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Four Australian startups just won $1 million from Google: Here are the secrets to their pitching success

Angela Castles /

Humanitix Google Impact Challenge

Humanitix co-founders Adam McCurdie (third from left) and Joshua Ross (second from right). Source: Supplied.

Google has awarded four Australian startups $1 million in grant funding each to scale-up their offerings and help people in need across the country and the globe.

The four winning startups were announced in Sydney earlier this month as part of the Google Impact Challenge. Now in its third year, the challenge offers $5.5 million in prize money to support not-for-profit startups leveraging technology to solve complex social challenges.

Ten finalists were invited to pitch to a panel of judges that included Australia’s chief scientist Dr Alan Finkel, vice president of product at Google Anil Sabharwal and Google vice president and Google.org global president Jacquelline Fuller. From these finalists, the judging panel chose three winners, while Google also allowed the public to vote and determine the winner of a $1 million people’s choice prize.

The winning four pitches on the day came from:

  • Xceptional a Sydney-based startup that has developed an anxiety-reducing app to empower autistic employees;
  • Hireup a platform that helps people with disabilities find and manage support workers;
  • Humanitix an event ticketing platform that redistributes booking fees to social causes across the world; and
  • Orange Sky Laundry (people’s choice winner) a web-based solution that helps not-for-profit organisations track and manage their volunteers and social impact.

The remaining finalists were each awarded $250,000 to kickstart development and scale their startups.

A “terrifying but unbelievable opportunity”

For Humanitix co-founder Adam McCurdie, the chance to pitch his passion in front of a panel of high-profile judges was a “terrifying but unbelievable opportunity”.

“I counted myself pretty lucky to have that opportunity to share the idea I’ve been so passionate about for all these years with a panel like that and have them ask questions was just awesome,” he tells StartupSmart.

This win caps off a year of cash injections for the Sydney-based startup, which raised $125,000 from the New South Wales government early on and $1.2 million from the Atlassian foundation in June.

Founded in 2015, Humanitix will now be scaling up its team of nine “significantly” as it looks to transform the events ticketing industry to make it more accessible to people with disabilities. The startup is also looking to international markets in New Zealand and the US to fulfil its mission to “redistribute billions in booking fees towards alleviating education gaps and global inequality around the world”.

The secrets to success

McCurdie says startup founders looking to wow with their pitches should keep it simple and concise.

“A pitch has to be succinct, to the point, compelling, [but] the most important part of the pitch is the Q&A,” he says.

Here, preparation is key. McCurdie says founders shouldn’t just focus on nailing the delivery of their pitch, but should also hone their answers to a wide range of potentially difficult questions.

“Startup founders should be prepared to properly answer questions from all angles,” he advises.

“I reached out to people in my network to practice the pitch, then asked them to ask me three questions afterwards. I then received feedback on the ways to answer each question.”  

McCurdie says founders practising their pitches should also “avoid being caught up in too many weeds too early” and instead allow and prepare for any difficult points to be raised during question time.

From a “really crazy idea” to $1 million in funding

For Orange Sky Australia co-founder Lucas Patchett, winning this funding is a testament to how far the startup has come in the last four years.

Founded in 2014 in a Brisbane garage, Patchett says Orange Sky Australia started out as “a really crazy idea to chuck two washers in the back of a van” and provide laundry services to the city’s homeless.

Since then, it’s grown into an expansive community that now has a fleet of 27 vans and 1,500 volunteers. It will now be expanding its current team of 30 staff, bringing on more developers to support the commercialisation of its web-based platform.

Orange Sky Australia won the people’s choice award with a web-based offering designed to manage volunteers, measure the impact of charity initiatives and help not-for-profit organisations align their current practices with technology.

Patchett hopes to use this funding to “influence change in the sector and drive efficiencies” in a not-for-profit industry stuck in practices of the past.  

“Homelessness shouldn’t be as big of a problem as it is there’s a disconnect and inefficiency in not-for-profits generally in how they operate,” Patchett says.  

How to get noticed by Google

For startups looking to capture Google’s attention, Patchett says standing out from the hundreds of Impact Challenge applicants came down to thinking big and telling a great story.

“What it comes down to is having a strong idea that engages with the Google staff and judging committee you need to be thinking out of the box,” he says.

“Those big ideas that can influence a whole sector is what I think Google really looks for — those big strong ideas that can have a massive impact.”  

But just having a great idea isn’t enough to get you over the line, and Patchett says founders also need to think about the story they’re telling in their pitches.

“It was about pitching in a way that enabled the audience to buy into the idea, and the vision and the impact we can have now,” he says.

“Pitching is about mixing the heart with the head. For us, what we’ve done from very early on is tell really engaging, compelling stories. Think about how you can weave that into those facts and solid figures about the impact you can have.”

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Angela Castles

Angela Castles is a former StartupSmart journalist.

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