An idea that started at a Queensland university is connecting and supporting international students across the globe.
Ben Hallett and Joel Di Trapani are the co-founders of Vygo, an easy-to-use app that connects international students enrolled in Queensland universities with peer mentors and support services.
They were students at The University of Queensland (UQ) when the idea for Vygo was born.
We chatted to Ben about the motivation behind Vygo and how it connects students enrolled at Queensland universities, as well as the state’s growing start-up sector and the vast opportunities for international students to have a career in the technology industry.
What exactly is Vygo?
Vygo is a student support platform – an app – that connects students to all the support services they may need, including peer mentors, advisors and counsellors as well as alumni networks, student groups and government, finance and visa assistance. Vygo puts personalised support at the fingertips of every student. So, whether they are on campus or learning remotely, they can access help whenever and wherever they need it.
Who can use Vygo?
We helped Study Queensland launch the Queensland Student Hub in March 2020 to give all students access to support officers and advisors who could help them navigate the mental, financial, travel and other challenges created by COVID-19. Students enrolled in any Queensland institution could text support staff, participate in video sessions, access study and wellbeing tips or tap into specific and useful group events so they could still experience the support and wellbeing networks Queensland offers, regardless of whether they were studying in a city, town, or another country. Since then, Queensland students have accessed the app from more than 20 different countries.
How did you come up with the idea for Vygo?
Joel and I came up with the idea when we were studying Engineering at UQ in 2012. We were both part of UQ’s refugee mentoring program and while it was an amazing experience, we saw too many students falling through the cracks and failing because they could not access the support they needed. We left UQ with a strong belief that:
- Every student deserves to be championed.
- Every student deserves the opportunity to champion someone else.
Vygo was launched in 2017 to help international students access the champions they needed, when and where they needed them.
What opportunities does Queensland offer international students in the start-up and technology sectors?
International students bring clear ambitions to the table. By taking the leap to study here, they’ve already identified themselves as dream-chasers and that’s the kind of ambition that start-ups want driving their mission. Queensland highly values both its international student eco-system and its start-up eco-system, so we see a lot of really exciting collaboration between the 2. For students, this means frequent internship and work experience opportunities with some of Queensland’s best start-ups and tech companies. For start-ups, they get to tap into students’ international perspectives, skills and their world-leading university educations to help them innovate, meet challenges and deliver projects.
What sets Queensland’s start-up and technology industries apart?
The Queensland Government has some of the best funding initiatives for start-ups in Australia and there is so much support here for getting an idea off the ground and turning it into reality. This has positioned Queensland’s tech and start-up industries to lead the nation. There is so much opportunity here for international students to turn their technology degrees and entrepreneurial skills into a big career.
How do Queensland universities drive technology and innovation outside the classroom?
Queensland universities have a key role in nurturing early-stage start-ups and have amazing programs for students to tap into if they’re interested in entrepreneurship. Programs are different across universities but all of them create great launch pads to take students from the idea phase to product. Vygo tapped into a couple of those programs at UQ and we wouldn’t be here without them. They not only trained us in entrepreneurship but gave us initial access to funding and our first customer.
Finally, what’s your advice for students thinking of studying in Queensland?
In Queensland, international students have access to a wealth of opportunity to fast-track their progress to their ideal careers. My advice to any international student studying in Queensland is to seek out and understand everything available to them – study, work and life experiences – and take advantage of them.