Starting a business is not only a viable and legal option for international students living and studying in Australia, but it’s also an amazing way to demonstrate your entrepreneurial and leadership abilities, be your own boss, and forge a unique career pathway. As the founder of your own business or start-up, you could follow in the footsteps of many other innovative international entrepreneurs.
Speaking to Paula Mills, CEO of Academy of Entrepreneurs, and Rita Do, international student and founder of international student essentials service, Packsy, we learned their top tips for starting a business in Australia.
Identify a problem, find a solution
When looking for inspiration for your business, you need to pay attention to what’s happening around you. From there, you will be able to work out what people need and how your business idea can help them.
“Everything is possible but it’s about you understanding that there’s a problem, and you use your strengths, passions and skills to solve a problem,” says Paula. “If you do something with purpose, you’ll always succeed.”
For example, Rita felt that upon arriving in Australia, international students needed a way to get essential home items quickly and conveniently.
“Imagine when you first get here … you get to your accommodation and it’s mostly an empty room – nothing we needed to set up our life here,” she says.
So, Rita founded Packsy, a service providing welcome packages to international students in Sydney.
Funding your start-up
Financing your new business is one of the biggest questions among international student entrepreneurs, especially when trying to budget general living expenses and the cost of education.
“As international students, we do have to worry about working part-time to pay for our living expenses, being away from home, and paying for our university tuition fees. So starting a business on top of all of that sometimes sounds unrealistic,” says Rita.
To start off with, Rita says you should use as many free resources and services as you can, so that you’re not unnecessarily out of pocket as you start your business.
“Starting a business as a student, you get so much support from a range of industry partners and universities. So when you start, make sure you see if there’s any free resources out there in terms of co-working spaces, if a university has an incubator, make sure you check out their free working space, any free events you can go to to obtain your networks and mentors and get advice,” she says.
Rita also encourages new entrepreneurs to seek out ‘freemium’ resources, like Shopify or HubSpot, and take advantage of their free or discounted services for start-ups. For a founder like Rita, it took a year of saving, spending smart (in other words, avoiding eating out or excessive personal purchases) and utilising free resources to set up Packsy.
Vital skills for an entrepreneur
There are four essential skills for entrepreneurs that Rita outlines. But, don’t be worried if you don’t think you have all of these skills! Both Rita and Paula encourage international students to start their businesses with a partner, as it will allow you to combine your skill sets.
Domain expertise/tech skills
“That means that you need to know or understand the industry you’re about to enter. If you’re starting a tech business, have the tech skills required to build the business,” says Rita.
For example, if you plan on starting an app, make sure you or your business partner know how to build an app.
“[This means] how you take a task or problem, and how you execute or operationalise it,” Rita explains.
She uses this example: if you have the problem of setting up a supply chain system, how do you tackle that?
“How do you communicate your business or your vision to not only your team but your investors, friends, family, university mentors and lecturers?” says Rita.
“Know how to sell your business, because ultimately, it comes down to, can you get your customer or target market to pay for your product?”
Get your first customer
One of the biggest hurdles you will have to overcome once you’ve launched your business is getting your first customer. For this, Paula recommends conducting extensive market research so you know your audience better, and understanding your skills.
“Market research – once you understand what you can do well, you’re going to believe more in yourself and be more confident,” says Paula.
It’s an opportunity to find real customers that can give you genuine feedback, whether that’s through social media or focus groups.
“People love giving feedback,” says Paula. “Because if they spent two or twenty minutes of their time on a survey giving you feedback on the best flavour of your cupcake, what happens when you launch that cupcake with the flavour that they asked? They’re going to feel that they’re part of the journey. They’re going to buy it and they’re going to tell their friends that they helped you. Networking is everything.”