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3 Trends from Sydney’s Challenge Cup: The Uber Effect, Hardware Medical Solutions and More

As in every city, the ideas that founders pitched at Challenge Cup Sydney varied—wildly. From a pen that simplifies tutoring in advanced subjects to a platform for helping people maintain prescription diets, the tech-focused pitches stood in distinct contrast to the locomotive-era atrium in which they were delivered.

Challenge Cup’s first Australian competition was hosted at the Australian Technology Park, a heritage-listed site that previously was home to Australia’s largest industrial complex. Tuesday’s competition featured 19 startups, all vying for one of four slots to the Challenge Cup finals next May. Among the competitors, though, three major trends stood out as Sydney’s distinguishing factors.

Hardware Inventions in the Medical Space

Many of the U.S.-based competitors thus far have pitched software-as-a-service solutions to the problems that big health care systems face. Yet, the majority of the Australian health competitors had a bit more of an inventive side: They were, quite literally, inventing new hardware for both internal and external use.

On the external side, MDXD created an at-home exercise unit for people recovering from serious diseases. This device operates wirelessly and includes wireless sensors that transmit data about time and resistance back to a doctor, who can monitor a patient’s adherence to a regimen. In theory, a hospital or care provider could set up a server to manage a hundred or more devices, said founder Vadim Dedov.

Finalist Breathe Well also is selling to hospitals, but to oncology wards in particular. That’s because this startup built an interactive, real-time device to help cancer patients stabilize their breathing and receive more accurate treatment via radiation. Breathe Well has been involved in treatment for 77 patients, and it’s already being used in Australian and U.S. hospitals—with two more clinical trials underway and a U.S. patent already secured.

One other startup, Trimph, is working on a much smaller innovation for internal uses: an injectable gel for dental implants. Trimph developed a Food and Drug Administration-approved biomaterial that can  replace unnecessarily invasive dental and orthopedic surgery. Recent studies on Trimph Gel’s effectiveness showed that the gel increases the success rate and recovery time. In one study, it reduced healing time from 6 months to 3 weeks.

Yet, all these startups faced the same problem: They need regulatory approval. Even though they’re tackling major pain points—and hospital customers are interested—success or failure depends on these companies’ ability to achieve approval from the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration or the FDA.

Creating Solutions for Unemployment and Under-Education

As with many countries, Australia suffers from a shortage of graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. In Tuesday’s competition, a number of startups presented solutions to help overcome that deficit.

According to Startup Apprentice, 1 in 7 people under age 25 in the U.S., U.K. and Australia are unemployed or struggle to find jobs. That’s why this company’s founders created a curriculum to bridge the skills gap and teach students a Lean Startup approach to business. Similarly, Pallas Advanced Learning Systems helps students learn with an online platform that lets them learn by doing—virtually. These learner-centric programs can reduce obstacles in STEM subjects by 30 to 100 percent, said founder Michael Jacobson.

But what about teachers? That’s where vClass comes in. Created by a teacher who wanted to teach high-level subjects with complex notations—including advanced mathematics and languages like Chinese—but didn’t have a way to tutor online. vClass created a wireless pen that lets tutors and students communicate directly using their own paper. It captures natural handwriting from any surface and connects to a PC or laptop wirelessly.

Emphasis on Connecting People

Call it the “Uber” effect—many of Sydney’s startups focused on building platforms to connect people by acting as the middleman. The trend spanned across industries, with more than one-third of all competitors offering this type of service.

In education, WeTeachMe pitched its plan to become the “LivingSocial for learning,” connecting class providers—such as a cooking school—with customers, like a novice cook. WeTeachMe boasts traction: It has sold $4 million of classes since it launched, and it plans to offer 20,000 classes within the next 12 months.

For people who already have skills, there’s education winner Milaana. According to founder Hollie Gordon, youth represent 17 percent of the global population, but account for 40 percent of unemployment. To solve that problem, Milaana connects skilled workers—mainly university students—with local organizations for volunteer and internship opportunities.  These connections serve both the students (through job preparedness skills) and the organizations (through skilled, volunteer labor), said CEO Jessica May. Enabled Employment offers a similar service for disabled workers. Their platform matches skilled, disabled job candidates with virtual, telework employment opportunities—it already has 700 employees signed up and 45 companies looking to hire.

In health, KetoCloud pitched a solution for epileptic patients. According to founder J.J. van der Wiel, one of the best treatments for epilepsy is a ketogenic diet; the problem is that it’s very hard to follow when it’s prescribed. KetoCloud connects epileptic patients and doctors to personalize their diets and improve adherence.

Finally, in the cities category, Snapknock offered a solution to browsing Craigslist, connecting sellers and buyers for items they’re actually likely to buy. They built a platform, which incorporates social-media elements, so people know who they’re dealing with and feel comfortable that they won’t be scammed.

To see a full list of which startups won their categories and will go on to compete at the Challenge Festival in May, read the coverage of the winners.

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Melissa Steffan

Melissa is the former assistant editor for 1776, where she worked on the media team to create compelling, idea-driven content and reporting. A Seattle native, she graduated from Seattle Pacific…