Digital innovators scoop $300,000 in just 180 seconds

Eleven emerging digital and social influencers stepped into the spotlight yesterday at the Optus Future Makers event to pitch their innovative ideas to a panel of experts. The innovators had just 180 seconds each to secure their share of the $300,000 funding pot and seven walked away with enough financial backing to bring their bold ideas to life.

The inaugural Optus Future Makers program, launched earlier this year, is designed to foster digital innovation that has the ability to change the social landscape. Prominent names across technology, innovation and social change – including Global Social Entrepreneur, Geoff Gourley, and Group Founder of Thankyou, Daniel Flynn – joined forces to form the experienced judging panel.

After a tense pitching process in front of an audience at the Optus Campus in Sydney, just seven of the 11 finalists were crowned this year’s Future Makers, and awarded $50,000 grants.

The Future Makers Winners were:

  • Colin Jowell, Parramatta, Sydney – ‘Guide Dots’ enables young people with vision impairment to independently discover the world around them and to engage with their social environment just like their sighted friends and peers.
  • Penny Harnett, Newcastle, NSW – ‘iWareness’ app will provide information to young people of both genders to help them recognise, respond to and change attitudes towards domestic violence.
  • Marita Cheng, Richmond, Melbourne – ‘Teleport’ an affordable and beautiful telepresence robot which allows young people with a spinal cord injury or debilitating disease to attend school or participate in the workforce by working remotely.
  • Marina Paronetto, Middle Park, Melbourne – ‘Biz’ is a peer­to­peer mobile app designed to give teenage girls of all backgrounds an equal opportunity to learn about business and enhance their confidence, skill set and employability.
  • Dr Rowan Tulloch, Rozelle, Sydney – ‘The Game Change’ software helps university and school teachers gamify their classrooms to better engage and motivate students. It also assists students who are marginalised by traditional teaching practices.

Following a unanimous decision by the judging panel, two finalists who pitched separately

were offered $50,000 funding to share if they agreed to collaborate and bring their ideas to

life as a single innovation:

  • Brian Collyer, Milton, Brisbane – The ‘Wellbeing Coach’ app/web portal gives young people’s access to information and resources and uses technology to enhance communication in the counsellor­client relationship.
  • Rhianon Vichta, Fortitude Valley, Brisbane – ‘New Futures for Young People’ is an accessible and integrated online platform that promotes and measures beneficial wellbeing outcomes for vulnerable young people.

Paul O’Sullivan, Future Makers Judge and Optus Chairman, said, “this program is about

helping Australia’s innovators to make a positive social impact through the use of technology.

We know how important technology is in people’s daily lives, and with Future Makers we are

specifically targeting projects that will benefit marginalised and vulnerable youth.”

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