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Australia’s first start-up school targets school leavers as an alternative to university and gap year

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Serial entrepreneur, Brett Whitford (pictured), says the world has changed and not getting a ‘good’ high school exam mark could now be the start of a rewarding entrepreneurial journey.

He has just launched Australia’s first start-up school, EXCELinc, and is encouraging school leavers to skip traditional studies or their gap year and instead audition for a place in the program.

Viable startups taking part in EXCELinc will be given the opportunity to raise $20,000 in seed funding and will be flown to Silicon Valley at the end of the year.

There are also plans to turn the program into a documentary, which Whitford says is, ‘X Factor meets Shark Tank.’

The 12-month incubator program will help participants develop skills in all areas of business and places participants in teams where they work towards getting their startup off the ground.

It is aimed at those who either want hands-on experience building a business, have an idea but don’t think university is the place to make it happen, or those who aren’t sure but know they want to achieve business success and get the most out of life.

Who is the man behind EXCELinc?

Whitford is the founder of three ASX listed companies and was executive director of the Customer Service Institute of Australia for 16 years. He is also an Adjunct Professor at the University of Technology, Sydney and says it was his experience teaching at the university that showed him a large gap still exists between universities and industry.

“I don’t think you should let the lack of a degree hold you back if you’ve got the drive, the ambition, the skills and the things that you learn as you go. All my life I have been involved in education, I value school more than anything. I think we’re picking up where a lot of universities should’ve gone over the years.”

For any parent who is worried about their son or daughter not going to university, they need only look to Nick Bell for some comfort.

Bell’s first, ‘unofficial’ venture was selling his mother’s homemade lunches to fellow school students, raising $11,000 towards his first overseas trip.

A few years later, he attempted university but decided that wasn’t for him and started an online business. While the results didn’t follow his ambition did and with $400 to his name he started, Web Marketing Experts (WME).

Seven years later the business is in 7 countries and turns over $45 million per year.

“I was looking for ways to achieve bigger and better things, long before ever entering a university classroom, and I’ve been doing it ever since,” said Bell.

“There’s no doubt education has played a role in where I am today but I’ve chosen to do that by surrounding myself with people who have practical experience and have helped guide my journey.”

What is EXCELinc looking to achieve?

Whitford, who started his first business at 21, says cases like Bell highlight the fact that university isn’t the only option for those wanting to reach their potential but, for some, having the confidence to pitch an idea or get started, can be challenging. That’s why he has created EXCELinc.

“When I first started out, I didn’t know how to register a business. If I didn’t work for a business magazine selling advertising, I wouldn’t have known where to start.

“Some people who want to be entrepreneurs aren’t very well rounded and that’s been the biggest weakness. I want to give these young people the chance to excel, believe in themselves and know they have the support and expertise of others who have been there before.”

Whitford has an experienced panel of judges working with the participants, including, Taryn Williams, founder WINK Models, Evan Hansimikali, former My Restaurant Rules contestant and Pink Salt owner, Dr. Brett Davies, founder Law Central and Elliott Donazzan, founder One Cent Flights.

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