How the InnovatEd program helped us launch & grow!
‘InnovatEd’ is University of Melbourne’s incubation program for educational technology (EdTech) innovations focused on higher education. Illume is delighted to be selected as one of the startups for incubation support for the year 2022–23.
As we graduate from the Program, I’d like to share our journey and the key role that InnovatEd played with our startup.
Before launching Illume, like most solo founders, I consulted with my friends mostly who are founders and investors to test the edtech idea behind Illume. Why edtech? Why not fintech or e-commerce or something with better Return on Investment (ROI) given a long sales cycle (particularly if universities are your customers), why students? they don’t have money? and why startups? they don’t have money either (Illume exists to connect students and startups for placements and jobs). But something in me kept wanting to solve this problem. I remember a founder mentor telling me earlier in my journey that
‘as a founder, we get lots of ideas, they will come and go but some tend to stick with you for a long time, even if you try moving on, it keeps coming back to you- it’s like this itch that never goes away’ and it was Illume for me.
I didn’t start Illume thinking this is going to make money (in fact founders are told to do napkin math before investing themselves in the business). To me, it was the Love (or call it Hate ) for the problem. Stemming from my own experience (which is a long story for another time) but stories of these talented students and graduates I would meet during my Uber ride- who have graduated with degrees like computer science or business and can’t find a job! And here we are talking about talent shortage. Surely, something was not adding up. Digging deeper (and I am still not done), I found that a lot of these graduates were stuck with the cycle of ‘no experience no job’.
How can someone get an experience if you don’t give them an experience!
So, Illume’s mission became to make this experience possible! Reaching out to a handful of my founder friends, we quickly ran a pilot (literally on Airtable and lots of manual work!) and in no time we were making a difference. An international student who was contemplating leaving Australia got an opportunity through Illume and in 6 months was making a 6 digit salary. Students who had been stranded back in their countries were able to find their first experience and friends through Illume and some students even started their side hustle! It is a proud moment for us!
Like any early stage startup, we have our ups and downs (topic for another time) but getting ‘thank you’ emails from students or startups we work with like the one below- makes it all worth it!
But what makes us happiest is ‘knowing that we were able to make a difference not just on that student’s life but how they were able to take care of their family, pay their loan and find that confidence back in life’- reminder of Why we do what we Do!
InnovatEd has been instrumental in our startup journey. Navigating university environment is not so easy, despite having worked in this environment. Who to talk to, who are the decision makers, who are the users and how to interpreter their response and how to manage your own expectation (startup speed vs university speed), thanks to Mim, amazing Program Manager @ InnovatEd that we were able to do pilots with faculties at the University of Melbourne. This would not have been possible without InnovatEd or support from Mim, David, Nicki and of course the grant that helped us build our minimum viable product (mvp).
Coming back to why edtech? Edtech may not seem or be as lucrative as startups in other industries but an industry that can have the most impact. Through education you not only change a person’s life but the whole generation that follows. If we want to create the world we want to see- education is the way to go. No longer is education limited to acquiring knowledge but applying knowledge to the real world and creating opportunities and that’s what we aim to do.