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Venture Up: Inside NZ’s one-of-a-kind youth accelerator programme

The mini youth accelerator is a one-of-a-kind programme in New Zealand, allowing high school graduates a chance to hone their entrepreneurial skills during the summer break, and presenting 16-21 year olds with an alternative career path to the more traditional university or trades routes. The programme is powered by Wellington’s startup base Creative HQ, and is supported by the Ministry of Youth Development.

The Venture Up 2015 intake produced a set of teams working on concepts that ranged from storage solutions for quad bikes to online memorial tools, one of which officially launched their start-up at the end of last year.

Meet Filtr, an online matchmaking platform connecting students and organisations for work experience. The team is comprised of Stacey Fairclough, Heidi Strajnar and Steph Benseman, who met and developed the business during the inaugural Venture Up programme.

Stacey Fairclough is a 19-year-old, Marketing & Information Systems student at Auckland University. Steph Benseman, also 19, is studying Commerce at Victoria University and working part time for the Young Enterprise Trust.

We sat down with Fairclough and Benseman to ask them some questions about their time at Venture Up and how Filtr has developed into what it is today.

Idealog: How did you get involved in Venture Up?

Fairclough: I heard about it through a friend that I did Young Enterprise with.

Benseman: I was told by a manager at Young Enterprise Trust.

How did you form a team to create Filtr?

Fairclough: We were originally in two different teams but pretty quickly realized it was better to join forces. We all liked the same idea, but also shared very similar personalities and knew that we wanted to work together.

Can you explain what Filtr is for someone who has never heard of it?

Fairclough: Filtr is a platform that changes the recruitment process; we’re connecting students and graduates with businesses. We want to make it a really simple process with a real personality base. And ultimately we want to encourage strong relationships between businesses and the student demographic.

Benseman: In a nutshell we connect students with businesses for jobs relevant to their degrees.

What’s next for Filtr?

Benseman: We are working on finding jobs for our students who have signed up. This means connecting with a lot of businesses.

How did you find the Venture Up experience?

Benseman: It was the coolest six weeks ever – the mentors that came were amazing along with all the other kinds of people we got to meet through the programme. And longer term it has meant being able to use Creative HQ as a continued resource, that connection is huge.

Fairclough: All the people I met really inspired me, I knew I wanted to be in business but I didn’t know exactly what, they definitely showed me that starting a company is a real possibility.

What has been the most helpful thing you have learnt or thing that has happened in terms of being supported by Venture Up or the NZ startup ecosystem in general? 

Benseman: There’s a huge boost in being invited into the start up community. No one really knows about it until you are a part of it. As soon as you are on the inside, you realise how big and well connected it really is.

Fairclough: I didn’t realize how helpful these busy, important people would be. I am constantly told that if I need anything I can come to different people for help.

What have been your biggest challenges with Filtr?

Fairclough: Being in different regions and balancing building the business with other commitments like university and part time work.

How have you dealt with the time and financial costs of starting a business?

Benseman: We’ve really tried to bootstrap it. We do everything ourselves so that we don’t have to pay anyone. The most expensive part so far is coming to visit one another. We have to realise we are at uni and that has to be our priority.

How did you stay motivated in the time between Venture Up finishing in early 2015 and launching your business in December?

Fairclough: We motivate each other. There’s always someone from our team who is really amped and that brings the rest of us up.

Benseman: Going to talk to someone really helps, bringing in fresh ideas and saying positive things about your product is a real boost. We do all believe in the idea and have a passion for it so that makes it easier.

Being in different cites, how do you work together?

Benseman: We use Skype and Facebook a lot! When we do catch up we go to Auckland and use The Grid’s space, or if we are in Wellington we use Creative HQ.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about starting a business, especially at a young age?

Fairclough: Do Venture Up! You’ll be amazed at how much you can achieve in 6 weeks, make some cool friends from across the country and gain an amazing experience that might just lead to a totally new career path.

Last words?

Benseman: Our advisory board Oliviah Theyers-Collins from Creative HQ, Dave Allison from ?kina & Angel HQ, Adrian Falvey from Touchtech have been such a big help. Everyone we met through Venture Up who’s associated with Creative HQ has been huge for us this year.

Venture Up is currently hustling to secure the last of the funding it needs for this year’s programme. You can get behind the next gen of young entrepreneurs by showing your support here.

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