Congrats Alex, you are in the Top5! – an email from BlueChilli

Last day of this October I got an email sent by Colette Grgic from BlueChilli with a pleasant news – start-up idea that I submitted to Westpac Innovation challenge was short-listed from over 100 submissions and I am invited to make a final presentation in Sydney in couple weeks. The winner will get $40K cash prize from Westpac.

My idea – Suburbarian

Suburbarian - social media sentiments analysis for suburbs

The idea I submitted called Suburbarian. It is a social media sentiment analysis tool that allows to evaluate what people think about particular suburb. Suburbarian was born as a child of another idea that we (I and my co-founder Eugene Labunsky) had several months earlier. Very shortly our solution mines social media data, extracts from there information related with particular areas, suburbs, processes it to find general sentiment and association and presents the finding in meaningful and easy to understand way. You may check the final presentation to find more details.


In the email I got 31 Oct, Colette outlined the next steps to be better prepared for the final pitch:

Polish the idea

  • Value proposition;
  • Business model;
  • Market size;
  • Target customers;
  • Competition;
  • Risks;
  • Team;
  • Marketing strategy

BlueChilli team (Colette and Marcus Marten-Coney) provided a great help here. They actually visited Melbourne two times to work with Melbourne teams live rather than rely on electronic communication, which I really appreciate. BTW, it is interesting to note that 4 out of 5 finalists were from Melbourne. Anyway, it was useful to get a 2nd and 3rd view on your business idea from people who can good experience in the field, the advices from Marcus and Colette were very helpful. At the end of the first workshop I’d got a solid piece of homework and needed to start preparing the pitch.

Blue Chilli guys about Westpac Innovation Challenge from BlueChilli on Vimeo.

The pitch preparation

There is a famous quote about speeches preparation from Woodrow Wilson:

“That depends on the length of the speech,” answered the President. “If it is a ten-minute speech it takes me all of two weeks to prepare it; if it is a half-hour speech it takes me a week; if I can talk as long as I want to it requires no preparation at all. I am ready now.”

It is very true: the presentation had strict limit of 5 minutes and it isn’t a lot to tell people about innovative start-up idea in the details. We all know about 30-60 seconds elevator pitches, but here the level of expectation was different – it wasn’t enough to  just grab attention, the task was to give a clear idea about most important aspects of your start-up.

My approach there was to prepare slide deck accompanied with script for each slide. Then I tried to read the script and measure the time required. I’d ended up by getting rid of 5 or 6 slides and all the animation. Appeared that it was for good, because finally organizers asked us to remove animation due to technical limitations.

Since the deck was edited the script had to follow, there were many rounds of revisions. Again, the help from Colette and Marcus, who came to Melbourne again was invaluable. The link to final version of the presentation is available at the begin of the post, you may check the final script here.


At the end of the 2nd workshop a crew from Sydney recorded video with me: it was mostly the interview about the founders and start-up idea and a little bit of action (me, Colette and Marcus at work). The final version of the video below, I think that guys who filmed us made a great job.

Suburbarian FINAL from [email protected] on Vimeo.

Westpac Innovation Challenge – Judgement day

After all preparation the judgement day came. In fact it was split to two days (we had a presentation for smaller group 18 November and final presentation for the bigger audience 19 November). Both of them took place in Westpac head quarter, 275 Kent Street, Sydney CBD.

Westpac Innovation Challenge - view from Westpac HQ
Great view from Westpac Head Office to Darling Harbour

Here I’d met most of the contestants first time: I actually met Josh Rowe from RealAs during the practice in Melbourne and one of the finalist couldn’t come in person and presented by phone. So aside of me and Josh there was Scott Price (Property Shares) and team of Jimmy Tat and Gin Foo (SNAP). You may find  link to detailed information about all finalists including their video and description of the ideas in References section.

For me private presentation was easier, it was a normal conference room with around 8 people, something that I am more used to do in my everyday work life than presenting to a hundred people. After the presentation we had a good lunch with Colette and Marcus at Vapiano and were free for the rest of the day.

The final

The final day had started from final rehearsal, that’s when we first time watched the videos and practised the pitches last time while Westpac technical crew made sure that all equipment work properly.

Westpac Innovation Challenge, the final
The final is about to start

Around 3.30 pm an audience started to arrive: there were mostly people from Westpac with several guys from Reinventure (VC fund of Westpac), journalists and guests. Totally there were probably more than one hundred people.

The show started from a foreword from Kalpana Gee, Westpac Head Of Business Online. Then Westpac new CIO Dave Curran gave a good speech, with a headline that Westpac in 200 years start-up. Finally the pitches started in the next order:

  1. Josh Rowe (realAs)
  2. Matt Pope (StickyBeak)
  3. Me, Alex Levashov (Suburbarian)
  4. Jimmy Tat and Gin Foo (SNAP)
  5. Scott Price (PropertyShares)

As I know from studying human biases (Managerial Judgement course of my MBA) being in the middle sucks, people tend to pay much more attention to what’s going on in the begin and at the end (primacy and recency biases), but c’est la vie.

Every presentation was started from video (like one with me referred above), then there were 5 minutes for pitch and around 5 more minutes for questions. I had spend quite significant time preparing, but think that anyway that could do something better in my presentation and Q&A. Overall, all contestants did very good job, I liked the presentations and answers, so now it was up to the judges to decide who is the best one.

The winner is … Josh Rowe (realAs)

Westpac Innovation Challenge - Winner (Josh from realAs) getting cheque
The winner (Josh from realAs) getting $40,000 cheque

… and I admit that probably the primacy bias wasn’t a decider here: Josh did a great job with presentation and what is very important, his start-up was the only one with the product on the market that demonstrated good traction. So in general I understand why the judges decided that way: it looks less risky to from investment point of view and I can only congratulate Josh with well deserved victory.

On the other hand I feel a bit sorrow for other finalists, especially let’s be honest myself and the team of Jimmy and Gin – I think that for us winning of Westac Innovation Challenge was more important, it could be a really good way to kick-start the business and quickly develop minimal viable product. But this is a competition, so somebody should win.

BTW, Scott (PropertyShares) won the audience price (a huge bottle of sparkling wine).

For me it was a great experience, I want to thank BlueChilli and Westpac for this opportunity and their support of entrepreneurs, great job and good to hear that there will be a new challenge next year.

What is next with Suburbarian?

I am now exploring different ways to proceed with Suburbarian. If you are interested to back the venture as investor, mentor or advisor – contact me.


  • Westpac Innovation Challenge results announcement (BlueChilli website)
  • Westpac Innovation Challenge results – official announcement on Westpac website
  • Finalists announcement with some stat about all submissions (BlueChilli website)
  • ZDNet about Westpac Innovation Challenge
  • BRW about  Westpac Innovation Challenge
  • Suburbarian (pre-launch page)

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