Passion impresses as CQUni Nursing student wins The Big Idea national comp

Published:06 December 2017

CQUni student and The Big Idea 2017 winner Chelsea Xu; Chelsea with other winners from Macquarie and Monash universities; Chelsea with her CQUni supporters Prof Pierre Viljoen, Dr Laura Baker, Director of Social Innovation Lara Carton, and Social Innovation Program Manager Ashley Clarke.

She’s determined to change lives with her Nursing qualification – and through her winning Big Idea project, CQUni Mackay student Chelsea Xu is already having an impact.

On Tuesday 5 December, the Diploma of Nursing student was joint-winner of The Big Idea, a social enterprise design competition run by The Big Issue Australia.

At the awards night in Melbourne, judges from business and not-for-profit leadership described Chelsea as “a force of nature”, and praised her A-Tech-You proposal to design and manufacture 3D-printed tables for wheelchairs as “innovative and scalable”.

In its sixth year, the 2017 competition saw a record 550 students from 13 universities enter the competition – and Chelsea was one of six finalists in the undergraduate category.

Her project was selected as joint winner, alongside the Buwarra Foundation team from Macquarie University, who proposed preserving Indigenous culture and boosting Indigenous literacy developing and selling cultural resources.

Chelsea, who juggles her studies with work in aged care and being a mum, designed a not-for-profit organisation that would sell affordable and customised wheelchair tables, while offering free training in auto-CAD design to boost employability for local people, and supporting people with disabilities to be involved in the growth of the project.

Chelsea developed the A-Tech-You project in close collaboration with CQUniversity’s Office of Social Innovation Program Manager Ashley Clarke, and with mentor Dr Laura Baker from CQUni’s School of Business and Law.

Judges included PwC Australia partner Tracey Kennair, former Australian Democrats leader and Centre for Social Impact director Cheryl Kernot, and The Big Issue CEO Steve Persson, and they praised Chelsea’s passion for making a difference.

“Chelsea clearly cares about the people she’s working with, she cares about the people that her business could employ, she cares about people at every step of the process,” Ms Kernot said.

Ashley worked with all four CQUni teams that applied for The Big Idea, and supported Chelsea to develop her winning pitch to national judges.

“At every stage of development, Chelsea has been armed with an incredible local perspective – she’s met with so many organisations and local innovators in Mackay, and she understands how they operate, and how A-Tech-You could work with them,” Ashley explained.

“It’s been a challenge, designing both the wheelchair table prototype and the social enterprise at the same time – Chelsea’s definitely taken on a big idea, and she’s proved her innovation skills in bringing it all together.”

Chelsea said her idea had been inspired by her work in the aged care and disability sectors for the past four years, and her determination to empower people with mobility challenges.

“The product is focused on improving individual’s social engagement and comfort in life, and my hands-on experience definitely helped me in developing the concept,” she explained.

“Because people with disabilities and those using wheelchairs can be inhibited in their social activity, we wanted to create and produce something affordable, functional and portable to support their lives.”

The panels of the tables can be customised with creative designs, or with glow-in-the-dark or heat-reactive materials.

“They’re fun – and why shouldn’t people in a wheelchair be able to have fun!” Chelsea said.

Other finalist projects ranged from coffee carts to hemp farming, with a focus on creating employment opportunities for disadvantaged people including refugees, and women who have experienced domestic violence.

The Big Issue CEO Steven Persson said the competition helped educated and challenge the next generation of social entrepreneurs.

“Throughout the competition we’ve been impressed not only by the calibre of ideas, but by the passion students have for delivering positive social outcomes,” Steven said.

“As we’ve seen from The Big Issue’s 21 years, social enterprise has the potential to provide long-term, sustainable solutions to Australia’s most pressing issues.”

Chelsea hopes to continue development of A-Tech-You, working with CQUni and a range of Mackay organisations.

This is the third time CQUniversity has won The Big Idea, with success in the undergraduate category in 2014, and the postgraduate in 2015.