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This programme helps international students launch startups in Australia

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Programme manager Isabelle Lee plans to bridge the employability gap international students face abroad. Source: Isabelle Lee

FFWD stands for “Fast Forward”, the name of a hub that helps international students in Australia fast forward their ideas into a startup. This six-week programme, funded by the New South Wales (NSW) government through Study NSW and developed by Haymarket HQ, gives students access to mentors, investors and practical experience. 

Below we talk to programme manager Isabelle Lee on where this stemmed from and how it will help international and local students alike in kickstarting their careers:

How did FFWD come about? Is there a story behind it?

According to the 2018 Startup Muster report, 35% of startups have foreign founders of which many arrived in Australia as students. The majority of student entrepreneurs often require additional support in the form of business mentors and networks to increase their chances of success — this is especially the case for international students. 

In particular, such students from private higher education institutions in NSW who do not have access to startup accelerator programmes. Consequently, they have no support to pursue their entrepreneurial endeavours — because of this, we see a lot of students abandon their pursuits and move back to their country of origin. This is not only a loss to the NSW economy but also contributes to a brain drain in important fields such as AI and blockchain from Australia to surrounding countries. 

Here, FFWD comes in, by developing a platform for both local and international students from all backgrounds to meet, mingle, learn from each other and build up practical skills to start a business. 

How does FFWD help international students in Australia?

FFWD is a startup hub with a global focus and a diverse community. Haymarket HQ understands the growing number of Australian startups have at least one international co-founder or team member. 

These students coming abroad to Australia have ambitions to succeed in the entrepreneurial industry, but find it hard to join the ecosystem. Furthermore, finding the right support for their startup goals in a foreign country is a challenge in itself. To add to that, many international students from vocational colleges don’t have access to entrepreneurial courses. 

Here, FFWD was created to bridge this particular gap and drive more cross-cultural innovation to Australia’s startup ecosystem. It’s essentially a way for students to create something of their own and stay motivated. They can also be part of a community (virtual) so they can connect with peers even during lockdowns. 

As such, several of the programme’s features — digital workshops and community — were implemented to make it accessible to international students from NSW institutions across urban and regional NSW. Whether in Australia or abroad, they can facilitate social interaction through digital means. 

Walk us through the benefits students get from this programme.

Students who graduate from FFWD will walk away with a practical methodology to validate any startup ideas along with the skills, network and resources to launch them. They also gain access to a large community of like-minded entrepreneurs from all over NSW, not to mention the mentors from various industries and organisations. 

More importantly, the course aims to connect students with pathway programmes such as VC-backed accelerator programmes upon their graduation. The programme culminates in a pitch where a selected number of potential teams are invited to present their ideas to a panel of judges and live audience. The audience includes investors, industry professionals and the wider startup community. 

What is the application process like?

The programme is accessible to anyone who is a student of any NSW education institution, whether tertiary, vocational or other, regardless of where they are located in the world. The fully virtual aspect of this was designed so students could access and complete it anywhere and anytime. This year, we’ve opened up to include alumni and domestic students. 

The application process is simple, students only need to complete the registration form. This form asks a few preliminary questions: their idea, their inspiration behind it and who their ideal customer is.

The students are also not required to stick to that particular idea throughout the course. In fact, it’s designed for them to rethink and refine ideas throughout the programme. The course is sponsored by Study NSW of the NSW Treasury and supported by major unis such as the University of New South Wales, Sydney School of Entrepreneurship, University of Sydney, University of Western Sydney and University of Technology Sydney. All of these are counted as promotional partners as well as industry associations such as the International Student Education Agents Association. 

What makes this programme stand out in comparison to other online courses?

It’s easy to develop an online programme, but it’s hard to develop an engaging one that produces outcomes. FFWD’s course structure is inspired by the latest educational principles to increase participation and engagement. This, alongside the support of a strong network of industry mentors, provides personalised support to the students. 

It’s also designed to fit students of all backgrounds and nationalities to be able to work at their own pace and in their own time zones. This can be through virtual and in-person means, depending on the student’s availability and requirements. 

Students with little to no entrepreneurial backgrounds are encouraged to challenge themselves by submitting regular assignments. They also partake in interactive workshops and forum discussions. 

For the teams that are further along, they may prioritise one-on-one mentoring to gain extra guidance. They might find networking with other students to find potential partners or team members and use the programme to consolidate their knowledge. 

How do you guys ensure job opportunities for students enrolled in the programme?

While not all graduates of this course will go on to be founders of their own startups, FFWD also provides a pathway where students can find alternative opportunities to collaborate with other students or mentors. It also provides students with practical skills to increase their employability and gain a more in-depth understanding of their opportunities in Australia. 

We also actively work together with other organisations and partners of Study NSW to support students in their journey from student to employee or startup founder.

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