This startup is a Contiki tour for uni students wanting to create professional networks overseas

Students participating in a workshop. Photo: Austern International/ Facebook.

Networking and overseas experience is at the top of the list of desirable skills when employees look to hire new talent.

But when you’re fresh out of university, those two things can be hard to have achieved when you have spent most of your time hitting the books.

Austern International co-founder, Jamie Lee, who was a former teacher and already has a successful educational startup, Kassy, recognised this gap in the market where ambitious students could make meaningful business connections overseas.

“I began to see how students are often ill-equipped to make decisions that can operate locally and globally. The hard skills that students learnt a few years ago may already be replaced by the fast moving nature of today‚Äôs evolving society.”

With this in mind Lee, 26, and her co-founder Lily Wu, 21, designed a three-week international leadership program for students, aged 18 to 24.

“Think of it as a Contiki travel tour but for ambitious and driven students who want to play a bigger game in the global market,” says Lee.

Student touring local areas while participating in the program. Photo: Austern International/ Facebook.

During the program the students are taken through personal growth workshops where they work on their goals and inter-cultural skills, are involved in pitch-off competitions where they use the design thinking methodology also used at Stanford University. But most importantly they are connected with influential mentors in Australia, Singapore and China.

Also helping the students are mentors from companies such as EY, KPMG, Dropbox, Google, Microsoft, Setro, UNSW and NUS.

“Imagine if there are two people with the same skills, going for the same jobs and the only difference is that one has spent their entire career in Australia, while the second candidate has difference experience in multiple places,” Lee says. “Which one would you want to hire?”

So far the company has taken over 100 students from Australia and the UK to Shenzhen, China, and has another nine trips planned across Asia next year.

“We want to expand to Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan and Beijing,” Lee says. “Five cities by 2016.”

“As we head towards an Asian Century, Austern International is passionate about bridging the gap between the East and West, starting between Australia, Singapore and China.

“By 2020 more than half of the world’s population will be living in Asia, and a lot of international companies are trying to tap into the Asian market – it’s a massive market opportunity.”

Student perfect the pitching skills as part of a pitch-off competition. Photo: Austern International/ Facebook.

Lee explains that it wasn’t until she moved her first startup Kassy from Sydney to Beijing that she realised herself what potential the Chinese market held.

“It was through that experience that I saw how big the world actually is. When I first started I had graduated from uni, I was a teacher and I thought Sydney was a really big market.

“But it wasn’t until I moved the business into China that my mindset shifted.”

So far the business has been completely funded by $10,000 in prize money, awarded to the founders after they won the AMP Tomorrow Maker Award.

“Within a year, using that $10,000 we have generated more than $167,000 in revenue,” Lee says.

“Both Lily and I didn’t put any money into the business. So far I think we’ve spent only $23 on Facebook marketing but that’s about it.”

But fundraising is definitely on the business’s to-do list.

“We are thinking about getting investors on board at the moment,” Lee says. “We’re flying to San Francisco next month.

“We got connected to the founder of Founders Institute there… and we also got connected to Class Dojo.”

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