From backpacker to tech entrepreneur
When graduate Sophia Withers decided to backpack across Asia and Australia she had no idea it would result in being a co-founder and founding member of two tech start-ups on the other side of the world.
The 26-year-old, who describes herself as a ‘disruptive technology enthusiast’, graduated from the University of Liverpool in 2014 before deciding to go travelling.
Like thousands of other Brits before her she initially funded her travelling by working on farms and cafes before moving to Melbourne to join KPMG Australia.
While working as a coordinator for KPMG’s audit division, she began an online course with the University of Birmingham that ignited her passion in blockchain and emerging technology to the point that she decided to become a founding member of isgood.ai and a co-founder of Razzoo .
The first business specialises in artificial intelligence and Big Data.It is designed to improve the way purpose-driven organisations capture, evaluate and optimise impact. This is achieved by leveraging AI and lean data techniques to stream, not store, data inputs and get them talking to each other.
The second start-up, FinTech firm Razzoo, provides automated business loans using algorithms that provide instantaneous credit checks.
Both are at the pre-revenue stage and the focus is on building the technology and testing it while gauging potential interest from investors.
Withers, who is from Hull originally, admits she’s always had the travelling bug.
“My travelling started the day after I finished university,” she recalled. “I remember my last exam being too excited to write because I was moving to live in Ibiza for the summer the next day.
“I flew home twice – once for graduation and the other was to catch my one-way flight to Australia.”
During her travels she worked as everything from a hostess to a cleaner and a nanny on a farm. “I’d like to call it character-building but really it’s just working wherever there was an opportunity as I was living quite literally out of a suitcase,” she said.
“I then joined KPMG Australia. I was on a bridging visa at the time and it was a contractual role initially that turned into a fixed position. I was very lucky. I’m glad I had a taste of the corporate life.”
Withers said her interest in travel is only matched by her love of technology.
“It started when I had to choose a topic for my dissertation surrounding international business,” she recalled. “I’ve always been an Elon Musk fan and I’m naturally interested in how we can leverage technology for greater good.
“I knew I wanted to study something which was going to revolutionise the world. I have my older brother to thank as we were on the Tube in London and he was persuading me that I should look into blockchain.
“The concept baffled me at first; then I thought ‘what better way to learn it than to study it in depth’?”
After reaching Melbourne she decided it was the perfect place to co-found and become a founding member of two tech start-ups.
Explaining the reason for isgood.ai, she said: “Currently, $17 trillion dollars of social enterprise pursuits globally are wasted as social and humanitarian organisations do not know which projects and activities are delivering actual change. This is where we come in.”
Withers said of FinTech business Razzoo: “Traditional banking services have failed to utilise technological advances effectively so the lending market is outdated and inefficient. There’s a disparity between conventional banking methods and contemporary technology.
“We are currently in the MVP stage and are expected to launch officially in March 2020.
“What we offer is more than just lending; we are creating a FinTech ecosystem inclusive of a risk assessment engine, financial management, business advisory and professional services.
“The potential for both businesses is enormous. The FinTech ecosystem will promote more efficient means of lending and banking, which will improve access to credit for underserved segments.”
Withers said the only downside of living her picture postcard life is missing home and a ‘proper cup of tea’.
She said: “Australia is amazing for nature and fitness but there is no place like home. I’m just waiting for time travel to be invented…. that’s my next tech pursuit!”