Pitch perfect

1 December 2017

Blaise McCann

Photo: Blaise McCann, Founder and CEO of Hear Us Roar. All images by Leah Lucas.

Competing with an impressive line-up of entrepreneurs – many of them UTS alumni – Communications graduate Blaise McCann has won first prize at the Hatchery Accelerate Demo Day for her sartorial startup, Hear Us Roar.

“Nobody puts curvy in a corner.”

Those were the winning words from Hear Us Roar founder and CEO Blaise McCann, who was awarded the $5,000 top prize by a panel of judges at the UTS Hatchery Accelerate Demo Day in November.

Blaise, a Bachelor of Communications graduate, set up Hear Us Roar, an online portal specialising in on-trend plus-sized clothes, earlier this year. After having worked as a plus-size model for the past 10 years, Blaise was frustrated with fashion choices that were “boring, expensive and aimed at older women”.

This frustration only added fuel to her determination to enact change – a fire that was sparked while studying social enquiry at UTS.

“My sub-major was ‘gender, culture, power’, which is funny because the underlying value of my business is about empowering women to feel good about themselves at any size. Obviously that’s challenging cultural norms and turning the status quo on its head,” says Blaise. “I think at uni I felt super frustrated that things were the way they were. UTS helped me channel all of those feelings into something constructive.”

Without any advertising spend, Hear Us Roar has hit $10,000 in sales in just three months. The business’s goal is to hit $500,000 in revenue in the next year and diversify into streams such as styling and distribution.

Blaise, who has been juggling running Hear Us Roar with working full-time at a virtual reality startup, plans to put the prize money towards advertising to capitalise on the pre-Christmas sales period. Her long-term goal though, is to establish her own fashion line and for Hear Us Roar to become the go-to global curvy fashion marketplace.

Her advice to other emerging startup founders? “You have to have a vision, because you’ll get different advice from lots of people, so you have to be driven forward by your own strategy.

“Just do it and be prepared to sacrifice. Commit to it, and know that there are going to be challenges, but it’s worth it because every time you make a dollar, you’re making a dollar completely off your own back, and there’s nothing more amazing than being able to see what your hard work does.”

Hear Us Roar was one of 10 startups which have been put through their paces during the intensive Hatchery Accelerate program. The three-month program provides participants with mentoring, seed funding and office space to take their startup idea to the next level. At Demo Day, the culmination of the program, the cohort of UTS student and alumni founders pitch for a share in $10,000 prize money.

With Blaise taking out the main honours this semester, additional Demo Day prizes were awarded to:

    • theSmart – an online program that allows engineers to take control of design reviews and make engineering fun again, co-founded by Mark Cameron (BE Civil Engineering, 1998), who won second prize of $3,000.
    • Make My Piece – a portal allowing people to buy custom furniture online, co-founded by Abiishek Bhandari (Bachelor of Business), who won third prize of $1,000.
    • Mashay – a site connecting groups of users with unique real world experiences, co-founded by Rob Price (Bachelor of Business, 2011), who won the People’s Choice Award of $1,000.

Blaise says the best part of the program has been access to the “phenomenal” mentors and support from fellow founders in the cohort.

“Being around people who are thinking the same way and are all driving their businesses forward has been so valuable, especially as a solo founder. It can be hard to stay motivated but everyone is pumped about their business so we all feed off each other,” she says.

The importance of support from mentors and peers was a sentiment echoed by many other Hatchery participants. We spoke to two other outstanding UTS alumni, Julian Fagan and Melanie Lewis, about how their startups have thrived during this semester’s program.

Julian Fagan (Skodel)

Julian Fagan

UTS Business School graduate Julian Fagan founded Skodel with his twin brother, Ian. Their online platform helps schools collect and use data: “Whether it is running a maths assessment or marking down a behavioural observation, teachers can do all of that from the one central platform,” says Julian.

In addition to the time spent with the other startups, Julian says one of the highlights of the Hatchery Accelerator program was a talk by Phil Morle, founder of the Pollenizer incubator and pioneer of Australia's startup scene. “He was a big inspiration behind our evolving business concept.”

After a challenging and rigorous Hatchery program, what’s next for Skodel? “We’re going to launch in 2018, and then start telling the story to all the schools to get them using our platform,” says Julian.

“We came to Hatchery Accelerate as an assessment management platform; we are leaving Hatchery with a bolder vision. We don't just want to tackle assessments in schools, we want to tackle all the non-academic data schools track and we want to tie that data together. That change was because of Hatchery.”

Melanie Lewis (FOOD4FACE)

Melanie Lewis

“The Hatchery Acclerate program has introduced me to the vibrancy of startup culture and connected me with an invaluable network that will stay with me in this business and the next,” says CEO and Founder of FOOD4FACE, Melanie Lewis.

A marine biologist by trade, the seeds for Melanie’s curiosity and “determination to do some good” were sown during her time studying a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Biology at UTS. “It opened my eyes to the extent of human impacts on the natural world. It led me to look at the world critically and be able to constructively suggest behavioural solutions to emerging problems,” she says.

After pursuing conservation-based postgraduate studies with her Master of Science by Thesis and presenting her research at Cambridge University on a UTS scholarship – and then taking some time off to build her family – Melanie launched FOOD4FACE, a zero-waste facescrub that allows customers to dramatically reduce the ecological footprint of their beauty regimes.

“Coming from an environmental science background helped me formulate my ideas to give FOOD4FACE a head start as a product, but Hatchery has allowed me to develop a sustainable business model and a plan to move forward,” says Melanie.

“Scientific research methods involve a lot of planning, whereas building a startup requires a lot of implementation – Hatchery has allowed me to fuse the two. I am confident that FOOD4FACE will move forward as a company because the Hatchery program has also added significantly to my toolkit: I have a valuable network of mentors and alumni alongside fellow startups and contacts that I just didn’t have access to before the program.”