INNOVATION

You Know The Man With The Van, Now Meet The Startups In A Van

Some of these entrepreneurial ideas were swell on wheels. (And much better than my vantastic puns.)

09/08/2016 2:21 PM AEST | Updated August 10, 2016 21:31
Mercedes-Benz
Winning entrepreneurs Code Camp Innovito were presented with the keys to their Vito van by Philip Dalidakis, Minister for Small Business, Innovation and Trade and Mercedes-Benz chief Diane Tarr.

The days of working out of the back of a truck haven't been left by the roadside just yet.

A startup competition to see which entrepreneurs could come up with the most ingenious way to use a three-tonne van to launch or expand a business included pitches for a mobile doggy photo studio, a medical lab on wheels and a 3D printing booth that produced sunglasses from non-recyclable marine waste.

All entrants in the Mercedes-Benz Hack My Van competition had to find a way to turn the Vito van from a regular tradies' ride into something completely different -- and generate a profit from it.

And it was a tough choice for the judges, who included this Huffington Post Australia writer along with restaurateur Shane Delia, entrepreneur, Unlockd General Manager Jane Martino and Managing Director Mercedes-Benz Vans Australia & New Zealand, Diane Tarr.

Mercedes-Benz
The Hack My Van finalists cramming their pitch practice before the presentation to the judges in Melbourne.

Each of the six finalists was judged on the ingenuity of their idea, its propensity to be financially self-sustaining as well as making the best use of a Vito van.

The winning team -- which drove away with a $55,000 Vito -- was Code Camp innoVito by Cobalt, a joint initiative to turn the van into a mobile classroom to teach kids how to code.

Code Camp founder Ben Levi began his startup in 2013 as a hobby and has taught more than 9000 students across Australia since. Levi's dream is to reach 100,000 students in the next 12 months and he teamed up with engineering firm Cobalt Niche just a week before the hackathon to turn the Vito into a mobile classroom.

The clincher for the judges was the clever pull-out pods stored in the back of the Vito which folded out to make desks for up to 20 students as well as rapid-inflate shade structures to keep kids -- and computers -- out of the elements.

"Code Camp are on a mission to teach Australian students to code, and build engagement and passion for technology," Levi said.

"To have our own Mercedes-Benz Vito, Code Camp will be able to expand a lot faster to teach more students in more remote areas, and it will allow us to run pop-up events all over the country to raise awareness."

Code Camp will continue to teach students for a fee through school terms and school holidays, but will also conduct low-cost or free sessions in lower socioeconomic areas. In September they'll run classes in Arnhem Land with the assistance of the Foundation for Young Australians.

The runner-up on the day was Melbourne centre for young writers, 100 Story Building, which conducts creativity workshops for children.

Its team wanted to fit out the van to become a mix between a TV van and a Ghostbusters wagon complete with a swivel chair, lots of flashing gadgets and buttons and a satellite dish, to reach more children weekly and help them to 'find the story' in their classrooms and not just at the 100 Story Building premises.

"We were blown away by the level of creativity and the brilliance of the business ideas we saw from the six finalists," said Tarr.

"This is precisely why we created this event as we are excited by the ideas and possibilities for how the Vito van can be reimagined to transform an existing business, or completely reinvented to create new businesses."

There are plans for the hackathon to be repeated in 2017.

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