2021 Young entrepreneur award winners moving forward

2021 Moreton Bay Business and Innovation Awards winners, Tiarna McElligott and Owen Ventre say youth is an advantage when it comes to attracting interest in an innovative idea – but the challenge lies in converting that interest in to serious action.

After winning the 2021 young entrepreneur aware the pair have discovered that being a young entrepreneur is both a blessing and a challenge.

Now at university, the former Murrumba State Secondary College students are progressing their invention, IntelVest, which measures firefighters’ physical distress on the job.

“In one way being young has helped because regardless of what you were doing, (people) were really interested,” Owen says.

“But when it came to the nitty gritty of business there were those assumptions that you would not get that far.”

Tiarna, who founded the company, agrees, saying that to succeed, young entrepreneurs must be willing to drive progress themselves.

“Everyone wants to really help you, but to a degree they think you’re playing pretend.

“We just started talking to firefighters and getting patents and people took notice of that.”

They say taking part in special programs at school such as an innovation project and shark tanks, and tapping into the University of the Sunshine Coast business faculty also helped, as did connecting with Innovate Moreton Bay.

“We were constantly getting their input,” Owen says.

Market knowledge is crucial

Seeking and taking on feedback from your target market is also crucial, Tiarna, who’s studying Advanced Science with Honours at UQ, says.

“Even in Grade 10 my business teacher really reinforced the message that you can’t just develop your product to completion and then show the target market.

“You need to talk to them every step of the way (to ensure it’s relevant).”

Proof of that lies in the development of IntelVest, which began life as way for firefighters to detect dangerous gasses in the atmosphere at fire scenes.

When Tiarna and Owen approached firefighters, they discovered they were on the wrong track.

“They said it wasn’t something they needed because they always assumed there were dangerous gasses,” Tiarna explains.

Research led to product pivot

Instead, they learnt the biggest danger facing firies was over-exertion.

Being able to identify a firefighter suffering early signs of exertion is important, because if they collapse in a fire scene colleagues will be diverted from the fire to rescue them.

When a firefighter is suffering from exertion, IntelVest alerts crew outside the fire, who can direct the affected firefighter to return outside where they can receive early treatment and likely return to duty.

“One of the things that helped was that they (firefighters) were so generous with their time – people want to help you learn and develop - but this is not a medical device, it’s an early warning system,” Tiarna says.

“You get a lot of opportunities, but you need to take them – a lot of those opportunities are really valuable.”

Owen, who’s studying Law and International Relations at UQ, says seeking advice from mentors about aspects of business you’re not familiar with is helpful – but a little caution is useful too.

“Be careful, because ultimately business is about making money.

“We were always very careful about our intellectual property.

“As much as you want to give a massive spiel, you need to realise that as an idea, there’s not legal protection for it.”

Nominations for 2022 award open May 16

Nominations for the 2022 Moreton Bay Business & Innovation Awards open May 16. Learn more here