PhD students bound for France after winning national challenge

Australian-French Entrepreneurship Challenge winning team Re.Mind, including UniSA PhD student Nia Lewis (far left). INSIDE UNISA
Australian-French Entrepreneurship Challenge winning team Re.Mind, including UniSA PhD student Nia Lewis (far left).

Forty-eight PhD students from across the nation spent 36 hours without sleep, locked up with a group of people they’d only just met, with a deadline to devise an innovative and profitable start-up concept.

The Australian-French Entrepreneurship Challenge is based on its hugely-popular sister event in France “24 heures chrono de l’entrepreneuriat”.

Participants work in project teams for a straight 24-hour period (that’s 36 hours awake once the judging is included), with support from seasoned mentors, experiencing the process of setting up a company, from an idea to creating a business plan.

UniSA PhD students Nia Lewis and Imogen Ramsey at the end of the 36-hour lock-in.UniSA PhD students Nia Lewis and Imogen Ramsey at the end of the 36-hour lock-in.

UniSA PhD student Nia Lewis was part of the winning team. The team developed a holographic and tactile brain training device for the elderly which helped them improve their balance and reduce the risks of falls.

Nia says falls among the elderly are a significant issue, with more deaths in over 75s from falls each year, than the combined road death toll in Australia.

“If no changes are made to the current treatment model, the cost of related injuries will grow three-fold to $1.38 billion by 2051,” she says.

Her team’s proposal used holographic technology to provide a gamified, virtual experience with tactile feedback, and generated a personalised exercise plan for users.

Nia, whose PhD is focused on social entrepreneurship in the creative industries, says the experience was challenging and rewarding.

“The tight timeframe really pushed you to your limits,” she says. “Initially, being the only social scientist among six amazing neuroscientists was quite intimidating and isolating.

“We worked well as a team and were able to tap into our diverse experiences and expertise to create our company Re.Mind.”

Nia says the challenge attracted a large number of students from science and engineering, with only five or so from the humanities, arts and social sciences.

“I really believe that the key to social innovation lies within bringing together people with a diverse set of experiences and expertise, so we are able to collectively and creatively co-create solutions to the complex challenges which we face today,” she says.

“I would love to see more people from the division of Education, Arts and Social Sciences apply to take part next year.

“The challenge really shows what can be achieved when people from different disciplines come together to tackle some of the world’s most pressing challenges.”

Nia, along with the rest of the winning team, have won a trip to France later this year, where they’ll tour the country’s main universities, incubators and research institutions to get a first-hand look at France’s innovation system.

“The prize means the world to me,” she says. “To be able to receive industry-level mentoring so early into my PhD journey is priceless. The networking opportunities presented by the challenge have also been invaluable and I have already made connections which will significantly aid and add value to my research.”

The Re.Mind team working on their concept during the lock-in. Photo courtesy Twitter: Hayley Teasdale. The Re.Mind team working on their concept during the lock-in. Photo courtesy Twitter: Hayley Teasdale.

The ideas of each group were pitched to a panel of professional judges who selected two projects to advance to the final, before deciding the winning team. The jury included UniSA Ventures CEO Stephen Rodda and Ehrenberg-Bass Institute researcher Magdalena Nenycz-Thiel. Professor David Paterson from UniSA’s Business School took part as a coach.

The other team which made the final, Tea For Two, included and was based on the research of UniSA student Nina Wilson.

The other competing UniSA students were Laura Hodgson, Azam Mehboob, Imogen Ramsey, Roya Rudd, Sam Rudd and Zhonghui Wu.

UniSA co-sponsored the event with the other South Australian universities, the French Embassy and the Office of the French Strategy. It’s the first time the event has been held in South Australia.

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