have fun with it!