Westpac looks to tech startups for business solutions

Westpac is eyeing local tech startups for the development of innovative business solutions, with the bank awarding real-estate app developer realAs AU$40,000 at its inaugural Westpac Innovation Challenge event, held in partnership with accelerator BlueChilli.

Westpac is looking to Australian tech startups to develop business solutions for its real-estate customers, awarding its first Westpac Innovation Challenge winner, along with local venture technology accelerator BlueChilli.

Josh Rowe, CEO of realAs, a free website and accompanying app that helps home buyers and investors find out for which price homes will realistically sell, was awarded the AU$40,000 cash prize, and a six-month placement in the BlueChilli accelerator program to help the development of its platform.

Rowe — a serial entrepreneur — beat out the other four startups at the pitch event, held by Westpac in Sydney on September 17. The finalists had been whittled down from more than 100 applicants.

Josh Rowe
Josh Rowe of realAs accepting a novelty cheque from Westpac. Image: Westpac

At the end of the six-month placement in the BlueChilli program, Rowe will have the option of rolling his company into Westpac's suite of commercial real-estate services.

"This is exactly the kind of leading-edge, future-ready idea we were looking for," said head of digital business banking Kalpana Gee. "It has the potential to completely change the way our commercial real estate customers do business.

"We need to understand our customers' businesses in order to continue improving the way we service them. By investing in the startups shaping and influencing our customers' industries, we are able to be there every step of the way as our customers are disrupted in this rapidly changing digital economy," said Gee.

Westpac group head of innovation Ian Hill said that the five finalists' innovative ideas were of a particularly high standard, with the overall response to the inaugural Westpac Innovation Challenge from the local startup community he described as "phenomenal".

"We received more than 100 impressive applications. The top five finalists all have impressive ideas, but realAs really shone today," said Hill.

The four other finalists in the event included investment property crowd-sourcing platform PropertyShares — whose developer Christopher Scott Price won the People's Choice Award at the event — mobile property marketing platform StickyBeak, property manager communication app SNAP, and neighbourhood comparison app Suburbarian.

BlueChilli founder and CEO Sebastien Eckersley-Maslin, who was one of the judges at the event, said the Westpac Innovation Challenge was a great opportunity to advance the development of new business services in the marketplace.

"We want to boost start-ups that use technology in smart ways in order to expand the services available to professionals and consumers within their industry," said Eckersley-Maslin.

He said that fostering startup innovation is an effective way for large, publicly listed and traditionally risk-averse corporations to remain nimble in the marketplace.

Some of Australia's largest companies operate startup incubators and accelerators locally, including Telstra and Optus.

The inaugural round of the Westpac Innovation Challenge followed the successful opening of Westpac Group's innovation centre, the Hive, in early September.

The realAs win comes as Australian e-commerce platform Bigcommerce raises $50 million in Series D funding, with the company set to use the funding boost to invest in product development, sales, and marketing.

The funding round was led by SoftBank Capital, the investment arm of Japan's SoftBank Corp, and Telstra's venture capital arm Telstra Ventures, along with American Express and existing investors General Catalyst and Revolution Growth.

"Partnering with SoftBank Capital gives us access to the growing Asian market and opportunities within SoftBank Group companies, including Alibaba, while American Express and Telstra share our passion for helping businesses in the US and Australia, respectively," said Eddie Machaalani, co-founder and CEO of Bigcommerce.

Also this week, cloud-based presentation platform provider Prezi has finalised a $57 million investment round from Spectrum Equity, with participation from existing investor Accel Partners.

Prezi, founded in Budapest, plans to use this investment to accelerate its rapid global growth. The company has also announced that it has surpassed 50 million users to date.

Meanwhile, Californian cloud information security company CipherCloud has announced the finalisation of a $50 million Round B funding effort led by Transamerica Ventures, along with Delta Partners, and existing investors Andreessen Horowitz and T-Venture, the venture capital arm of Deutsche Telekom.

CipherCloud plans to use the new financing to further its go-to market activities, support international growth in Europe and Asia-Pacific, drive the enterprise adoption of CipherCloud’s cloud security platform among enterprises, and advance product innovation efforts.

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