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Melbourne International Student Conference 2016: Young Upstarts Business Pitch Competition

STUDENT delegates on day two of the Melbourne International Student Conference were asked to think of meaningful solutions to improve social resilience among young people at the conference’s Young Upstarts Business Pitch Competition. Clara Ng has more. 

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Led by industry faciliators, groups of students were tasked with coming up with a business proposal. | Photo: Trinh Le

If the Melbourne International Student Conference as a whole was meant to empower students and get them thinking about where they fit within the workplace of the future, day two of the conference got them to think about how they can impart their knowledge and apply their skills in a way that would support prospective international students.

Continuing the theme of the conference was the Young Upstarts Business Pitch Competition, which encouraged the student delegates of the conference to devise creative solutions to problems faced by young people – specifically, new ways to improve social resilience among 12 – 25 year-olds living and studying in Melbourne.

Led by an industry facilitator to help guide students through the design process, delegates began with a series of interviews to determine a specific concern, which was promptly re-framed as a concrete problem statement. Delegates then started the ‘ideating’ process, coming up with solutions that were repeatedly tested and expanded on.

Social disconnect resonates across the board

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Students were asked to think up meaningful solutions to improve social resiliency for young people. | Photo: Trinh Le

Social disconnection proved a prominent concern amongst all groups – teams generally chose to tackle the problem of social isolation and loneliness, especially among university students.

Many came up with new ideas for apps that involved generating and forming social networks in novel, innovative ways. One group devised a plan for a social media app that would help users better integrate themselves into their workplace culture. Among its features would be a ‘helpline’ providing useful, relevant information at the press of a button. This would help lessen any ‘cultural awkwardness’ – a handy tool for international students who might lack the cultural know-how to navigate an unfamiliar environment.

Another team suggested a Tindr-esque app that facilitates convenient social connections among like-minded people in the vicinity – one would never have to eat lunch alone again.

Similarly, several other teams proposed apps dedicated to forming networks of specific interest groups – this would allow people to bond over their favourite sports, dishes or TV shows. A different solution was to implement a cultural diversity program for Year 10 students, so as to better acquaint them with the increasingly multicultural university and workplace environment.

The winning business pitch

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Each team then had the opportunity to pitch their final design, after which the winner of the Business Pitch Competition was announced.

The student team behind The Doughnut Effect, an app designed for people suffering from mental health issues, as well as family and friends who wish to help, was eventually decided as the winners of the competition. The group’s idea was to use the app to integrate numerous mental health resources into a cohesive, easily navigable interface.

The app would also include avenues for users to seek healthy role models with success stories as “mental health champions”, profiles of student ambassadors and other useful contact details from organisations such as BeyondBlue and MIND Australia, in case of emergency. As the group explained, “If you feel trapped, The Doughnut Effect can help you stop the vicious cycle”.

When asked why they decided on focusing on mental health, student Zaheer Qazi said they “all had similar problems when [they] came to Australia.”

Another member of the team, Yoginna Deva, also expanded by saying: “We didn’t feel it was a burden to work on [this idea] because we had a vested interest in these issues.”

Furthermore, the competition also highlighted the difficulty of articulating such social problems which often go unnoticed.

“It tells us how much international student representation is important,” student Divyaa Jayakumar said.

“We need international students like ourselves who can get out there and voice their opinions.”

“People matter – it’s not what you know, but who you know”

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Karen Poh addresses student delegates in the Young Upstarts BUsiness Pitch Competition. | Photo: Trinh Le

Closing out the conference on a hopeful note, Karen Poh, founder of Meld, reminded students that “people matter”.

“It’s not what you know, but who you know,” she told students.

And while the discussions and pitches that emerged from this competition certainly highlighted the challenges facing young international students and graduates in Melbourne, they also encouraged students to understand the importance of teamwork, creativity and connection.

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Meld Magazine was incorporated as an independent not-for-profit media outlet in September 2008 to reach out to international students in Melbourne, and provide students the opportunity to gain real work experience.

Many international students live in or around the city because of the proximity to their colleges and universities, and that was where we decided to focus our efforts first. Many of us live, work and study locally too. Our editorial team is made of both local and international students, and it has worked to our advantage in providing local content in every sense of the word.

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