By her second-last year of high school, Lara had already identified a need and a niche in the fashion industry – and designed a business idea to address it.
Lara’s first foray into entrepreneurship
A passion for fashion might not be uncommon for a teenager. But having the vision and drive to derive a startup out of this love… well, that’s something special.
“I started Only Once in my second-last year of high school when I observed the phenomenon of peer-to-peer rental platforms starting to blossom,” says Lara.
“I could see that a large part of a platform’s success was how the clothes were photographed and marketed.”
“I decided to put this passion of mine to the test, in combination with my love for sourcing unique garments.”
While initially developed to meet customers’ needs, Lara soon recognised that the business model also had much broader benefits.
“After its early success, I started to realise the benefits garment hiring could have on the environment, while still servicing young women’s desire to not ‘outfit repeat’.”
The next step: developing Hirely at UQ
The environmental challenges posed by the fast-fashion industry are intimidating. In Australia, we throw away more materials per person than anywhere else in the world (aside from the US). We’re talking an average of 23kg of clothes disposed by each Australian every year.
Maybe Lara’s local boutique wasn’t going to single-handedly fix this textile waste epidemic. But she knew she was onto something, and UQ Ventures helped her explore ways to take the concept to new heights.
Ventures is the core of UQ’s entrepreneurial spirit. It features co-working spaces for collaboration, innovative tools such as 3D printers and design studios, and an ongoing series of events, programs and workshops to help students bring their brightest ideas to life. See for yourself.
“I first heard about UQ Ventures in the second semester of my first year at UQ, through a friend who had completed the Startup Academy program,” says Lara.
“He knew I was interested in entrepreneurship and wanted to take my current business to the next level.”
Lara started with Ventures’ Curiosity program (previously called IdeaHub), before going on to compete in the Validate program (previously called Startup Academy).
“I went on to win first prize with my startup Hirely, which I pitched as an extension of my current business Only Once Hire Boutique,” she says.
“Hirely was a ‘cloud-based wardrobe’ platform aimed towards young professional women based on a subscription business model,” says Lara.
“By providing a platform in which young women could rent outfits to wear for a special event, the business combatted the textile waste epidemic by providing an alternative to the consumeristic fast-fashion cycle – the cycle being that young women would buy a fast fashion outfit for an event, wear it once, get photos in it for socials, and never wear it again.”
Going through the intensive pitching process of Startup Academy was particularly helpful for developing Lara’s confidence.
“Pitching in front of judges and an audience was not a comfortable thing for me in my second year of uni,” she says.
“Two years on, I can say this has definitely changed – largely due to this experience with Startup Academy.”
Lara then took Hirely to UQ’s ilab Acceleratorprogram. While this application wasn’t successful, she is thankful for everything the experience has taught her about the dedication and sacrifice it takes to be a startup founder – and she’ll be taking this wisdom to all her future endeavours.
While Lara might have an inherent knack for innovating and an innate drive to create change in the world, these have both been fostered and enriched by her UQ program: the Bachelor of Advanced Business (Honours).
Tailored to high-achieving students with an ambition to make waves in the business world, this program is helping Lara develop the skills to succeed in her current and future endeavours.
Lara found one course, Transformative Innovation for 21st Century Challenges, to be especially illuminating.
"It's been a transformative course, not only in my development as a student, but also as a young adult," she says.
"It provides frameworks, techniques and language for better understanding yourself as a future leader, as well as the people around you."
"I’ve had the opportunity to work with the lecturer and UQ researcher behind the course, Lance Newey, as a course facilitator this semester. Lance also generously invited me to help him author a book on the course’s content for high school leaders and their parents."
And though Lara was already proving her natural talent for such things way back in high school, her UQ degree is equipping her with the theoretical foundations and practical skills to stride confidently into the complex business world of the future.
Lara’s continued involvement with Ventures
Working alongside other student entrepreneurs, Lara now enjoys her role as a Ventures Ambassador. This position allows her to influence and spread awareness of the programs that helped on her own journey.
“Being an ambassador for Ventures is a lot of fun – I have made many rich connections with other passionate and like-minded student entrepreneurs through the position,” she says.
“The role is largely self-paced, meaning I get to pick when and what shifts I would like to work. These range from meeting other students at events such as Market Day and telling them about the opportunities Ventures has to offer, to co-facilitating the various programs that I once was a participant in.”
“Being a Ventures Ambassador has also led me towards the opportunity to facilitate entrepreneurship and design thinking workshops for local high school students.”
Going through the programs and being a Ventures Ambassador have also enabled Lara to meet and collaborate with a diverse range of staff members, other students, founders and mentors.
“The best thing I’ve gotten out of my involvement with Ventures has been the rich connections to others in the ecosystem,” she says.
“I’ve formed many fundamental relationships that have been pivotal in my career development.”
President of the UQ Women’s Network
As if she wasn’t busy enough already, Lara also leads the executive team of UQ Women’s Network – the university’s first multi-disciplinary society aimed at inspiring, educating and empowering female students.
When Lara first got involved in the society by attending an event about female leadership, she had no clue it would eventually lead her to the president role.
“A friend was part of the executive team, so I enquired through her and applied to be part of it myself,” she says.
“A lesson from me here is to be involved in as much as you can early on in your degree, as you never know what fruits may come from it later.”
“Leading and managing people has always been a passion of mine. I feel so grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to learn more about this in this role.”
As for what the role entails, Lara makes it sound (and look) easier than it is.
“The role involves coordinating the executive team of 28 female students, running weekly meetings and events that aim to educate, connect and inspire our wider network of 400 students on careers in STEM and finance,” she says.
Nothing out of the ordinary for someone who was already running a business in high school!
Lara’s advice for future students and aspiring entrepreneurs
Lara recommends trying everything university life has to offer – internships, part-time roles, programs like Ventures, working on your own side projects – even if that means discovering things you don’t enjoy along the way.
“Get involved, even if you don’t quite know the endgame yet, because the best way to find your passions or manifest your dream career is by trying things out for yourself,” she says.
“Through this approach, it’s inevitable that some experiences won’t quite be for you – I’ve had many! – but don’t let this put you off.”
“Keep trying until you find the things that you do enjoy, and try to make sure you enjoy the process while you’re at it.”