$1m on the table for budding entrepreneurs under 30


5 Jul, 2021 05:30 AM

Icehouse Ventures’ First Cut Startup Challenge team. From left: Mason Bleakley, Lauren Fong, Steph Benseman and Jack McQuire. Photo / Supplied

Have you got a good idea for a business, but no funding?

A pitch competition opens today aimed at budding entrepreneurs under 30.

The First Cut Startup Challenge, backed by Icehouse Ventures’ $5 million First Cut fund, is looking for at least 10 finalists, who will appear at its Icehouse Ventures Showcase Event at Spark Arena on August 26.

Each will be in the running to receive backing of up to $1m, says recent Icehouse recruit Steph Benseman – one of four young entrepreneurs who are running First Cut. Other funds under the Icehouse umbrella can also chip in funds if more than $5m needs to be doled out. Finalists also get coaching and mentorship.

Benseman says the competition wants to make the pitching process as easy and accessible as possible. The first step is just visiting the First Cut website to describe your idea. You’ll then be sent a template for creating an investment pitch and be provided other support.

It’s the competition’s fifth year, but the first time that it’s had an accompanying speaker series, which will hit several universities over the next month, starting with AUT’s South Campus on July 19.

Speakers include two young entrepreneurs who have recently gained backing from Rocket Lab’s Peter Beck: Astrix Astronautics founder Fia Jones and HeartLab founder Will Hewitt, plus Dawn Aerospace CTO James Powell and Pyper Vision’s Emily Blythe – who is using drones in a bid to combat the multi-billion fog problem at airports. Blythe scored $700,000 to develop her idea after presenting at the challenge in 2018.

The startup speaker series is free, and open to anyone, not just students. Benseman says it’s also an opportunity to pitch the First Cut team directly, or hit them up for advice.

While designed as a talent-spotting (and of course promotional) exercise for Icehouse fund managers, First Cut has also provided a springboard for past winners to get wide support. One – Halter founder Craig Piggott – has just closed a $32m Series B round for his smart cow startup.

Kinder, gentler, younger capitalism

Benseman quotes a Nielsen study which reported that 54 per cent of people born after 1997 want to own their own company and a Gallup student poll shows that around 40 per cent say they plan to start a business and/or invent something that will change the world.

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First Cut Challenge from Mason Bleakley on Vimeo.

“Growing numbers of young people see entrepreneurship as an exciting and viable career path,” says Benseman, who founded her first company at 17 and spent her early career supporting young entrepreneurs through the school-focused Young Enterprise programme.

“Today’s youth want to lead a life with purpose that tackles some of our most pressing social and climate issues. They see starting a company as the best way to do this, and believe it is the pathway to a more sustainable and prosperous lifestyle.”