min read

23 years and counting: The Peter Farrell cup continues to impress

Written by
Georgina Healy
Published on

If you found yourself beneath a particularly heavy rock on the night of the 14th of September, you might not have been aware that the 23rd year of the Peter Farrell Cup Final was in full swing at the University of NSW campus grounds. Hosted by UNSW Founders, it features the 10 finalists of the program and arguably Australia’s newest entrepreneurial stars. Previous success stories include co-founder of Harrison AI, Dr Aengus Tran, who placed 2nd for his pitch in 2013. Aengus and his brother, Dimitry Tran, then went on to co-found, hiring the entrepreneur who came first in the Peter Farrell Cup in 2013 to help develop the business.

OS spoke to Director of Entrepreneurship at UNSW David Burt and one of the winners of the competition, Jesse Waller who co-founded ‘InnerSteps’ and took it all the way through to win top prize of $8,000. Let’s find out the behind the scenes goss….

The Peter Farrell Cup – Supporting Innovation

Catching up with David and Jesse at the UNSW Innovation Centre it was clear they were still buzzing from the experience 2 weeks after the event itself. David: “The talent we saw at this year’s Peter Farrell Cup was outstanding. Each year, the competition keeps getting better”

Peter Farrell is the founder and chairman of ResMed and the 2001 Australian Entrepreneur of the year. The event encourages participants to learn entrepreneurial skills and to take their ideas to the next level without any assumed prior knowledge or progress. Some students need more encouragement than others to take part “Social pressure is the #1 reason students might not feel comfortable exploring their entrepreneurial ideas - a lot of people have great ideas that live in their head” We sagely nod our heads, we know people who had amazing ideas and never pursued them. 

To help mitigate social pressures, the event incentivises students to take the leap the best way possible - cash money 🤑 This year, $30K was shared across 8 companies. Each team is paired with an appropriate mentor, coaches and hands-on workshops at Michael Crouch Innovation Centre at UNSW Kensington. Participants retain any copyright or IP. 

“People who have ideas get support in gathering evidence to determine if this idea is worth pursuing> If it is, they need the opportunity to get on stage and get opportunities to be in front of as many people as possible, and get cash for doing so!” - David Burt

Pitch Perfect: The 2023 PFC Finals Night

The 2023 Peter Farrell Cup was the largest cohort yet - 71 applications received and an astounding 62 teams selected to take part. After the series of workshops to build skills and mindset to integrate, pitch and launch a real business a vibrant pitch-fest resulted in the 10 finalists were selected

The Peter Farrell Cup 2023 finalists included:  

·       InnovalVF - Innovating the future of IVF.

·       InnerSteps - Helping little minds, one story at a time.

·       PropertyAI - Every Australian should have the opportunity to find their ideal home.

·       Ro-Pets: Companions for life - Revolutionising elder care.

·       SmartPoly - Non-invasive tissue replacement.

·       SPLAT - Supporting play for all by adapting toys.

·       Trevlor - Generate a trip itinerary with the click of a button.

·       Verily - “Don’t take the bait”, verifying medical certificates.

·       What’s On! - Real-time event updates for students.

·       You Legend Skincare - Men’s all-in-one skincare.

The pitch night was held from 5pm – 8pm on September 14th with tickets open to the general public resulting in an insane 400-person-strong attendance. David: “As UNSW continues to be the most entrepreneurial university, I can’t wait to see what these startups go on to achieve. They’ll be the next big thing - you heard it here first!

Speaking of which……

2023 Winners: InnerSteps

InnerSteps were a key winner in the 2023 Peter Farrell Cup. “In a world where 1 in 7 children aged 5 to 12 battles a mental illness, and half of them receive no support, InnerSteps is a beacon of hope. InnerSteps supports little minds, one story at a time." It's an AI-based storytelling mobile app specially designed to educate and empower primary school-aged children struggling with mental health.

In the presence of a potential future Aussie rich lister, I had to remain calm. “How did you first hear about the Peter Farrell Cup?” Jesse (who calls the cup PFC cause he is young and cool): “I heard about the PFC through an email from UNSW: I looked into it with my co-founder and decided it was ideal for us - the support throughout and potential for reward at the end” 

Jesse and his co-founder/bestie Matt Gordon saw the challenges family and friends experienced in mental health - Jessie gives Matt full credit with the inception of the idea, but worked together to bring it to the PFC. “InnerSteps was the idea we came in with - but there were several iterations and we refined it through the PFC process - frankly it looks quite different to what we started with” 

Which brings us to their mentor, Densearn Seo. InnerSteps, like all the other teams created a quick video about their startup and then the mentors would hand-select the most appropriate one for them. Jesse believes the mentorship was valuable “Without a question - (Den) was honest and available - we had a whatsapp chat and he got on a Zoom whenever we needed help - he continues to be of support to this day.” 

Coming from a business background and studying a, bachelor of commerce, the PFC still was the most significant and formal step Jesse had taken towards entrepreneurship “it strengthened my conviction - my co-founder and I knew that we had an idea that could help people - but the experience gave us the tools to explore it further. Not just financially, but also networking in the startup ecosystem

Who is eligible 

The basics:

  • You must be an existing UNSW student
  • Team must be between 2 and 6 members 
  • You play an active role in conceiving the idea. 
  • Idea stage only. (David: “It’s not a startup competition, in fact, if you have revenue, you really aren’t appropriate”) 
  • Approximately 3 month commitment, 2-3 hours a week. 
You could put in more hours if you want to compete and do well - but this is up to the individual. The benefits are that you can validate your idea without risking other aspects of your life or spending money” - Jesse

What makes the PFC pitch night different? 

There are other pitch nights in the ecosystem, but this program offers access to world-class Makerspace (interview with David and Jesse was done while several 3D printers were busily working away in the background). Building prototypes that would cost thousands of dollars entrepreneurs can access for free.

The website will tell you about the prize money, tools, skills and guidance to help inspire light-bulb moments for UNSW students to pursue their business dreams, but what you might not consider is the life-changing moment of stepping on stage in front of 400 people. In Jesse’s words “Last week I stood out in front of 200 people and it felt like nothing!” 

My deep investigative journalism tells me that winners are presented with one of those enormous cardboard cheques, which frankly this author believes needs to be front-and-center of the PFC value proposition.


Philanthropy for Innovation 

“As Peter Farrell himself would say, it's not innovation until someone cuts you a cheque. Bringing a new idea into practice is hard, so providing entrepreneurs with the energy, attention and money they need to go on and do great things is only possible with early believers like Peter Farrell.”- David 

Philanthropy has a huge role in entrepreneurship, David says “We were able to demonstrate through the PFC that a relatively modest amount of money can unlock a significant impact on innovation” “All net new jobs are created in australia from businesses <5 years old - we want to support new companies to take on the challenge- and to highlight the role of philanthropy has in doing so.”

The dates for the PFC are not announced yet (keep an eye on this page) - but generally be prepared from May onwards. 

Get in touch with Jesse:

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