Advanced Manufacturing

What happens after you win the Global Business Challenge?

Team Smart Blox, Mary Dusek, Katherine Monberg, Tim Larsen and team coach Dr John Benlsey at the 2017 GBC Awards Dinner.

Looking back on the 2018 GBC winners is really an exercise in looking forward…

Catching up with Tim Larsen (now startup CEO) quickly reveals that he’s lost none of his energy and enthusiasm for the original vision. His most recent success in the QUT Bluebox Challenge underscores his continuing drive and the following video is a great showcase for SolarBlox.

At this year’s GBC Tim reflected on his experience of the GBC and what has followed on from his win last year. It also highlights Tim’s journey from ideation to startup.

Smart Blox to Solar Blox
One year later, this was Tim’s speech to the 2018 GBC finalists…

Good evening,

12 months ago, I sat where the competitors today sit. Exhausted from 24 hours of house arrest and countless hours of pitch preparation, you might have thought this was an evening to relax. But I can ensure you it was really just anxiety followed by sheer shock. You see in the startup world, it’s hard to get an idea off the ground, and it’s hard to find serious funding to help you get ideas off the ground.

And the Global Business Challenge is quite possibly the single best start-up competition on the globe. This competition would be the difference between an idea and a real business.

We came in with a prototype and a vision to make a difference in developing countries, in disaster relief and in remote communities. We left with $250 thousand in funding, a network of supporters and most importantly the confidence that business leaders who sat on the judging panel also saw the potential in what we wanted to do.

So the next emotion was shock. Shock that this was going to become a real and quite frankly we had a responsibility to make it real. From that moment on it’s been a wild rollercoaster. 12 months later, the roller-coaster hasn’t stopped. And I say roller coaster because there are times we’re going up, times we’re going down and times we certainly feel like we’re upside down.

The next day after the GBC we started making phone calls and looking for partners. We teamed up with a pair of business innovators who had run a successful photo booth design and manufacturing business and were looking for the next challenge. This took us to the next level of physical design but also showed us just how much work we had ahead of us. And just how much time and money it was going to take to take us from the prototype we had to a commercially viable product – but it could be done and it would be done.

Using the GBC as a launch pad, we were accepted into the prestigious Rice Business Plan competition in Texas, and the finals of the MIT Clean Energy Prize competition. These were amazing experiences on their own and with the help of Peter Bevan who coached us through these competitions after meeting us at the GBC, we took away a couple of awards and dozens of contacts.

Then it got real. More real. To take it to the next level, this couldn’t remain a side quest, it had to become our obsession. Understandably, this wasn’t possible for everyone. It was at this point that some of the team decided they couldn’t afford the commitment and needed to focus on their own careers. Start-ups are high risk; and it takes a certain kind of crazy to set aside a perfectly good career to work on a startup, potentially earning no money in the especially in early days.

So then we were upside down. I left an amazing job with a great consulting firm and became a full-time entrepreneur. And what I learned from that is, you really have to want it. Because quite frankly there are a lot better alternatives. It’s hard work.

But we kept going and then finally it started to come together. We found some early-stage investors, filed patents, designed, built and coded our own circuits, turned over half a dozen industrial designs and finally had a viable commercial product. In fact we’d been so obsessed, and it does take a little bit of crazy obsession, that we hadn’t realised how far we’d got until a couple of weeks ago we were in the middle of the bush in the middle of the night filming a video; using our Solar Blox to power massive floodlights and video equipment in the middle of nowhere. The lights literally came on for us as we realised this thing was real.

We’ve still got a long way to go, and the journey ahead isn’t going to be easy. we’ve got a dozen companies we need to negotiate component supply contracts with, we’ve got to establish high rate production and assembly partners and most importantly we’ve got to start generating sales. And like all good startups, we’re out of money. But it’s going to happen; thanks to the early start in life that came from this competition a year ago.

To the entrepreneurs in the room, I earnestly wish you all the best. It is an entirely exhausting journey, but also immeasurably rewarding and exciting. To everyone else, thank you all for being part of the Global Business Challenge that provides such an amazing opportunity to entrepreneurs. And if you’re interested in hearing more about what we’re doing and what we’re about to do, please do feel free to come and have a chat – us entrepreneurs do love talking about our cool ideas.

Thank you.


For details about the 2019 Global Business Challenge go to



Associate Professor John Bensley is the Canberra Director of QUT Graduate School of Business and QUTeX. He has expertise in systems thinking, the management of innovation, product management and analytical psychology. John works with other University academics, Graduate School staff and industry professionals, to design, develop and deliver transdisciplinary education programs that meet the specific requirements of post-graduate students as well as a range of corporate and government clients. With more than 30 years management, marketing and operational experience from the mining and telecommunication industries his passion is understanding the determining effect of the human equation within organisations and helping people sense-make in complex environments.

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