Tech entrepreneur Mike Tozer is a man on a mission, quite literally.
The 38-year-old just ran 45km around Sydney – in a full suit, no less – to help secure $1 million in funding for his anxiety-reducing app, which helps people with autism find employment.
His company, Xceptional, is a finalist in the Google Impact Challenge, the culmination of a global journey that’s taken him from the UK, to Hong Kong, to studying at Harvard and, finally, founding his tech services firm in Australia.
With those international moves came inspiration to create a business very close to Mike’s heart.
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“When I originally moved to Australia I was job hunting and found the process challenging,” Mike said. “It made me think about my sister who has autism.
“I also thought of my 8-year-old son with autism. What would work look like for him in ten years? How would he become independent? Both him and my sister have amazing gifts but also lots of challenges and I couldn’t see how the world of work would accept them both.”
Those questions turned into a lightbulb moment and Xceptional was born, aiming to get back into the workplace some of the 65 per cent of people with autism who are unemployed.
That’s around 130,000 Australians, often overlooked by employers who struggle to see the unique strengths of people with autism.
Xceptional provides software testing, recruitment and training services with exceptional people who have autism and is now developing a first-of-its-kind app, which reduces anxiety for job interview candidates and tests for functional skills.
Alternative onboarding processes have also been developed to set candidates up for success when they do land a job, especially when it comes to potentially stressful environments like investment banks and fast-growing tech firms.
“Winning the Google Impact Challenge would enable us to help thousands more people with autism find employment in Australia,” Mike explained. “When Google chose to nominate us as a finalist we were awarded $250,000.
“This funding will empower us to take our app to the next stage and launch it across the Sydney region in six months. If we were to win the $1 million grant it would enable us to grow our team significantly across Australia and even begin a journey expanding into Asia.”
Global aspirations come naturally to Mike, who knows a thing or two about moving around the world for career opportunities.
“I’ve been privileged to live in four countries,” he said. “Until recently I would have said that a big Australia/US difference is the entrepreneur ecosystem.
“However, especially over the last few years I’ve been noticing how much Australia – and Hong Kong and the UK too – is catching up.
“One area that Australia consistently stands out in is the focus on sport and work/life balance, especially compared to Hong Kong. I get told off by colleagues if I’m emailing during the Melbourne Cup or AFL finals!”
Mike recommends utilising social media – including closed community groups – and tapping into existing networks of friends or colleagues to assist with settling in overseas.
“When we moved to Boston, we had one family we barely knew who put us up for two weeks while we were house hunting,” he revealed. “They were friends of friends and were headed on holiday themselves. There are some amazingly generous people in this world.”
While he also suggests researching a move as early as possible – spending equal time organising your departure from one country and arrival in another – Mike says accepting that not everything will go to plan is key.
“You need to let yourself enjoy taking it all in when you arrive and make some decisions as you go – it’s a huge learning curve for anyone but also has resulted in some of my most amazing life experiences, including founding Xceptional – moving to Australia was definitely the catalyst.”
The company’s global expansion has already started, with Xceptional doing some work in Hong Kong and the US, thanks to Mike’s connections from Harvard.
“Living internationally gives you a worldwide network and this is already helping with our plans to expand across Asia,” he added.
That network is also helping Mike by voting for Xceptional in the Google Impact Challenge.