Forget Ivanka, 13-year-old Aussie entrepreneur Hamish is the star in India

Ivanka Trump may be dominating the headlines in India, but at age 13, Hamish Finlayson – the youngest entrepreneur at this year’s Global Entrepreneurship Summit – is winning their hearts. The summit, now in its eighth year, is for the first time being held in South Asia.
Nanjing Night Net

The fast-growing tech city of Hyderabad is hosting more than 1500 entrepreneurs and investors from 150 countries around the world. Finlayson is becoming one of its most famous guests.

“I find the attention a bit overwhelming,” he tells Fairfax Media.

This week alone, he has been featured in national Indian publications and television channels, and is now attracting worldwide media attention about his five apps, which are mostly short video games either aimed at saving sea turtles or increasing awareness about autism.

Townsville local Finlayson, already a coding whiz, created his first app, LitterbugSmash, in August 2015. The games and quizzes in the app raise awareness about the harm plastic debris causes sea turtles.

As a young child he’d witnessed the plight of injured sea turtles at the Townsville-based sea turtle hospital. He recalls a sea turtle being trapped in the top of a plastic beer pack hole and decided to create platforms that taught people about how litter kills these endangered creatures.

“I wanted to use technology to solve real-life problems,” he says. “And I hate litter, so I decided to do one about litter.”

He entered the app into a competition against 7000 others, and was one of just nine Australians that made the final cut to pitch their ideas.

Despite coming second in the competition, he decided he would keep going.

Following on from LitterbugSmash was Nurdles vs Turtles, which focuses on the fact that 15.2 tonnes of plastic rubbish enter our oceans – another game designed to save sea turtles and protect the sea.

All up he now has five apps, which have been downloaded in 54 countries by more than 10,000 people.

He says China is a big market for downloads.

But his most personal app is the latest one, which was inspired by his own life.

Finlayson is autistic. His app, TripleTandASD raises awareness of autism.

Finlayson points out that 1 per cent of the population live with autism, which is about 74 million people.

“People can’t understand it [autism],” he says. “And so people mistreat those with autism. It’s not nice. My app helps people better understand it.”

He does this by making the user experience what it feels like to have autism and giving them tools to overcome it.

“For instance, Triple T is at a birthday party. An Elvis impersonator is singing for Triple T. And the other children are singing along but the noise becomes too loud for Triple T. So he goes to grab headphones so he can hear Elvis, but without the added noise.”

His father, Graeme Finlayson, says the app is attracting great community and social media feedback but his son is not prepared to monetise it for now.

If they did get funding it could be via a scheme like the national disability insurance scheme. For now, it is more about raising awareness and “breaking barriers about the disease”, says Graeme.

Hamish gets crowd funding and grants for developing his apps. He also recently got $40,000 from Facebook for a program that he took part in at last year’s summit in Silicon Valley.

In future, if he can make his sea turtle games longer, he may be able to sell them and attract investment for further projects.

For now he’s focused on a new virtual reality tool – he says he wants to study virtual technology and acting at university – “maybe I can make a movie about litter”.

His new game will help young kids cross the road.

“Transportation is a leading cause of injury in kids and teens,” Finlayson says. “I want to help change that, with a bit of fun along the way.”

Of course, “homework comes first and saving the world comes second.”

The writer travelled to the Global Entrepreneurship Summit as a guest of the US State Department.

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