LOCAL HEROES ARE FLYING UNDER THE RADAR EVERY DAY IN NORTHERN AUSTRALIA.
A number of North Queensland’s talented trailblazers were recently given the opportunity to connect and showcase their innovative business ideas at Innovate NQ’s Local Hero Showcase Design Awards. We speak with some of the award’s finalists about their struggles and success and how they are making their ideas come to life.
When it comes to international trade, a cohesive flow of information and an easy-reference document system is crucial to maintain happy relationships between parties in the supply chain.
When Ben Thompson and Brandon Boor began an importing business in Townsville in 2013, they saw a gap in the market for a cloud-based software that allows importers and exporters to connect to create and share sales and shipping documentation for global trade shipments. This technology became IncoDocs.
“From running our own business, we faced so many problems with bad documentation and communication when importing products from factories out of Asia,” Ben said.
“THERE WAS NO GOOD SOLUTION OUT IN THE MARKET SO WE STARTED CREATING SOFTWARE TO STREAMLINE THESE ISSUES.”
Ben and Brandon opened an office in Brisbane, and were one of six companies of over 100 applicants chosen to undertake the River City Labs’ Accelerator Program, backed by Steve Baxter and Telstra.
“River City Labs provided us with a massive network of people involved in tech and startups,” Ben said.
“When we started we didn’t have strong connections and needed help and advice from people in this space. Since going through the program our Tech Co-Founder David Hooper joined our team, and we have created a strong network which we continually reach out to for help and advice.”
One of the pivotal components of the program, according to Ben, was a trip to Silicon Valley, which changed the team’s train of thought.
“We knew that our software needed to be global, it needed to be used by importers and exporters in countries all around the world,” he explains. “So we worked hard with a core group of customers to really find the common threads that existed for all importers and exporters around the world. We completely redeveloped the product from this feedback and reopened the product in February, and in just over three months we have companies in over 100 countries using IncoDocs. Prominent markets include Asia, India and Africa.”
IncoDocs is 100% cloud-based, so users can access the software from any device from any location, which no other platform currently allows. The team is focused on making improvements to the core product before pushing paid marketing and integrations with partners in the industry. Most of their growth to date has been organic web traffic generated from explanatory YouTube videos and blogs.
Ben admits that creating a new business or startup is “probably the hardest thing you will ever do, but it could also be the best”.
“We’re so lucky to be in a time where anybody can quickly create a website or business that can instantly touch people all over the world,” he said.
“We were involved in Local Heroes so that we could tell our story and encourage others to get involved in tech innovation in North Queensland. We had to move to Brisbane to get the support we needed, but now Townsville has got iNQ, which is a great base to provide new startups and ideas with the support and connections they need. If you’ve got a good idea, stop talking about it and give it a shot.”
BeefLedger is more than just a great Hollywood-sounding name for a Longhorn. It is an Aussie-owned integrated provenance, blockchain security and payments platform for the beef supply and export industry.
IN PLAIN ENGLISH?
Blockchain is a new type of internet that records and stores information securely, and operates entirely within itself. Many people can be accessing the blockchain at the same time and record all changes, new transactions and movements – creating a powerful digital file. That information can then be purchased with a digital currency – in the case of BeefLedger, the BEEF Token.
In simple terms, it means a Chinese shopper could enter a supermarket, scan a code on a piece of steak that claims it is grass fed beef from Central Queensland, and use BEEF Tokens to confirm the meat’s origin from the BeefLedger and make the purchase.
“BeefLedger emerged from a recognition that more needed to be done to protect, capture and fairly distribute the value benefits of provenance, and in particular in reference to beef exports in China,” BeefLedger Director Warwick Powell said.
“In recent years, China’s demand for beef has been growing incredibly, and unsurprisingly, so has the incidence and costs of beef fraud.
“Securing the supply chain to deliver provenance-based value capture required the integration of one: good science and data collection; two: a decentralised ledger to improve security and achieve immutability; and three: a crypto-economic ecosystem that could transparently reward desirable behaviours and punish those that undermined system integrity. Blockchain technologies offered the means by which an underlying platform could be developed to integrate payments streamlining and transparent incentivsation with provenance traceability.”
The project was initially partially funded by Sister City Partners Limited, Warwick and a small group of early stage supporters interested in establishing a prima facie case for the use of blockchain technologies in the beef supply industry.
“We’ve since expanded from this core base with support from private investment funds and consumer support from across Australia and China,” Warwick said. “We are open to the right kinds of partnerships, whether they be in technology, distribution or capital. We have collaborators right across the country and the Asia-Pacific region including in Singapore, Hong Kong and China. In North Queensland we have a collaboration memorandum of understanding in place with James Cook University.
“We prefer to describe our client base as an ecosystem. We have a large number (in the many hundreds) at the end-consumer space both in China (where food safety and food fraud are massive issues of concern), as well as a good handful of key distribution partners.”
One challenge faced by BeefLedger has been the integration of new technologies in traditional industry environments.
“The application of new technologies, especially seriously cutting-edge tech like blockchain, into traditional industry environments is easier said than done,” Warwick said.
“Having our own “living laboratory” has certainly assisted with driving experimental uptake. We’ve also been blessed by a range of people across industry, the in the technology space and amongst the crypto ecosystem who’ve been willing to embrace the project vision.”
Clip-On Safe Shades
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is a necessary apparatus for many workplaces in Australia, particularly mines and construction sites. It can be expensive, cumbersome and wasteful, with items like eyewear easily lost or broken.
Local innovator Peter Millios has overcome some of those issues with his world-first designed Clip-On Safe Shades.
The protective eyewear is designed to clip directly onto the bib of a hard hat, ensuring that the safety shades are always on hand and can never fall off or go missing.
For Peter and his team, the constantly changing legalities and Australian standards has been one of the more challenging aspects of the business.
“Initially we began with $200,000, which in hindsight was not enough, as research and development and patent costs were very high,” Peter said. “Our design came about very quickly, and we used common sense in the approach to the constraints that we had to work to under the new Australian Safety Standards.
“In 2012 the Australian Impact Standards for safety glasses was increased to such a speed that our design of attaching the safety glasses to the bib of the hard hat allowed the glasses to take an impact almost double of what was required. They are the highest tested impact compliant medium impact glasses reaching 300km in laboratory testing.
“When first introduced in Australia, the Australian Standard Authority allowed the transition of the old-style glasses to be used for another two years, which was disappointing after the research and costs that we incurred.”
Using traditional methods of marketing at trade fairs did not work for the company, Peter said, with the focus shifting to a digital marketing plan targeting ABN holders and sub-contractors.
“We have been trading for six years, but it became apparent that we had to change our marketing and target the three million or so ABN sub-contractors by digital media platforms,” Peter explained.
“OF COURSE THE BUSINESS POINT OF DIFFERENCE IS THE PRODUCT ITSELF AS THERE ARE NO OTHER GLASSES IN THE WORLD THAT CAN EXCEED OUR DESIGN AND STANDARD”
“The cost of research and development and the path towards patents for Australia, Europe and the USA and old-style marketing trade shows depleted our seed capital very quickly. Short funding is a trap, I thought I had contemplated correctly but I erred in my assessment of the cost to getting the product and patent to market ready.”
Peter said he has confidence that the quality and unique selling point of Clip-On Safe Shades will continue its success.
“Of course the business point of difference is the product itself as there are no other glasses in the world that can exceed our design and standard,” he said. “Our Chinese manufacturers assisted us in the final technical requirements with us going to a full polycarbonate product. The quality in manufacture and lenses is very high.”
Entering Local Heroes was an eye-opening experience for Peter, who said it was interesting to see almost all of the presenters experienced similar difficulties because they were too focussed on the product or invention to understand the marketing strategy.
The Elegant Executive Curve
Plus-size business wear may not be what you’d expect to see sashaying down the runways at Paris Fashion Week – but that’s precisely what prompted Rowena Burley to enter Local Heroes.
The Elegant Executive Curve founder and CEO was a high-flying international business manager in 2016 when she was given the opportunity to beta test some new pattern-making software for indie designers.
“As a leader, clothes are part of a non-verbal communication deciding if you are trustworthy, and competent of your position,” Rowena said. “I had noticed that everywhere seemed to have the same problem – a lack of good quality and well designed garments for curvy women leaders. Having sewn since I was 8 years old and completing couture dressmaking courses, with this new software, my business skills and experience, and a gap in the market, I could create not just another fashion label but one that stood for something, was socially responsible and environmentally sensitive, and made in Australia.”
The Elegant Executive Curve launched its first collection in November 2015, its second in 2017, and has two international opportunities this year, including Paris Fashion Week. The label is sold online through its own web store, has distributors in London and Perth, and is stocked in a Melbourne boutique. For Rowena, the growth is slow but steady.
“From my perception, I would say our growth has been slow,” she said.
“I would rather build a solid foundation and be specific about who we distribute with because it has to be right for our key target market and our brand.
“We have had some amazing opportunities come our way. Whilst I feel that it has been slower, I have had feedback that we are well ahead of where other labels would typically be for our age. I can attribute this to my international business skills and experience. It actually takes three to five years to establish a fashion label so it’s a long-term commitment with many ups and downs.”
Rowena is both a business mentor and mentee, having had previous experience in the corporate world before launching The Elegant Executive Curve, and said the Local Heroes process has been invaluable.
“…I COULD CREATE NOT JUST ANOTHER FASHION LABEL BUT ONE THAT STOOD FOR SOMETHING…”
“It’s important to have key people who guide and support you when you are building your own business. It can be lonely, challenging and frustrating – it’s always good to have people to celebrate the wins and achievements with,” she said.
“I would definitely recommend startups and growing businesses to enter (Local Heroes), I think going through the process of putting together your presentation and knowing your numbers and being able to communicate it in a clear and captivating manner gives you a lot of confidence. You learn about your business and you grow from the experience. Being able to present and sell your business is an important skill to have as a business owner.
“I (also) entered because we are raising sponsorship and crowd funding for our Paris Fashion Week opportunity. If I can pull it off we will be the first dedicated plus-size fashion label in the world to show at Paris Fashion Week – a huge breakthrough for diversity.”
In a fast-paced world where almost everything is done online – from booking dog grooming appointments and car services to ordering groceries and school book lists – it seems only natural for medical consultations to shift into cyberspace as well.
At least, that’s what Alexandra Whitehead, Psychologist and Co-Founder of Becon Health thought when she developed the concept of coordinating allied health sessions via video online.
From her experience in private practice, Alexandra was often seeing patients travel for up to four hours to see her for a 50-minute consultation, which is inconvenient for many people’s lifestyles.
Looking for an alternative to better her clients’ health and wellbeing by allowing them to access consistent appointment scheduling, she came up with the concept of Becon Health. It is essentially an online medical centre: clients can access a directory of trusted allied health professionals, book and pay for an appointment, then log in for a private video session without the need to download any software.
“We have 40 diverse allied health providers on Becon Health currently, and we want to reach 100 as soon as we can, then 1000, followed by sustainable growth over the years – giving our customers real choice,” Alexandra said.
“When on-boarding our first allied health providers, our first point of call was those that provide amazing services in our local area, including SportsMed NQ (physiotherapy), Helping Hands (occupational therapy), Coastal Kids (speech pathology), Be Psyched (psychology) and Realising Possibilities (mental health social work). “We are gaining real traction with recruiting allied health providers onto the Becon Health marketplace.
“Providers are looking for ways to work more flexibly, to add value to their clients, and to reach different markets in which they can provide their services. We’ve also had whole practices come on board.”
The model has recently begun working in the marketplace with its first paying customers, and the team plans to capitalise on its growth with both clients and service providers, to gain traction in both markets and investment.
“We developed the Becon Health MVP with the assistance of an Advance Queensland grant and our own funds,” Alexandra said.
“The biggest struggles have been financing the development of the company – from the online platform development, recruitment of key staff to Townsville, and marketing costs associated with user acquisition.
“We’ve certainly come a long way and have developed a quality product and learnt how to be efficient.”
Alexandra said entering Local Heroes had made her accountable to her goals of focusing time to the business model and exploration of future opportunities, as well as practicing her pitch in front of an audience, because the next step for Becon Health is pitching the business model to investors.
Looking to the future there are big things in store, “We are seeking further investment to grow our user numbers and fast track the development of the platform so we can scale up and launch abroad in 2019. It’s certainly going to be an exciting time.”