University of Melbourne Magazine

Simply startups

  •  Marissa Di Pasquale (BSc(Hons) 1985, JD 2007) Founder and CEO of Cashtivity

    Marissa DiPasquale (BSc(Hons) 1985, JD 2007) Founder and CEO of Cashtivity

    Marissa DiPasquale (BSc(Hons) 1985, JD 2007) Founder and CEO of Cashtivity

    A Science honours degree from the University of Melbourne set up Marissa Di Pasquale for more than a decade working in IT product development and consulting, which turned out to be the ideal training ground for a career as an entrepreneur.

    Throughout the 1990s Di Pasquale cut her product development teeth working at Telstra on global internet products and completed a stint working for UK investment bank Kleinwort Benson managing its global IT development and outsourcing.

    After the birth of her twins (now aged 11) a change in direction beckoned. Di Pasquale completed a JD at the University of Melbourne Law School and worked as a corporate lawyer for a couple of years. But, as her children started school, she was destined to return to “what I love, which is developing products”.

    “I entered the classroom when the possibility of using technology to create learning applications was just taking off,” she says – and the idea for Cashtivity, an online tool to create a generation of financially literate children, was born.

    Struck by the impact of technology, tablets and smartphones on children, Di Pasquale asked: is it possible to develop tools to teach our children about business and money?

    She started with customer research in a Melbourne primary school and over three years observed how children use, interact and learn with technology. “Kids and teens prefer to learn by actually ‘doing’ but when it came to teaching them about finance and business it’s hard for teachers to create a practical experience,” she says.

    Di Pasquale developed the product over two years, working out of Australia and San Francisco, where she also conducted “deep dive” research with schools in the United States. “Cashtivity helps students practise the fundamental principles of business in a fun and engaging way,” she says.

    Di Pasquale managed product development, hired a chief technology officer and assembled a team of computer engineers to build the core application. This year the Silicon Valley Founders Institute named Cashtivity its Australian startup of the year. It also received a grant from Commercialisation Australia for the launch later this year.

    “If you want to bring something new to the market you need to keep focused at the grassroots, engaging with customers and what works for them,” she says.

    The University is nurturing the next generation of entrepreneurs through
    the Melbourne Accelerator Program. MAP was launched by the
    Melbourne School of Engineering and the Faculty of Business and
    Economics, but more faculties have now signed up. It is already
    supporting more than 15 startups and is seeking support through Believe
    – the Campaign for the University of Melbourne to allow it to help more.
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