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This start-up that was launched in just 54 hours won the first ever Startup Weekend Brisbane Women event

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airSponge founders Areej Alsheikh and Amin Bazzaz (Photo courtesy of Kenneth Au)

Start-up hub and co-working community River City Labs last month announced that car wash service start-up, airSponge, had taken out RCL’s inaugural Startup Weekend Brisbane Women event.

Launched in just 54 hours by business partners, Areej Alsheikh and Amin Bazzaz, airSponge connects people who want to get their car washed for a set price with people in the vicinity willing to come and wash it for them at that price.

Areej said the event was one of the most enriching experiences for her and Amin.

“It was a bit intimidating at first not knowing what to expect, however as soon as we dove into the project, the adrenaline started pumping and we were able to complete one milestone after the other.

“The weekend was so much fun, incredibly useful, and very well organised.”

For winning Startup Weekend Brisbane Women, airSponge took away a $4,000 business package from accounting firm, Hanrick Curran.

Areej added, “The next major step for airSponge involves redeeming the prize by getting consultancy on our business structure – we plan to register our business in the near future and will potentially be joining a start-up accelerator program.”

What went down at Startup Weekend Brisbane Women 2015?

Startup Weekend Brisbane Women is focused on empowering, fostering and mentoring female startup companies and inspiring them to take risks and develop innovative thinking.

Startup Weekend Brisbane Women (Photo courtesy of Kenneth Au)
Startup Weekend Brisbane Women (Photo courtesy of Kenneth Au)

Peta Ellis, General Manager of River City Labs, said, “We saw a promising turn out at our first Startup Weekend Brisbane event for women. It was so great to see these ladies in an environment where they felt comfortable enough to just go for it – the airSponge team is certainly testament to that.”

“On a personal level, it was incredibly reassuring to see how much support the wider start-up community threw behind the organisation and running of the event. My hat goes off to all those who came down to be part of it and assist in getting these start-up teams’ ideas off the ground.”

CUA General Manager of Business Transformation and Technology, Sue Coulter, was a panel judge at Startup Weekend Brisbane Women and said there were some strong ideas pitched by participants.

Sue commented, “While it is good to have a dedicated platform for women to pitch their ideas, the message is very much to keep going. Now they have experience at this kind of event, we want to see them take part in other startup events involving both men and women.

“CUA also gained valuable insight into the agile and fast-moving mentality adopted by start-ups, and how it might be possible to apply the same principles in a larger organisation.”

Startup Weekend Brisbane Women (Photo courtesy of Michael Tucker of Tucker Productions)

Startup Weekend Brisbane Women (Photos courtesy of Michael Tucker of Tucker Productions)
Startup Weekend Brisbane Women (Photos courtesy of Michael Tucker of Tucker Productions)

What is the story behind airSponge?

Areej is a PhD candidate at the University of Queensland doing her thesis on bacterial genomics and bioinformatics. Her Bachelor’s degree is in computer science, and Master’s in marine science. She is passionate about different fields, and start-ups is one of them.

Amin has recently graduated from his Masters of IT and MBA at James cook University. He has been working as developer in a software development start-up focused on e-health.

airSponge founders Areej Alsheikh and Amin Bazzaz (Photo courtesy of Kenneth Au)
airSponge founders Areej Alsheikh and Amin Bazzaz (Photo courtesy of Kenneth Au)

The two formed a team during the event, they didn’t know each other before then. Areej shared more about their winning start-up with Anthill in the interview below.

What inspired you to sign up for Startup Weekend Brisbane Women?

I frequently come up with different business ideas but only share them with my husband Ali Farhat, also a PhD student at UQ. When I told him about Startup Weekend he encouraged me to participate so I’d at least see what it’s like to execute one of those ideas and also learn from the experience.

I was also strongly encouraged to participate by one of my mentors, Mitchell Stanton-Cook, the former IT Specialist in my PhD research and currently a developer at XVT solutions.

What inspired you to build airSponge?

I initially had a similar idea but for beauty services to be done at home for the busy ladies. A day before the startup weekend, I went to the mall asking women if they’d like to have that, I was disappointed to know that they wouldn’t be interested in such service at all.

While I was standing there not knowing what to do, I remembered how a friend of mine who is a Mom was complaining about her dirty car and how she’d love to have someone clean it for her!

It hit me, so I changed my surveying question and went around the mall again asking people if they’d like to have someone come clean their car. Their positive responses changed everything, I went home happy knowing that this was it.

What gap are you looking to fill with airSponge?

Nowadays most people are too busy to even do grocery shopping, so they do it online.

The same applies to washing their cars. Most can’t afford wasting time getting it washed at a carwash centre, while others who don’t wish to pay the extra money still don’t have time to wash it at home themselves!

On the other hand, there is constant demand for casual jobs by people around Australia such as university students. This is where we come in and connect these two groups of people making both sides happy.

How exactly does airSponge work?

We provide a web/mobile platform in which both a car owner (washee) and a car washer would sign up filling out relevant details.

For example, a washee is asked for when they need the car washed, where will it be located, and how much are they willing to pay, whereas a washer is asked about the suburb they live in, how far they’re willing to travel for a car wash, washing tools availability, and what’s their minimum price.

As soon as we get a washing request from a washee, our system searches through the list of washers nearby and assigns the job to whoever matches the specifications provided by the washee.

Once the job is done, the washee pays the washer through our online payment system as well as rates his/her work.

How far have you gone with airSponge so far?

We are applying to a startup accelerator program. Currently we are executing several marketing strategies to grow the volume of customers, both washees and washers.

We are also working to improve the backend system functionality. We have put up a website with a .com.au domain (www.airsponge.com.au) because we are targeting the Australian community.

Lastly, what is the biggest lesson you have taken away from Startup Weekend Brisbane Women 2015?

Validation. A brilliant idea can be worth nothing if it’s not validated in the target community it’s aimed for.

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