Sanctum, one of the competitors in May’s Shockproof hackathon, has been accepted by the Antler venture capital program.

Kirit Kundu, one of the team which developed a mental health app during the 72-hour event, sat down with Information Age to discuss how the hackathon helped them not only get accepted by the investor program but helped them look at broader opportunities.

“With what was happening with COVID in Australia and around the world, I really wanted to contribute something to help the situation. I had also just returned to Australia and wanted to get a feel for the hacking culture here. Also, due to #notravel Easter, what else could I do other than code?” Kirit said of his reason for signing up for the hackathon.

The hackathon bought together more than 500 innovators from across Australia and New Zealand to explore ways of hardening defence logistics.

Conducted and executed by ACS between 15 and 17 May, the virtual event featured 70 mentors guiding 40 pitch presentations focused on enhancing resilience in supply chains and building sovereign capability.

“We had a great mix of engineers, creatives and product types – Ero Adermann, Palang Anivan, Angie Glance, Rynaldo Zain, Hester Bax and myself,” said Kirit.

Kirit Kundu

“We all really wanted to do our part to flatten the curve, learn a new skill (or two) and really have a go at building a product without the usual project or work restrictions.”

Entering the hackathon during the COVID-19 lockdowns presented some challenges, Kirit observed. “I think the virtual format, especially for team formation, introduced some challenges. While the ACS team really tried to support us through it, it's not an easy thing to do especially when trying to bring together people who have never met into a team.

“Luckily for us we had a group of people that worked together well and everyone really pulled their weight to get a working product shipped on time!”

Kirit added their mentors and support networks were a bonus for the team. “We had a number of mentors due to the support we received from our employer, Capgemini.”

“In addition to this, Jane Burns had some amazing advice and guidance on the mental health industry, and we can't believe how well-connected she is!

"And Pauline Fetaui, ACS’ Queensland State Manger, had some great commercialisation and marketing hacks."

Like all hackathons, the weekend had its high and low points. “We went through so many ups and down. We really honed down onto the concept of Sanctum around midday on day two, about 15 hours into the hackathon after a bunch of market research, which consisted of a mix of speaking to people and Googling.

“One moment I remember at about 9pm on day two, we thought our idea was garbage as it would not solve the problem of loneliness - however we continued after a coaching session with Jane who mentioned that there was definitely a need for a solution like ours in the market.”

Kirit and the team are now looking at how to look at the application’s broader uses. “We are all keen on really taking Sanctum or the core essence of Sanctum forward to help with the challenges that we will face as a society. One big idea we were exploring with our solution is providing help to (lonely) people before they recognised the need themselves.

“What we have learnt post hackathon is that this is very challenging, as these kinds of people would not necessarily download or visit a site designed to address loneliness. What we'd have to focus on is the root causes, for example, lack of social connection.

“So the team is working on designing the right features so that we can go to market with the core of our solution. In parallel, some of us are exploring the topic on other side projects or have taken on Entrepreneur-in-Residence roles to build momentum and funding to bring some of the ideas to life through the help of VC funds such as Antler.”

Antler is a global early-stage technology venture capital firm founded in Singapore in 2017, with its Australian arm in March 2019. The firm’s generator program pays up to 100 professionals to leave their day jobs with a $6,000 stipend over 10 weeks.

Kirit also praised the ACS’ role in the hackathon, saying “I think the referral from ACS helped fast track the selection process - so now I can focus on meeting other potential founders before the program starts versus jumping through recruitment hoops!

“Antler was happy for me to bring the hackathon idea, but for now I am thinking of working on a new idea and taking inspiration from the hackathon solution that was built, as there isn't the right type of co-founder in the cohort (yet!) for mental health and wellbeing apps.

“I am loving this new ACS," Kirit added. "I'm not sure if ACS was this involved in the tech community back in early 2000s when I graduated university!”