Nineteen-year-old Stephanie Benseman is a co-founder of Filtr, an online platform that helps connect students to potential employers. She also works as a project coordinator for the Young Enterprise Trust, which runs the Young Enterprise Scheme in schools, and is a Victoria University student.
What set you on the path to becoming an entrepreneur?
My parents own a business, and I always wanted to be a designer like my dad. So my plan was to go to Massey University and study design. But I didn’t really get into the idea of being an entrepreneur until I was in year 13. I had a friend at Garin College in Nelson who was doing really well in the Young Enterprise Scheme, but they didn’t offer it at my school – Marlborough Girls’ College – so I nagged them until I could do it extra curricular. With four other friends, we set up a company called Reverb, which created dresses made out of recycled fabrics, and won best YES company in the Marlborough region in 2013.
Doing that programme was the best decision of my life because it helped me realise being an entrepreneur is my career path.
When and why did you start Filtr?
I attended the accelerator programme Venture Up in Wellington at the beginning of this year, which was like YES on steroids. I started a company out of that originally with four others called Filtr, and there are now three of us who have continued working on that venture. The company connects students to the coolest companies in New Zealand to find them jobs relevant to their degree. Students sign up and can apply for jobs advertised by companies on the platform. Obviously students’ grades are important in the recruitment process, but we also want to focus on getting the right cultural fit for students with a company. We do that by getting the students to create a short video where they answer practical as well as fun questions, so potential employers can get an idea of what they’d be like in a business situation and also as a person.
I love the fact that the Internet has opened up such great opportunities. When you were at school previously, your aspiration would be to get a degree or go work for someone else. Now you have teenagers wanting to set up their own businesses and compete globally. It’s great stuff.
What are the pros and cons of being such a young entrepreneur?
You’ll obviously never know it all in business, but when you’re really young you really don’t know it all! Like with running Filtr, I often have no idea what I’m doing but I’m doing it anyway and we’re just figuring it out. Luckily we have a lot of inspirational mentors who are helping us, like Mark Vivian at Movac who always gives us the best advice.
One of the pros is people can be impressed by your age so they’re willing to help. New Zealand has such an open culture, especially in the startup community where everyone is so helpful. Also, I think in business it’s always okay to fail but when you’re young you have that extra leeway where if it all turned to crap and you lost all your money you’d still just be a poor student anyway. It’s not a huge loss.
It is the risk of failure that drives business success.