The next generation of Australian business leaders are creating competitive companies that bridge market gaps and exceed consumer demands. Young entrepreneurs were recognised for their achievements and business contributions at the Young Hero Awards; an awards program dedicated to celebrating business leaders under thirty-five years old, presented by Commonwealth Bank. SBC’s editor, Alyssa Herr, and one of the Young Hero Awards judges sat down with each award winner to discover how these young entrepreneurs are shaping the future of Australia’s business landscape.
Dr Sam Donegan, Co-Founder & CTO, Ally Assist
Company HQ: Melbourne & remote
Year company was founded: 2018
Award: Business Innovation Award
Describe your business in one sentence: We serve people living with a disability and we make finding and managing the best therapy team simple and human through our easy-to-use online platform and our caring and compassionate team.
What does winning this award mean to you: Recognition. It’s great that those looking can see the value in our product and service.
Best advice you were given for successfully running a business:
The best thing I ever learned about founding a startup was that unlike a corporate job, where you may be able to charm somebody into giving you what you want, in the beginning, startups are very black and white. You either create something that people want, or you don’t. There isn’t a butt you can kiss to help you get to the next stage.
Biggest misconceptions about being a young entrepreneur:
The biggest misconception about starting a company when you’re young is that it’s too risky. That’s not to say it isn’t risky. It’s so risky; probably one of the riskiest things you could ever do. But for me, I believe that the biggest risk you can ever take while you’re young is to take no risk. I can’t speak for all young people, but when I started this company, I had very few responsibilities or people relying on me to get it right. This allowed me to put in the long hours and take the risks knowing that if it didn’t work out, I wouldn’t be negatively affecting anybody except myself. I have more people in my life now and am thinking of starting a family, which really impacts the decisions I’m making.
How could the government better support young entrepreneurs:
Industry in Australia is almost non-existent compared with other countries. Australia’s economy is mostly tied to our natural resources. Yet we have brilliant minded people hungry to sink their teeth into some big problems. What’s happening now, however, is that any time an Australian startup has a modicum of success, they need to approach US investors and end up moving their operations overseas. Australia needs to incentivise investors to put more money into Australian startups so that we can keep our industry here and benefit the nation.
What are important startup milestones that are often overlooked?
The mistake I see is new founders jumping on an opportunity that looks like it could have potential, without considering whether solving that problem will bring meaning. It can be intoxicating when your idea for ‘Tinder for dogs’ starts taking off. Investors jump in when they see your hockey stick growth and you start expanding your team. But what a lot of people don’t see are the years following where growth is stagnant, experiments are not yielding results and team morale dwindles. Startups rarely get killed, they usually die from suicide. From the founders growing tired of the struggle and giving up. This is where I believe startups are most vulnerable. During the long periods of stagnation before a breakthrough (or a bust).
It’s easy to get caught up in the next big idea or the newest technology. But I think what gets overlooked at the beginning is founders asking themselves; ‘Would a solution to this problem bring meaning?’ For our startup, going through these difficult periods, when I’m feeling like giving up, it’s usually some feedback from one of our users that brings me back to life. As a founder, dealing with problems day in and day out, it’s easy to become disconnected from the people you’re serving. But if you have a company that delivers meaningful change, you can always stop for a second to talk to your users and remind yourself why it’s important to continue.
The Young Hero Awards was hosted at Marvel Stadium in Melbourne on May 17 and presented by Commonwealth Bank and sponsored by Optus, Coinspot, Blackmagic Design and Small Business Connections media.