MELBOURNE NEWS

Economy

Life-changing language tool takes on the world

20 March 2023

Have you got a bright idea to make Melbourne more inclusive for international students and alumni? Be inspired by GetMee’s global success and apply to our Open Innovation Competition.

GetMee, a Melbourne AI tool giving people the language and communication skills they need to achieve their dreams, is going global thanks to connections made through our startup-support program.

Balendran (Bala) Thavarajah, Founder and CEO of GetMee, came to Australia as an adult from Sri Lanka. Bala was full of ambition and drive, but he faced many obstacles as he rebuilt his life. Language was one of the biggest challenges.

“I had to fend for myself from a young age and didn’t have any formal education,” Bala said.

“As soon as I arrived in Australia I saw that there were opportunities here. I knew that if I could learn to speak English well and connect with people I could rebuild my life.”

Bala worked tirelessly to improve his language skills and was using an interpreter when Western Sydney University accepted him into a computer science program under a special, probationary program.

“That was the door of opportunity that opened for me and I never looked back,” Bala said.

“A couple of years later I had the computer science degree. I went to see the lady who’d let me into the course and we had a hug and a cry because she made the biggest difference in my life.”

A smiling man in a suit
Balendran Thavarajah

Bala’s bright idea

Bala’s determination led him to great success as the founder of multiple startups. The fourth, GetMee, is founded in his first-hand experience of the barriers people from non-English speaking backgrounds face.

GetMee gives users feedback on their energy and emotions, pronunciation and vocabulary. It notices unclear syllables, usage of filler words and when poor tone hinders interactions.

Over time, GetMee’s AI technology gets to know individual users, developing personalised programs to help them become master communicators. It can even offer feedback on real-life phone calls.

GetMee uses videos as part of its training programs to teach more nuanced skills, like empathy. Gamification is also built in, so users can earn points and play games to motivate their learning.

“I am passionate about GetMee because of my lived experiences,” Bala said.

“Communication and personal skills development is expensive and beyond the reach of many who badly need the service. And if communication becomes a limitation, it will always be a limitation.

“GetMee is designed to help users become better communicators and amazing versions of themselves, so their organisations and communities will thrive. It’s about giving people hope, and hopefully changing their lives.”

Expanding GetMee’s impact

Julia Stephenson, GetMee’s Business Development Manager, said many organisations and education providers are jumping on board with the AI tool, expanding its reach.

The platform allows subscribers to customise skills-assessment and training modules for particular student or staff member cohorts.

“Bala demonstrates GetMee in classrooms and comes back beaming because he sees the impact first-hand, and he sees himself in the students. His energy is really inspiring,” Julia said.

“Everyone knows someone GetMee can help. My father, who was an immigrant. Or the overseas developers I work with – they are much smarter than me, but it can be hard for us to understand each other.

“GetMee can have a real impact – whether it’s for an individual migrant or an organisation with a call centre full of staff. That’s what I enjoy most about my work, and why it has grown so fast, so quickly.”

GetMee goes global

Bala saw that GetMee could have vast reach and potential in Southeast Asia, but he knew it would take years of trial and error to develop the connections to make this happen.

Enter the City of Melbourne’s START in Melbourne, SCALE to Southeast Asia program. Run in partnership with HEX, this program helps startup founders forge connections with Singapore, Indonesia and Vietnam.

A group of smiling people giving the thumbs up
Participants of the START in Melbourne, SCALE to Southeast Asia program

“Working with the City of Melbourne has produced so many positive results for our company, including networks and opportunities to talk to experts in different countries,” Bala said.

“I am sitting here in a co-working space at RMIT Activator because of the connections I made.”

After the START and SCALE program, we invited Bala to speak at a virtual Melbourne-Bandung innovation event, and contacts he made through both opportunities will see GetMee launch in Indonesia soon.

“We are delighted to be able to launch GetMee in Indonesia in May, in partnership with Kubik Coaching. We love Kubik’s team and energy, and we are all very aligned in our mission,” Bala said.

“It would’ve been impossible to find a partner in Indonesia without the City of Melbourne and Victorian Government’s support, without understanding Indonesia’s culture, its business environment or political landscape.”

While GetMee is still early in its journey and working to build strong foundations, the future looks bright. The GetMee team has raised a significant amount of funding from private investors and equity crowdfunding.

The team has also recently secured a large grant for growth from the Australian Federal Government, and expansion is also underway in Latin America, India and Bangladesh.

Top tips for new startups

If you have a business idea bubbling away, help is at hand to make it a reality. Bala said he encourages people to reach out to the City of Melbourne for support and – above all – just get started.

“We all have ideas. Someone told me recently that ideas are everywhere – everyone’s got them. But the best idea in the world is no use if you don’t get started,” Bala said.

“If your idea becomes a reality then the whole world might benefit. If the idea stays in your head, the world misses out. So my advice is to commit and go for it. Life is very brief, so you should have no regrets.”

For more information about support for new businesses, co-working spaces, grants and other opportunities, visit Startups and innovation. Our Open Innovation Competition is also open now.

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