Have you ever dreamed of being your own boss and launching a business? For most students around the world, the biggest goal after graduation is finding a good, stable job, but these three international students went one step further: they started their own companies in Australia. From designing bikinis to working with superheroes, we spoke to three entrepreneurs who are doing their careers a little differently.
MATTEO PINNA – SCHOOL OF HEROES
Matteo’s story is an unconventional one. It started with him studying theoretical physics in his home of Italy, to being the founder and CEO of School of Heroes, an educational service for children with a creative twist.
“When I was in Italy, I had two parallel lives – one was my academic life, which related to science, and the other side volunteering in educational activities for kids,” he says. “I was really creative, creating stories to make them happy. It helped the community a lot.”
After graduating from university in Italy, Matteo followed his girlfriend to Sydney in 2018 so the two of them could pursue their careers. Having travelled extensively throughout his life, Matteo was ready to jump straight into Australian life.
“It’s a beautiful city, especially when it comes to nature – you can go to the beach, go to the mountains… It’s a city that allows you to not feel the stresses of other big cities, like pollution and noise.”
Initially, Matteo’s job search wasn’t easy. He struggled to find a position that related to his degree in physics. So, after a few months, he decided to his other passion: working with children. He started with children’s birthday parties, but found that he didn’t just want to entertain children, but help them learn and grow.
“I used to work at parties in Italy, but with more passion and a purpose – personal development and education. So, I thought I could bring to Australia what I was doing before.”
With that idea firmly in mind, Matteo began developing this idea into a business that could help the children of Australia. He then started a Diploma of Business at Sydney’s Academy of Entrepreneurs (before starting an Advanced Diploma next year) and came up with the concept for School of Heroes.
“School of Heroes was born with the idea of giving children a space just for them, where they don’t have to do an activity with goals,” he says. “We focus on a specific value of the day that we want to teach to the kids. It’s a place for them to enjoy being themselves.”
For students thinking about studying in Australia, Matteo is able to quantify his advice: “Don’t lose a single day. Think that your visa is 52 weeks, and next week think that’ll be 51, the week after will be 50. Every day you miss, is an opportunity that you miss.
“Push hard from day one – build something for yourself. Get an ABN and start delivering your skills. Build a job for yourself with the thing you like doing the most.”
RITA DO – PACKSY
Being an international student involves unique challenges and experiences, and no one understands this more than Rita. Born and raised in Vietnam before travelling to the United States for high school, Rita then decided on Australia for her university studies.
“I always wanted to study abroad, and after the experience of high school in the US, I wanted somewhere new,” she says. “I picked Australia because it has a reputation of being a very friendly and multicultural country.”
Before starting her Bachelor of Commerce with Marketing and Statistics at Macquarie University in Sydney, Rita first had to overcome the normal struggles that come with moving abroad. “When I came to Australia, I was 18, I had no friends or family here – it was just me and my suitcase. I felt so lost.”
Luckily, a chance encounter with a local student on her first day in Sydney helped Rita settle into her new life quickly, and was the catalyst behind Rita starting her own business.
“This kind Australian student took me around the whole university campus and the closest shopping centre. She realised I was here alone, and decided to show me around. What she did for me that day was the inspiration behind Packsy.”
Packsy is a service providing international students with packages of essentials for their new homes. Rita says it meets an immediate need felt by almost all international students.
“For new international students, there are the emotional challenges of meeting new friends, language barriers, the logistical differences in setting up in a new country,” she says. “Me and my co-founder looked at this journey as a whole, and we identified the arrival period as the most critical area for international students when they’re getting started in Australia, because that’s when students need the most help and that’s when we can make the most impact.”
To meet the social needs of newly arrived international students, each package is delivered with a welcome surprise. “We actually put an international student from my team in the car and we deliver the packs ourselves. There are times when I do this myself. We provide a familiar face, someone who will welcome you and can be a touchpoint for students who have just arrived.”
Rita believes Sydney provided the perfect backdrop for both studying as an international student and growing the business.
“Sydney is a city that will transform your life for the better,” she says. “It has a lot to offer, whether it’s work opportunities, business connections, cultural experiences, friends for life, or just good weather – Sydney has it all.”
For prospective student entrepreneurs, Rita offers this advice for starting your own business: “The whole journey is very challenging, but it’s also rewarding. You’ll have the courage, perseverance and determination to follow through if you really care about the problem you’re trying to solve. It has to be something you deeply care about.
“Right now, being in a position of being able to give back to other international students – that is a very rewarding thing I get to experience on a regular basis.”
MARIONE PINHEIRO – SAND BRAZIL
No stranger to being her own boss, Marione ran a successful pet store and animal hospital in her native Brazil for over 20 years. However, it was a visit to Australia in 2017 that made her decide to start a completely new venture – although not something completely unfamiliar.
“In my 20s, I would buy bikinis in Rio de Janeiro and resell them in my home, Porto Alegre,” she says. “I knew I would be bringing something new that Australia needs. Brazilian clothes, Brazilian bikinis… no one was doing that.”
Arriving in Sydney, Marione had her business plan ready, producers prepared, lawyers who could advise, an accountant, and a brand-new business name: Sand Brazil. But even with years of experience behind her, Marione was on unfamiliar ground in Australia.
“Everything was still new – the industry, the country. So, I was lucky when I discovered the Academy of Entrepreneurs. There was an open day, and I recognised that this was a good opportunity to develop a better network with other business minds.”
So, in 2018, Marione undertook her Advanced Diploma in Business at the Academy of Entrepreneurs.
“The business started to change and grow after I started studying there,” she says. “I developed a better business plan and found steps I can follow to really grow and achieve something more meaningful.”
To complement her online store and try and reach a wider audience, Marione started a pop-up shop, Style Bossa Nova, in the summer.
“With the pop-up store, I wasn’t drawing in just the Brazilian community – they already know my products – but different people. I’m in Westfield in the city now, so we’re reaching new people.”
Now an established businesswoman in Sydney, Marione is the coordinator of the Brazilian Community Council of Australia and organises programs to connect and help new Brazilian businesses in Sydney.
For international students looking to come to Australia or start their own business, Marione encourages perseverance.
“It’s never easy,” she says. “You need to be prepared when moving. You have to push yourself to better yourself – if you’re still waiting, things aren’t going to happen. It won’t be easy, but it’s possible. Believe in yourself and keep learning.”
Header image courtesy of Salty Dingo
Are you an international student with big ideas about business or a grand vision to change the world? Do you want to meet more ambitious people who are doing challenging and exciting things to make the world a better place? International students can register for Ideas Feast – Pitch Night on 21 October at Haymarket HQ, Sydney. Click here for more information and to register.