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Students visiting Blueprint Lab
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Engineering students conquering the start-up world

25 August 2021

Turning an idea into a successful business

Engineering alumni are combining their innovative ideas with the experience gained during their degree to create successful start-ups.

Engineering students and graduates can choose from an endless list of career pathways, with roles available in industries ranging from space to healthcare depending on their studies. These opportunities are becoming even more broad reaching as industries adapt to technological innovation and globalisation. 

As the University of Sydney focuses on upskilling students with the digital skills, multidisciplinary knowledge and industry knowledge desired by future employers, another path is also emerging: the start-up business.

A growing number of engineering alumni are using the industry connections and knowledge gained from their degrees to turn their ideas into businesses, two of which include Blueprint Lab and Solushin. 

Advanced robotic solutions for harsh environments

Paul Phillips is a mechatronics engineering alumnus who is now Chief Executive Officer of Blueprint Lab, a company committed to developing the next generation of subsea robotics.

During his time at university he completed an internship for Seatools in Western Australia, introducing him to subsea manipulator technology: robotic devices used for underwater intervention operations.

A few years after graduating and having spent some time working as a mechatronics engineer in the aerospace industry, Paul decided to pursue the subsea manipulator idea further. He started Blueprint Lab alongside Mark Sproule, a University of Sydney biomedical engineering alumnus, in late 2016. 

The Reach Bravo

The Reach Bravo, developed by Blueprint Lab

They started out with the goal of creating the smallest all-electric underwater robotic arms in the world.

This was achieved in 2018, and Blueprint Lab has grown rapidly from a new hardware robotics startup to a reputable robotics company that has sold upwards of 200 manipulators across more than 11 countries. 

“We began with simple dual function grabbers and actuators, and we now offer two complete systems of robotic manipulators with up to seven functions for different sized vehicles”, said Paul.

“The primary industry has been subsea, but now we are starting to see product adoption in other areas such as nuclear and land explosive ordnance disposal in the defence industry.

The range of fields covered in an engineering degree came in use when it was time to launch Blueprint Labs.

“Studying the Bachelor of Engineering (Mechatronics) provided a foundation level knowledge to many different engineering disciplines.

“Without this knowledge it wouldn’t have been possible to develop such a complex product on such a shoestring budget.”

Tackling overuse injuries in runners

Solushin founders Ben Lindsay, Rosa Miller and Will McNamara sitting on steps wearing Solushin device

Solushin founders Ben Lindsay, Rosa Miller and Will McNamara

Solushin was created when three university students came together to address the overuse injuries that had challenged them in their sporting careers.

Ben Lindsay, co-creator of Solushin, completed his biomedical and mechanical engineering degree at the University of Sydney in 2017. Before coming to Sydney he had spent time in Western Australia studying oil and gas off shore civil engineering, and in Canberra after receiving a scholarship with the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS).

The move to Sydney allowed him to continue his successful swimming career as a part of the Elite Athlete Program, and to connect with Solushin co-founders Will McNamara and Rosa Miller.

“I had briefly met runner Will McNamara at AIS, and had the opportunity to reconnect with him in Sydney as he was studying at the University of New South Wales”, said Ben.

“I was studying biomedical engineering and he was studying medicine, and he’d also met a gymnast named Rosa Miller from the University of Technology Sydney who was studying industrial design.”

From Will’s dorm the students identified shin splints as the injury they wanted to address, as all three co-founders had suffered from them through their training.  

Now Solushin, the device that combines soft-tissue therapy with bone-remodelling treatments to treat shin splints, is favoured by athletes and sports doctors across Australia, and is close to distribution in the UK and US markets.

Also the Program Manager of award-winning University of Sydney start-up program Incubate, Ben recommends students interested in an entrepreneurial career make the most of the opportunities available to them.

“My recommendations for graduates would be to volunteer for all the presentations they can”, he said.

“Every time you get the opportunity, try to get up in front of people to present, because makes sure you can pitch and sell what you do.

“Students have things like INCUBATE, the Genesis program, and opportunities for industry placements within their units of study – there’s things I never knew existed while I was at university!”


Programs to offer support to start-ups created by University of Sydney students, staff and alumni include: