Transforming students into entrepreneurs

Thanks to the latest Viclink Futures Programme – a summer ‘boot camp’ where graduates learn how to develop, build and bring a product to market – more than 80 per cent of the teams have now formed their own companies, and are actively pursuing careers as entrepreneurs.


The idea for a boot camp was first conceived three years ago by Geoff Todd, Viclink’s Managing Director. A passionate entrepreneur himself, Geoff wanted to see more opportunities for Victoria’s students to develop the skills and commercial instincts necessary to create viable technologies or start-up companies. “By creating their own careers, our students won’t have to move to find work,” explains Geoff. “And by staying here, they can add value – not just to Wellington’s economy, but to the country as a whole, as so many of their ideas have global market potential.”


The first boot camp in 2011/12 involved taking ten gaming graduates from the School of Design and mentoring them through the process of developing their games into commercial products; the second camp (2012/13) evolved to include students from other disciplines such as marketing and business. For the most recent event (2013/14), Viclink funded 35 students to attend, and split the Futures Programme into the Digital Futures boot camp (focused on games, apps and other digital concepts), and the Product Futures boot camp (centred around industrial design).


Students were formed into teams and assigned projects to work on: the four Digital Futures teams worked on projects for business customers (e.g. an online marketer, a government department, and a health and wellbeing company), while the two Product Futures teams worked on Victoria University-led projects. All teams were asked to come up with three concepts based around their clients’ needs, pitch them to those clients, and subsequently narrow their focus down to one idea. The second half of the course involved creating a working prototype which they re-pitched to clients and potential investors at their end-of-course presentation earlier this year.


“The outcomes from this programme have been the best yet,” says Viclink’s Abby Buchanan, who will take on the role of Programme Manager for the 2014/15 boot camps. “Not only have five out of the six teams now formed companies, but one of them (Cogo Digital Ltd) has been accepted into Creative HQ’s Lightning Lab – an intensive, three-month business accelerator programme for digital technology start-ups. It’s a huge achievement, as there are literally hundreds of applications for very few places on the programme.”


Abby says that industry support has always played a big role in the success of the boot camps: “It’s the only course of its kind that gives real life, industry-led projects for students to build a business around – so we couldn’t do it without their passion for, and commitment to, fostering entrepreneurship in Wellington.” She says that support can take many forms, citing Chapman Tripp as an example:  “Not only did they donate the time and resource to putting on two really informative workshops for our students, on the key legal issues involved in building a start-up, but they have also been there throughout, offering support and guidance when needed. To have the backing of one of New Zealand’s leading law firms was priceless, and just so appreciated.”


With planning for 2014/15 already underway, Viclink is committed to expanding the Viclink Futures Programme by broadening industry involvement and continuing to develop its partnership with Creative HQ (who deliver key components of the programme). For further information on any aspect of the Viclink Futures Programme, please contact Abby Buchanan in the first instance by emailingabby.buchanan@viclink.co.nz


Pictured: Some of the Product Futures team - Connor Broad, Ryan Geels, Jordan Shand, Martin Chan, Lukas Stoecklein, Sarah Hadfield.