Melbourne Business School News Flexie becomes first Aussie team to make Hult Prize final

Flexie becomes first Aussie team to make Hult Prize final

A team of Melbourne Business School students will be among six finalists competing for a US$1 million prize in New York in September.

Hult Prize champagne

The team behind the remote-talent platform flexie emerged as one of six finalists that will pitch for the prestigious Hult Prize on 19-21 September, making them the first Australian group to reach the award's global finals.

Part-Time MBA students Andrew Dunstan (pictured, far right), Emily Schilg (far left) and Ishari Piyumsiri (centre right) and Full-Time MBA student Candice Colman (centre left) were selected after going against a total of 28 start-ups during the competition’s Global Accelerator stage over July and August.

The intense, six-week program in Boston, Massachusetts, saw student entrepreneurs undergo mentorship by Hult Prize staff and experts to refine their ideas. The 28 start-ups were selected from an initial pool of almost 40,000 applicants globally.

“Through workshops and feedback sessions, the accelerator helped us define and clarify our business model,” said flexie Chief Executive Andrew Dunstan. “It has pushed us to validate our fundamental assumptions and better understand the people we seek to represent.”

Andrew said the experience showed him the value of confidence and leadership in businesses no matter the situation. “It’s also taught me to always question and validate, as well as to continuously improve how you communicate ideas,” he added.

For flexie Chief Financial Officer Ishari, the past few months since being invited to join the team “still feels like a dream”.

“Initially I thought that getting into the regional level was the goal for us, but then winning from there — and then from the Boston Accelerator round out of 28 amazing groups — has been such an awesome experience,” she said.

“I have also learnt heaps about the start-up process and have really grown in confidence around flexie as a real start-up.”

Hult Prize finalists

Pivot to a fun, dynamic image

In particular, the team realised the need to pivot into a more dynamic company branding geared for a modern audience — thanks to advice from marketing experts whom the Hult Foundation made available to them as part of the accelerator program.

“We came into the accelerator with a sort of corporate brand image,” said Chief Operating Officer Candice. “And when we pitched that the first week, we realised quite quickly that was not going to fly.”

As a result, the team pivoted their branding to be “a little more dynamic and fun and reflective of the fact that what we’re doing is actually social impact”.

Candice said: “The product itself didn't change. We knew from the beginning what the problem we wanted to solve was and we came up with a product that we are quite confident can solve it. But the brand itself was completely unrecognisable by the end of the accelerator.”

'So much talent in this room'

Previously known as flexAbility before the Global Accelerator, flexie is a platform that aims to hire professionals with disability through remote work and offer their services to businesses. Along with flexie, the other start-ups in the final six are:

  • Breer, a Hong Kong-based start-up that aims to create liquid social impact using recycled bread beers;
  • Eco-Bana, a Kenya-based group that seeks to solve period poverty through banana fibres;
  • Openversum, a Zurich-based team that aims to purify water and create jobs across Latin America;
  • Savvy Engineers, which aims to transform plastic waste into 3D printing filament while creating jobs in the process in Pakistan; and
  • Cooseii, which designs co-created artwork with disadvantaged communities in Taiwan.

Commending her team’s competitors, Candice said she is thankful for the privilege of working with all of them and getting to know them both professionally and personally.

“There is so much talent in this room. I can tell you they are all a bunch of really gifted people who I know will go really, really far, so we definitely need to be bringing our A-game to New York!” she said.

The Hult Prize, informally known as “the Nobel Prize for students”, is a global competition in which thousands of students pitch business ideas that can help solve pressing social or environmental issues. It is held in partnership with the United Nations Office for Partnerships and the Clinton Global Initiative foundation started by former US President Bill Clinton.

This year's finals will be held at the next Clinton Global Initiative meeting from 19 to 21 September, which will convene in New York City alongside the United Nations General Assembly. President Clinton will present the award and deliver a keynote speech.

“Representing Australia and Melbourne Business School in the Hult Prize Global Final is truly a career-defining moment,” Andrew said. “As daunting as it is to pitch in a global platform, it is equally exciting. I can’t wait to show the world what people with disability can achieve.

The team behind flexie attended the Hult Prize Regional Summit with generous support from the Helen Macpherson Smith Trust.

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