When you're a 17-year-old with a passion to change the world, it's not just about choosing the right degree at the best university, it's about the possibilities offered beyond the lecture hall.
At the University of Sydney, the Sydney Accelerator Network (SAN:IT) gives enterprising students with dreams of Silicon Valley the exposure to innovation in the technology space. Teaming students with academics and industry practitioners, SAN:IT promotes an entrepreneurial culture that encourages and supports startup business activities.
In its wake is a stream of successful businesses that each started as an innovative solution to a seemingly impossible challenge developed by Sydney engineering and computing students.
Dr Peter Liddicoat, former materials engineering PhD student, is mapping the world one atom at a time. Founder and Managing Director of startup technology company ATOMNAUT, Dr Liddicoat has now taken his revolutionary Atom Microscope to Silicon Valley. As the first microscope to image every atom within materials, Dr Liddicoat's innovation utilises the next generation of technology: picotechnology (a pico is 1000 times smaller than nano!). It's the world's highest resolution 3D microscope, the data from which will enable fast and powerful computational design and open the way for more efficient solar panels, stronger building materials and faster planes.
"One of the biggest battles for a startup is getting real data on what pathways exist to bring a new technology to the world and make an impact", says Dr Liddicoat. "SAN:IT was instrumental in providing a platform from which I could discover and map out opportunities, and then execute them."
Developed with the support of SAN:IT, Grok Learning is teaching the world to solve problems with code. This scalable, interactive intelligent platform supports classroom teaching and self-directed learning of computer programming and related technologies from mid-primary to tertiary students.
"For me, the main drawcard of startups truly is making a difference. It's knowing that if you didn't do this – didn't create this opportunity – it wouldn't exist. The SAN:IT program is a great way to get started, with support, mentoring and a fantastic peer group to keep you motivated!", says Grok Learning co-founder Dr Nicky Ringland.
With some 55,000 current users, Grok Learning runs courses and competitions to get students (and adults) excited about computational thinking and what it can help them achieve – anything from curing cancer and space exploration to AI-assisted language technology. In the classroom, it is also making a tangible impact for teachers.
"We had nearly two million code submissions last year. That's two million programs that we've given student feedback on. At a rough estimate of five minutes to give each student precise, targeted feedback on a solution, that's 178 years of teacher time we saved in 2016."
SAN:IT business founder and 23-year-old PhD student, Farid Mirmohseni has created an 'Uber for Carwashing'. WipeHero's combination of proprietary waterless technology and online logistics platform allows them to clean cars, buses, trains, planes and more without a drop of water and on scale.
"Our technology saves over 200 litres of water wasted with every car washed", Farid says. "We have saved over one million litres of water. It's about saving the environment by protecting our natural resources and creating a sustainable business."
"The idea that you might have in your mind or on some napkin could potentially affect millions of people once it becomes a reality. Data shows there's never been a better time to start a business and, with the help of the SAN:IT program, you can immerse yourself in a world of knowledge, advice and experience to make it happen."
First year engineering and IT students, starting their university journey, stressed the importance of making connections in the first few weeks to help smooth the transition from high school to university.