Uni students are trading grad jobs for startups. Here’s why. 

July 9, 2023
Lyrebird Startmate Launch Club Student Fellowship

University students Kai Van Lieshout and Linus Talacko are using AI to create a new kind of grad job: startup founder.

The second and third-year university students are the creators of Lyrebird Health, Australia's first and most widely used AI assistant for allied healthcare practitioners. 

Lyrebird took out the top prize in a two-week hackathon in the Startmate Student Fellowship, a program challenging a generation of young people to look to startups as an alternative career path. 

Following this mighty win, Kai and Linus got a one-way ticket to Launch Club, where they spent the next ten weeks validating their idea, talking to customers and preparing for launch. 

Now they’re into the Startmate Winter 2023 Accelerator… talk about progress!

We spoke to Kai and Linus about their journey to date and why uni students should trade in the dreaded grad job group interview for a career in startups. 

A different pathway

When Linus Talacko scored a coveted internship at one of Australia’s largest three-letter banks (we’ll leave out which one), he quickly realised it wasn’t for him. 

“It feels like everyone on the outside really wants to get in,” he tells me of the experience.

“But when they’re on the inside, they all want to get out.”

As a trainee analyst, it wasn’t uncommon to spend weeks and weeks on the same spreadsheet without ever seeing the actual outcome of the numbers, and friends would report horror stories of managers having them run discounted cashflows until 4 am. 

What struck Linus the most, though, was the lack of incentive for employees at big companies to build anything particularly innovative.  

He points to Alex Gravely, an engineer at global tech giant GitHub, who revealed on Twitter last month that his total compensation for creating GitHub Copilot, a tool that has literally created millions of dollars of value for developers around the world, was a $20,000 bonus and a slight bump in title.

Gravely left the company late last year to found a startup of his own, and Linus is following suit as Co-Founder of Lyrebird Health, an AI assistant saving healthcare workers thousands of hours in case note transcription.

Starting Up

The platform was created during Linus’s time in the Startmate Student Fellowship, a national program encouraging students to team up and build a startup in just two weeks.  

It was here that Linus met Lyrebird Co-Founder Kai Van Lieshout, an Engineering student and serial founder who actually looked quite familiar. 

It turned out, the pair were actually a year apart at the same primary and secondary school, and both a little unsure a conventional path would get them where they wanted to be.  

“I wouldn't say I'm a good university student by any stretch of the imagination,” Kai tells me. 

“I find myself not struggling to pay attention because I struggle to pay attention, but because I just can’t figure out why I should.”

This changed with the lineup of industry mentors and experts the duo met throughout the fellowship, who delivered a series of 60-minute talks on startup skills and career development in between busy day jobs as investors and founders. 

“In the fellowship, you get to meet these insane people that you would have otherwise had to beg for their time,” Kai says. 

“And it’s a crazy feeling that they’re also excited to meet you too.”

He says one example was Mindset Health Co-Founder Alex Naoumidis, who the guys met catching the tram home from a Startmate Drinks event. 

Mindset Health was in the MEL18 Startmate Accelerator and has since built a $77M business out of research-backed digital hypnotherapy apps helping their 500,000+ members manage everything from IBS to menopause. 

They were also one of a handful of Aussie companies selected for Y Combinator, a Silicon Valley-based accelerator program that has launched the likes of Airbnb, Reddit and even a young Sam Altman, who went on to build a little tool called ChatGPT.  

But Alex started the company in a similar way to the Lyrebird guys, leaving a Graduate Accountant role in his early 20s to launch the startup with brother Chris in 2018. 

“Obviously, he's so much further ahead than us and done these crazy things,” Kai reflects. “But it feels like there's not this huge difference that maybe exists if you are still in that student position.”

After taking out the top spot in the Student Fellowship’s Founder Challenge, Kai and Linus went straight into Launch Club, Startmate’s newest pre-Accelerator program that helps aspiring and early-stage founders validate their startup idea, find potential customers, refine their MVP and launch it to the world. 

Linus said the program provides a crucial roadmap for founders to get started.  

“Launch Club is for people who are really interested in taking the next step and launching their startup,” he says. 

“I think a lot of people have an idea, and then they get paralysed about what to do. Launch Club provides really great clarity around the next steps.” 

Ready to launch 

In his famous essay, “How to Make Wealth”, renowned programmer, writer and investor Paul Graham suggests startups might be the way to go for young people. 

“Economically, you can think of a startup as a way to compress your whole working life into a few years,” he writes. “Instead of working at a low intensity for forty years, you work as hard as you possibly can for four.”

That trajectory sounds just about right for Kai and Linus.

In under the length of a single uni semester, they’ve already tested and launched a tool that is saving healthcare professionals an average of 1-2 hours per day which they could be using to care for their patients.

Now, Linus and Kai’s journey with Startmate continues as one of 15 companies selected for the Startmate Winter Accelerator, where they’ll spend 12 weeks taking Lyrebird to the next level with some of Australia and New Zealand’s most ambitious founders. 

So if you’re over completing another grad application or trying to remember the 6-digit student number that will identify you in that crowded lecture hall, the guys encourage you to look at the Student Fellowship and Launch Club.

“I feel like a lot of people are on the railway tracks to joining a Big 4 or a law firm and this is a really positive alternative pathway,” Linus says. 

“And if you’re remotely interested, I’d say check it out.”  

Applications for Launch Club are now open.

Apply here.

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Written by
Written by
Holly ClarkHolly Clark
Holly is Communications Lead at LaunchVic and an inaugural Startmate Media Fellow.

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